Buon Giorno, Bambini!
by Carolina Gengo Di Domenico
I wish I could have learned Italian when I was a little girl growing up in New York City. But in the 1960’s, English was the most important language, and creative education for children was in its infancy. I had to settle for hearing bits and pieces of Italian from my grandparents and aunt. Now language learning has taken on great value, which gives me the wonderful opportunity to make my livelihood teaching Italian — as I have been doing enthusiastically for the past 15 years.
My favorite way to teach Italian is to children. At my Italian preschool, La Piazza di Carolina, I get to play all day, have fun, be creative, sing songs, dance, pretend, paint, draw, build things, read stories, cook, and really do just about anything I can think of in the moment. But the absolute best part about it is that I get to do it all in Italian!
Teaching Italian to children makes the best sense because, as we now know, the brains of children, from as young as six months to about eight years, are wired to learn multiple languages simultaneously. This neurological miracle makes my job very easy. The kids pick up the language so quickly and effortlessly that my lessons flow simply and naturally.
When I teach Italian, my inspiration comes from the children. Say a little boy walks into school one day with a fire truck. Instead of instructing the child to put it away, I’ll use his enthusiasm for his toy as a springboard. We’ll end up taking about cars and trucks, what colors they are, what sounds they make, and who drives them. Then we’ll take out a book about “Things That Go,” (i veicoli), maybe listen to “The Wheels on the Bus” in Italian (Le ruote della macchina), and take out some paints or construction paper and make some vehicles — all in Italian, of course!
This teaching technique tends to keep the children engaged and interested. They think we are playing, but we are most definitely learning too. I can apply this methodology to just about any topic. Up-coming themes include apples (le mele), autumn (l’autunno), pumpkins (le zucche), turkey (il tacchino), and Christmas (il Natale).
In essence, I believe Italian should be taught no differently than English. Walk into any preschool classroom and what do you see? Children playing, singing, creating, building, discovering, imagining, reading, drawing — learning in so many different ways. You’ll see the same when you peer into our classroom at La Piazza di Carolina. There’ll be one significant difference: the dominant language is Italian. Evviva!
Carolina is the founder and director of La Piazza di
Carolina in Yonkers, New York. You can find more information on her
programs and educational materials for children and adults at www.lapiazzadicarolina.com. Click below for a virtual visit to her piazza:
Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.