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A guest post by Mauro Battocchi
Consul General of Italy in San Francisco
When choosing a foreign language for their youngsters, parents are naturally inclined to think of widely spoken ones: “More people to talk to, the higher the chances of a good job,” they think.That’s a fair enough line of reasoning. But often the best opportunities are in “niches" that are hard to fill because not enough people prepared themselves for them. I would argue that, for Americans, Italy is one such niche and that the Italian language is the highway to taking full advantage of it.
Let me offer four reasons:
1. Italian offers career opportunities. Italy is the eighth largest economy in the world, slightly behind France and Great Britain, of the same size as Russia and still much larger than India. Its beauty and charm sometimes overshadow its economic dimension; the recent euro-crisis has not helped in this respect.
Italy is not only a cultural superpower, but also a major global manufacturer. But no matter how hard we try, Italians are still far from having flawless command of the English language. We need native English-speaking managers and qualified personnel to sustain Italy’s business in its international outreach.
This reasoning is all the more compelling if your youngsters would like to pursue a career in design, architecture, art restoration, music or the arts –fields in which Italy excels globally. For Americans, who already speak the lingua franca of the world, the Italian language can be a powerful tool to find jobs in the internationalization of the Italian economy and Italian society at large.
2. Italian makes you special.
Italy was the cradle of Western civilization, from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, and produced a unique cultural heritage. The Reputation Institute ranked Italy first in the world in 2013 for culture. If your children learn Italian, they are bound to stand out from the crowd for having a robust background in humanities and understanding Dante, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael — as well as the multiple expressions of Italian cultural genius.
In a world that is increasingly flat and homogenized, people who speak Italian have a clear understanding of the “fundamentals” of civilization — a definite plus for all, be they engineers, marketing managers or designers.
3. Italian is beautiful and fun.
Let me add the icing on the cake. Italian is beautiful and fun! It is beautiful because its abundance of vowels makes it very musical. Opera fans know what I am talking about. It is fun, because Italians are friendly and open — and they won’t hold a grudge if your pronunciation is not perfect.
Italians are probably the staunchest admirers of America in continental Europe. We love the Americans’ jovial approach to life when you come to visit our cities. Also, Italian words pepper the global modern lifestyle. Billions are touched by Italian daily, whether they are singing a capella, complaining of a fiasco or enjoying a cappuccino. It’s fun to understand these words in their original context.
4. Italian is a source of identity for Americans with Italian ancestry.
All these arguments become existential for Americans of Italian origin. Often their ancestors spoke the local languages when they came to the United States, but they tried hard to assimilate, for understandable reasons. The new generations of Italian-Americans have the luxury to be able to reconnect with the modern, dynamic, noble side of their historic homeland, thereby regaining a key part of their identity, by learning Italian.
I thank Consul General Battocchi for sharing this post. Click here to follow his blog from “San Francisco, Italy.” I agree with his points and add this question: What other language could inspire a song about its beauty? Click below to listen.
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.