Since the beginnings of the eighties, meeting the foreign immigrants was not an abstract idea to the Community of Sant’Egidio but an encounter with real people. So it was immediately clear that they desperately needed an “access key” to integrate into Italian society. That key is language. That’s why, in 1982, the Community started the first courses of Italian language.
The School of Italian Language and Culture was named after Luis Massignon, great French orientalist, and pioneer of the dialogue between Christianity and Islam. Branches of the school were established in several Italian and European cities such as Milan, Genoa, Naples, Florence, Antwerp, Munich, and others. Welcoming tens of thousands of students and teaching them the national language, the schools of Sant’Egidio have become high-impact generators of inclusion.
The changes in the whole of the students’ geographical origins have given an accurate picture of the evolution of the immigration into Italy and Europe. Regardless of the widespread prejudices against them, the immigrants have shown a strong will to fit into society. Wherever there is a school of language the classes are crowded and the number of enrollments is always increasing dramatically. Which shows the appeal of the culture of the countries of choice for the immigrants. These students spent their spare time (sometimes entirely) at school. For instance, in Italy the most crowded courses are on Sundays and Thursdays: they are the days off of the women who work as housekeepers or carers for the local families. Most of those people regard communicating as a primary need just like eating or sleeping.
During the first years of school there were more applications for the courses for beginners. Now there are much more students who wish to improve their language skills and to know more about local culture and art. Some of them attend the school for six or seven years. Since 2001 the Schools of Language and Culture are providing vocational training courses for cultural mediators. Teaching the national language, we realized that many people left their countries seeking a better life not only from the economic point of view: we met a strong and widespread desire of relations, encounters, and cultural enrichment, and we gathered that the students often consider the school a cultural chance as well as an opportunity for socialization and friendship.
During the classes we mainly teach language. Great care is also devoted to several other aspects. Then the school has become a place where citizenship education is provided: the students not only can acquire a knowledge of the national culture and its various aspects; they become aware of issues like war and peace, or racism and equality of all human beings; they learn about civil and political rights as the basis of citizenship and hence the national features assumed by these rights in the different European countries. We teach other subjects: notably Contemporary History. We emphasize that everyone needs to understand the different worlds which the other students come from.
The school of Language and Culture is a place where coexistence is built while each one becomes accustomed to dealing with different people. The classes are purposely made by students from different origins. Therefore attending the classes is a chance to meet and make friends with alien people that one would never have met. This way the school becomes a genuine “workshop” of the culture of coexistence: an actual model, a good practice effective in achieving integration. Because of the long experience of teaching language, a specific method has been elaborated. It is suitable for adult and working immigrants. Therefore in Italy a series of volumes has been published. The title is already a “manifesto”: L’Italiano per amico (Italian as a friend).
In Rome, free Italian language and culture courses are available in afternoon and evening. For information and applications: Via dei Fienaroli, 13 – Roma. Thursday, 3:30-7:00 pm. Appointments can be booked at www.gentidipace.it.
For other cities and countries go to CONTACTS