We The Italians | IT and US: Precipice sustaining the Italian language in America

IT and US: Precipice sustaining the Italian language in America

IT and US: Precipice sustaining the Italian language in America

  • WTI Magazine #111 Jan 19, 2019
  • 1449

Sustaining the growth of the Italian Language in US schools is a priority for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy explicable through its net of Embassy and Consulates. 

The reinstatement of Italian in the AP Program, which started with the 2011-12 school year, was an essential step for the propagation of the Italian language in the United States and, consequently, also for the enhancement of the linguistic and cultural heritage of which Americans of Italian origin are so rightly proud. 

The AP, thus, proved an essential factor in the collaborative relationship between Italian-American organizations and associations, the “Enti Gestori”, and Italian institutions and companies, united as never before in order to attain a common goal. 

The restoration of the program represents the foundation of an important effort aimed at promoting the diffusion of Italian in schools, as well as the formation of teachers and instructors. 

These efforts have been remarkably successful and the increased participation in the AP Italian exam are reflected in the 2018 data. 

Volume of AP Italian Exams

















(data from © College Board)

The main goals provided by the National Observatory of the Italian Language – consisting of representatives of the Embassy of Italy in Washington and of the organizations that most contributed to the reintegration of our language in the AP Program – as a Strategic Plan for 2018-2019, can be summarized as follows: 1) Increase the quantity and quality of Italian courses in public and private US schools. 2) Maintain a positive trend in AP Italian exams. 3) Continue to promote increasingly higher scores in AP Italian exams taken by students. 4) Promote the passing of the AP exam to a university course in the US through support strategies for students interested in taking a Major or Minor in Italian

They can be achieved thanks to various activities and actions to be undertaken in support of the Program.

Among these:

- Local schools and authorities. 1) Negotiate or renew memoranda of understanding and agreements with individual states or counties, including the recognition of teachers’ qualifications obtained in Italy. 2) Increase the number of Middle Schools, which are High School feeders. 3) Activate Italian dual language programs and develop existing ones. 4) Promote the teaching of Italian language starting in Kindergarten by relying on those schools that use Italian pedagogical methods (Montessori and Reggio Emilia). 5) Create targeted handbooks for Principals, Superintendents and Counsellors: key players in the American school system. 6) Assign scholarships or prizes to the most deserving teachers, or to those who contribute effectively to the creation of Italian courses and to the AP students who performed best. 7) Encourage taking AP Italian exams already in 11th grade. 8) Promote the training of teachers, in person or online

- Work as one: increase cooperation and integration. 1) Relaunch the role of local Italian Language Observatories, as form to exchange best practices. 2) Involve Italian-American associations and representatives of the community (Comites, CGIE, elected representatives), both in planning and in fundraising activities. 3) Prepare an operational schedule for local observers indicating: initiatives, actors and the timetable for intended actions (what, who and when). 4) Involve the many different interested parties of the Italian system present in US constituencies in promotion and fund-raising activities.

- Communication and outreach. 1) Increase information available via the USspeaksitalian website and maintain an up-to-date database of schools and colleges offering Italian. 2) Organize an event (Italian Language Day) in the schools and throughout the consular network, targeting students and their families, to underline the advantages of learning the Italian language and collect funds for national and local initiatives. 3) Publicize the benefits of speaking Italian through a media campaign (including social media), by involving Italian or Italian-American celebrity spokesperson / people who are popular with young people. 4) Encourage students who already know a Romance language - such as Spanish, French, Portuguese - to study Italian

In the meanwhile, status of Italian enrollment in US Institutions of Higher Education can’t be forgiven.


(data from “Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Summer 2016 and Fall 2016: Preliminary Report” by © 2018 Modern Language Association of America https://www.mla.org/content/download/83540/2197676/2016-Enrollments-Short-Report.pdf)

The overall 9.2% decline for Fall 2016 follows 6.7% decline for Fall 2013, contributing to a generalized downward trend.

In terms of ranking, Spanish and French still lead as the two most studied languages while Japanese is now fifth, replacing Italian, which is now sixth.

Interaction between High Schools where Italian is taught and Professors of Italian in Universities and Colleges to publicize the benefits of speaking Italian can help to encourage students to continue their studies at higher level.

Thanks to AP courses and exams, students have the chance to earn a Minor in Italian more easily, because they already have part of the necessary credits. Or they might think to a Major or a Double-Major. 

The trend of AP Italian program in the US is not the only key to measure the interest in the Italian language and culture. The number of students studying abroad for their Higher Education is another important factor to consider.

(data from The Institute of International Education  https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Fact-Sheets-and-Infographics/Fast-Facts

The last data shows 35,366 US students studied in Italy for academic credit in 2016/17, with an increase of 1,4% over the previous year. Italy represents the second destination worldwide -United Kingdom is the first- with 10.6% of total students.   

Conclusions: 1) Growing and Sustaining the AP language is a journey that we must continue to pursue with intensity, strategies, and commitment across the board from all Italian-American Organizations with a grass roots approach to implementing new programs preK-12. 2) Professional Development for our teachers and administrators to increase instructional effectiveness to improve performance in the classroom and the Advanced Placement Exam will play an important role. 3) Our Italian-American organizations must not go into a complacency mode because we achieved the 2500 AP Exam takers threshold, and must continue to keep Italian Language growth a priority and assist to provide scholarships for teacher professional development.

By Professor Anna Zeppieri, Education Attaché, Consulate General of Italy, San Francisco and Dr. Daniel L. Stabile, President, National Council for the Promotion of Italian Language in American Schools.