Astra Zarina, who studied architecture at the University of Washington in the early 1950s and later became a UW professor, began traveling to the...
“L’unione fa la forza”, is an Italian saying for “Strength in unity”, and it was the motto that Magda Codognotto, the director of “Nuovo Centro Italiano”, had in mind in 2013 when she was planning the development of an Italian language youth program called “Io imparo l’italiano”.
Magda designed the program to teach Italian to children living in households where at least one parent is a native Italian speaker. This great youth program in Seattle offers a structured educational training that encourages and nurtures a linguistic and cultural connection for children who have a unique opportunity to develop and maintain their Italian language skills but are otherwise surrounded by English.
Motivated by her personal life, Magda realized that her two bilingual children, Niccolò and Francesca, needed to start a defined curriculum in Italian in order to acquire a knowledge of the language that would go beyond the domestic vocabulary and daily conversation.
She patiently started to teach them with the enthusiasm of a mother and the professional training of a linguist.
Then she realized that not all the parents had that opportunity and time to dedicate to their offspring, so she decided to reach out to local Italian families in Seattle area through social media to assess and discuss the feasibility of the program. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and ultimately led to the implementation of the program. These efforts have clearly paid off: today the program sees two groups of children (6-7 years old and 8-11 years old) who meet twice a month on Saturday afternoon.
Students learn more than just grammar, they improve their Italian in subjects and areas of conversation that they would unlikely explore at home.
“Quali sono i pianeti del sistema solare?” (What are the planets of the solar system) can be one of the themes of a lesson; in other words, astronomy can be the subject of the day.
Besides the language itself, “Io imparo l’italiano” youth program offers the unique opportunity to connect kids who share a common background and cultural traditions.
In addition, this is an excellent opportunity for Italian nationals with families and children, who move to the area to work for global corporations like Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing, to create a community around language.
This combination of factors, in fact, has created an unmet and strong demand for ways to connect with Italian language and culture, especially in the younger generation.
Long ago, immigrant families may have assumed that an English-only approach was the best way to have their kids “fit in”. Recently we are discovering how special and wonderful is to raise a bilingual child: in fact a dual language household can have a number of benefits for child development. Ignorance has been overtaken by the acknowledgment that raising a child with your own mother tongue doesn’t only emphasize a sense of identity, but it also means setting the ground work for better overall language comprehension.
What a perfect place to embrace this philosophy here in the Pacific Northwest, where we have the worldwide research of UW Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, where it is proven that early exposure to language alters the brain in positive ways (http://ilabs.washington.ed).
Recently Nuovo Centro Italiano has been awarded a generous grant by the organization “WeloveItalian,” a group associated with the COM.IT.ES - San Francisco. These funds will bolster the efforts already made as the program continues to build the language program for children. Money will be used to purchase additional books and learning resources, bring technology to the classroom, and expand the program to include more children.
The goal is to establish a self-sustaining Italian language program that will become a valuable service to the community, fostering an appreciation for the Italian language and culture beyond the level of cultural stereotypes.
Without any doubt, director Magda Codognotto, an extremely prepared professional, trained in glottodidactics, is not just offering an excellent Italian language school for adults with Nuovo Centro Italiano, but she has started an innovative, strong and passionate youth program in Seattle that many of us were hoping to see.
It goes without saying that a special thanks goes to all the parents who made the launching of this Italian language youth program possible with their support.
For more info, please visit http://centro-italiano.com/.