I am the founder of the largest Italian children's playgroup in the Boston area, the Boston Bambino Club (BBC). Again and again, I see a pattern whereby children very quickly abandon the Italian language when they go to preschool or kindergarten and are surrounded by English speaking peers. It happens very quickly, often within two or three months, and the kids can be incredibly stubborn. For instance, at BBC meetings I almost always have to switch to English with children four and over because they refuse to speak Italian or they have lost their skills.
I constantly receive e-mails with stories from Italian parents who are desperately seeking help in teaching Italian to their children. There is also significant interest among Italian-Americans. I regularly turn them down for BBC membership because I can be assured that these eager families would not have the basic skills in Italian that would allow them to contribute to the group.
In a recent lecture that many of the BBC parents attended, Tufts Professor Calvin Gidney said that the children who are successful at becoming bilingual, and who can freely converse in a second language, are the ones who have had the opportunity to learn the second language in a variety of contexts (e.g., social, schoolwork, sports, current events). As a result, they tend to be either (1) children who went to a school with an immersion program in the second language, or (2) those who had the opportunity to live, for extended periods in the country of the second language. Saturday schools are not enough, and unfortunately, living in Italy is a possibility for very few of the Italian and Italian-American families that I know. Thus, we must establish an immersion school that can truly support the needs of the Italian/Italian-American families in the Boston area or we will continue to fail at passing our language and culture on to our children. Successful immersion programs already exist in New York (http://www.lascuoladitalia.org), Portland, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and several cities in California. Additionally, in Chicago they have a summer school.
Consul General of Italy in Boston, Dr. Giuseppe Pastorelli, has asked me to bring evidence to him of the need, and support for, an Italian immersion program. I hope that you will join me in expressing your strong support for establishing Italian immersion schools, both summer and during the academic year, in the Boston area.
If you want to make this happen, please sign the enclosed letter publicly.
Thanks for your help with this!
Boston Bambino Club