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The Italian language is the most direct descendent of Latin among all the Romance languages. It evolved from vernacular Latin beginning in the 10th century A.D. It became formalized in the 14th century through the works of Dante Alighieri, who mixed southern Italian languages with his native Tuscan in his Divine Comedy. Although the city-states of contemporary Italy continued – and continue – to have distinct dialects, by the mid-19th century, around the time of the unification of Italy, a common language was standardized throughout the country.

Today, Italian language education in the United States focuses on written and spoken Italian through textbooks and, increasingly, an inter-disciplinary approach that touches on art, opera, theater, literature and current events around the world. The studies broaden students’ understanding of the world, its history, and its culture, and they give depth to the high school experience of all students fortunate enough to take the program.

At one high school that offers Italian language education, students present a staged production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s great tragic opera Pagliacci. At another, they attend an all-day cooking seminar, conducted exclusively in Italian. At yet another, the students go online to research current events on Italian newspaper sites and Italian radio. There is no lack of interest in Italian. Consider the following studies:

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

Foreign Language Student 2007 Post-Secondary Planning Survey®
  • If given the option, more students would choose to study Italian than any other foreign language

Modern Language Association

“Enrollments in Languages Other than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2006,” by Nelly Furman, David Goldberg, and Natalia Lisun Web publication, November 13, 2007. (Please note: the study compared student participation in foreign language studies between 2002 and 2006.)
  • Italian is the fourth most commonly studied spoken language
    Top three: Spanish, French and German
  • Italian is the sixth-fastest growing language with an increase of 22.6%
    Top five: Arabic, Chinese, Korean, American Sign Language, and Japanese.

According to The New York State Report Card - Comprehensive Information Reports - 2004 - 2009 - the Regents Exam in Italian has had the highest growth of any of the current Regents language examinations - 18.8%.