By Domenico Pacitti
temperatures in Italy are adding to the allure of the country's
breathtaking natural and artistic beauty and local culinary and
oenological delights. The result is a potentially heady mixture
for academics, students and Italophiles seeking summer courses in
Italian language and culture - a welcome oasis within the dark
groves of Italian Academe.
in central Italy on a picturesque site above Lake Trasimene, near
the foot of the Umbrian Apennines, and surrounded by such jewels
and tourist musts as Assisi, Gubbio, Foligno, Orvieto, Spoleto and
Todi, the ancient Etruscan city of Perugia boasts its University
for Foreigners as the most popular and prestigious centre entirely
dedicated to Italian studies.
are conducted in the stately 18th-century Gallenga-Stuart palazzo,
with its late-baroque decorations and futurist paintings and
frescoes, where up to 120 specialist teachers cater for an annual
intake of 7,000 students.
of the five consecutive diploma courses are repeated monthly all
year, and runs for four weeks in the intensive option at £200 per
month or 12 weeks in the basic form at £140 per month. Last year
250 students from 60 countries got monthly grants of over £300 to
cover fees and accommodation from Italian embassies and
consulates, the Italian Institute of Culture, the Dante Alighieri
Society and the British Council.
are established by the Association of Language Testers in Europe
(ALTE), which includes Perugia, the Alliance Française, the
Goethe Institut and the Istituto Cervantes.
university's director of teaching courses, Professor Marcello
Silvestrini, is also author of the world's most used Italian
teaching method. In italiano, the first multimedia Italian course
for foreigners - consisting of basic text, floppy disk, CD Rom and
video and audio cassettes - is the fruit of 30 years' teaching
experience and has sold over a million copies since 1990.
methods allow literally anyone to achieve a 'survival language'
from scratch in just 4 to 8 weeks. This means the ability to ask
for and interpret all the basic information related to food,
travel, health, reading and other everyday situations,"
students, aged from eight to 80, are the most varied imaginable
and include athletes, actors, film directors, bankers, businessmen
and journalists, as well as aspiring opera singers hoping to
perform at La Scala in Milan. It is edifying to see everyone,
including Palestinians and Israelis, live, study and eat together
in complete harmony while pursuing a common goal."
Sciascia, Ginsburg and Calvino are among the 20th-century writers
adopted as models of written Italian, and students who have
achieved the requisite linguistic grounding can choose between
specialist courses in history of art, Etruscan studies,
linguistics and commercial and technical Italian.
to the latest figures, the European market, composed mainly of
Germans, is highest (56%). Then come Asia (22%), North America
(8%), South America (7%), Australia (5%) and Africa (2%). Just
1.5% of all students last year were British - a fall from almost
double, which the university ascribes to adverse publicity after
the earthquake in Umbria in 1997.
up on the losses is Italy's only other university for foreigners
at Siena. A no less qualitative affair with just 23 teachers and a
fraction of Perugia's students, it runs four intensive ten-week
courses a year starting in January, April, July and October.
Course fees and accommodation expenses are slightly higher than at
Perugia, but classes are limited to around 20 students.
academic year saw the launch of two initiatives at Siena: a full
four-year degree course in Italian language and culture with the
option of translation and simultaneous interpreting, and a
two-year specialist course in teaching Italian as a foreign
on summer courses at Siena can also see the celebrated August
Palio - a horse race around the city's main square.
appealing are the courses run by the University of Milan in a
paradise at Gragnano, in the north of Italy between Milan and
Venice. Basic language lessons, which take place in the superb
Villa Feltrinelli on the edge of Lake Garda, are supplemented by
high-quality options for more advanced students: sixties Italian
cinema, 19th- and 20th-century Italian painting, the poetry of
Leopardi, Dante's Divina Commedia, 18th-century Italian opera,
Italian mediaeval architecture, the Italian theatre and Italian
politics and economics. Just over £300 covers both monthly fees
the virtually inclined, the mammoth ICON (Italian Culture on the
Net) project set up by the Italian higher-education ministry, the
Italian national television network (RAI) and the University of
Pisa is now well under way to promote Italian culture worldwide
over the Internet. ICON, the brainchild of Marco Santagata,
director of the department of Italian Studies at Pisa and chairman
of the project, has seen a 24-university Italian consortium
frantically working on the 30 multi-level courses due to take off
"It will mark the first ever coordinated project by Italy's universities," Santagata says. "My approach of teaching Italian culture in a very broad sense to include art, history, cuisine and religion was inspired by an Anglo-American Italian studies model. Let's hope it all goes according to plan. Or, as we say in Italian: Che Dio ce la mandi buona!"
Note: This article first appeared in The Guardian on June 22 1999.