Since its foundation, the Dante Alighieri Society has always been a leading player in promoting Italian language and culture throughout the world. My Italian Link met with its President, Andrea Riccardi to talk about this non-profit organization.
You became the President of Dante Alighieri’s central committee in 2015. In your view what is the Dante’s mission in today’s world? What challenges do you foresee going forward?
The Dante Alighieri Society has a history spanning more than a century. It has always been a leading player in promoting Italian language and culture throughout the world. It was initially the link, which helped Italian migrants living abroad to maintain ties with their communities of origin. Today the descendants of those Italians are fully integrated members of the societies in which they live; they no longer look on Italy with nostalgia but with the desire to assimilate many of the characteristics of our people and our land: creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness in forging relationships.
Similar attitudes are today generally shared by people of many countries that see Italy as a country that has a wealth of artistic talent and entrepreneurial and social skills. I like o use the term “italsimpatia” to express that sense of admiration for Italy’s style and way of living. Today the Dante must keep this altered perspective in mind, and focus on promoting an image of our country that will continue to give our culture and our language great prestige.
Do you think that compared to the past, there has been a change in the role the Dante has to play in the promotion of Italian language and culture?
Certainly, because above all we have to try to work on initiatives with other entities and institutional bodies that have the same objectives. I am referring first and foremost to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) which plays a very important role in the propagation of Italian language and culture, but also to the Ministry of Art and Cultural Heritage (MiBACT) which is always more involved in promoting Italian art and culture abroad, and the Ministry of Education (MIUR) that aims to ensure that there is quality Italian teaching beyond Italy’s borders.
The Central Of ce of the Dante Alighieri Society has itself proposed an integrated model that presents a unitary framework for the development of a cultural programme and effective teaching within its network. This nevertheless allows individual committees a degree of autonomy to organise initiatives best suited to their particular context. On the cultural front, we are working with MiBACT to adopt a plan of ministerial intervention for the whole territory. On the linguistic front, we have already made a large investment (with valued funding from MAE) in the ADA project, an extremely useful tool to program high quality language curricula at all levels. Together with PLIDA (the Dante Alighieri’s certification exams to ascertain levels of linguistic competence), ADA aims to provide the means to achieve uniformly high standards of quality teaching, and in the process to reap economic benefits.
What does the Dante Alighieri Society do throughout the world to promote Italy today?
It’s a question we should be asking each one of the 500 chapters that we have all over the world. They all, through their enthusiasm and expertise, have proven how much can be done on the periphery even when one is very far from and poorly connected with the mother country. Naturally the dominant activity is teaching Italian; in your country, South Africa, there is a strong tradition of this: the Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pietermaritzburg chapters have been teaching our language for a very long time. As we have said, teaching the language is very relevant in promoting Italy in foreign countries and has repercussions on maintaining the presence of Italian enterprises outside our borders.
Furthermore, with regards to cultural activities each committee organises numerous events every year that range from exhibitions, public lectures and concerts to social events. I would like to mention in particular the many Italian films that are shown and discussed. I believe that in this way one promotes not only Italian culture but the very spirit that animates the people of our land. .
According to some statistics, Italian is the fourth most studied language in the world. In your view why is this so?
What you quote should be taken in the context of the interest shown for second language learning. Apart from what statistics may say, there certainly is a great interest in learning Italian all over the world. One does not need to offer Italian in competition with the curricular languages that are most widely taught, but for the love of the language and the appreciation of Italian art, music and culture that people have. Simply think of how much demand there is to study Italian by musicians and opera singers, not to mention ordinary aficionados of our music, who also find the musical tones of our language, so pleasing to the ear, a unique example of beauty.
People in South Africa consider Italian the language of art, culture and fashion. Is this the case in other parts of the world among lovers of the language who are not of Italian ancestry?
Yes, as previously said, the language is associated with the Italian lifestyle. Thus, it has a remarkable capacity of penetrating faraway lands and maintaining its beauty and fascination among the people of societies very different from our own. Nevertheless, the presence of Italians and their descendants living there is also very important, not only because they keep alive deep-rooted, familiar memories of our country, but also because they stimulate local communities. I am well aware of the efforts made by the local Dante schools to forge links with the people of South Africa and achieve the cultural integration which is at the heart of good societal relations. And one knows how important this is these days!.
“All those who visit Italy have an unforgettable experience; those who visit it with some knowledge of the language are better able to appreciate all its finer qualities.”
You have started offering language courses combined with traditional culinary classes. Do you think this is a good combination?
Many of our chapters have found that combining cooking and language lessons is an excellent way of spreading our culture and our language. And it also supports the notion “Made in Italy”, seeing that in the supermarkets of most countries, one finds food products emulating Italian cuisine, even with phoney and grammatically inaccurate labels. The sale of Italian gastronomic products, but also fashion items, cars and other quality goods that display Italian excellence is indirectly promoted by teaching the Italian language in foreign markets where Italy has a presence. .
In your opinion, what can we do to further enhance the value of our language abroad?
A systematic plan of action is needed, that is to say an integrated plan that has input from both institutions and companies to promote and develop our language and culture overseas. The Dante Alighieri Society wants to play its part, but cannot do it alone; for this reason it has started to work together with the three ministries mentioned earlier (MAE, MIUR and MiBACT) in order to galvanise action in strategic territories.
The lack of resources and the complexities of our globalised world are often the cause of the slow delivery (or even curtailment) of funds for ambitious initiatives that are feared to be unachievable. But the Dante is an organisation with a professional and lively presence in all five continents. Our network can make Italy known even in distant countries where it does not have a diplomatic presence or economic ties. Because of this, we have presented proposals that hopefully will resonate with our partners.
Do you have a message for our potential students, and anyone who will be going to visit our beautiful land?
Italy is a splendid country, rich in art and culture; Italy is a nation of vibrant, welcoming people. All those who visit Italy have an unforgettable experience; those who visit it with some knowledge of the language are better able to appreciate all its finer qualities – they become a little bit Italian.