An extract from the article “Labelling Italian”, by Doctor Joseph Lo Bianco, University of Sydney, 1989.
- Italian is a “learnable language”. The average English-speaking adult requires some 720 hours of regular instruction to obtain a medium level of proficiency in Italian, against the 1,950 hours required to obtain the same level of proficiency in Asian languages such as Chinese or Japanese. Italian also, due to the pressure of the large number of Italian speakers in the Australian community, offers ready and relatively easy opportunities for immersion.
- Italian is a “cultural” language in the sense that its learning gives the student the key to unlock rich treasures. Modern Italian still permits the reading of medieval classic text.
- Italian is a “well-connected” language. A knowledge of Italian gives access to its other linguistic siblings : Spanish and Portuguese and, to a lesser extent, French. According to the United Nations, Spanish is the fastest growing language in the world. Portuguese is also a very rapidly growing language and French retains a significant international status and high prestige.
- Italian is a “commercial” language. There is a dimension of international commercial relations which gives strength to this subject of Italian. Italy has held the fastest rate of growth of the big four European economies during the past decade. In the context of post 1992 economics, Europe and Italy will assume additional importance for Australia : the large Italian community here, and in particular, its business elements, will be able to provide valuable mediation between Australia and a market of some 320 million people. There is a commercial aspect to teaching and learning Italian which can help add instrumental motivation to the integrative motivation engendered by other characteristics of Italian.
Keeping in mind these features of the Italian language it is clear that its present image is anecdotal and unhelpful to the expanded role it should play in education. No longer just “the ethnic language”, no longer just the language of high culture, Italian should also be seen as an apprenticeship and as an instrumental language. This is because Italian is accessible as an Australian language because it is easily learned, cultural, well connected and commercial.