Why Study Italian?

by Prof. Fabian Alfie

Why should I study Italian at the University of Arizona?

Italy is one of the centers of Western Civilization.  Knowledge of Italian is useful in and of itself; but it is also essential for the study of other fields like history, literature, music, art, business, economics, and political science.  From the 13th-16th centuries, Italy was the wealthiest area in Europe, and therefore it was the birthplace of Western culture, capitalism and banking, science, philosophy and world exploration.  Italy is also home to 45 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The UA Italian Program is the largest undergraduate Italian program in the US, with about 100 declared majors!  

Strengths of the UA Italian Program include:

  • A broad, diverse curriculum that includes courses on Italian language (all levels), literature, culture, cinema, and folklore.
  • A summer study abroad program in Orvieto, with courses available at all levels of Italian.
  • Vibrant and active faculty and adjunct instructors.

Students are encouraged to major or minor in Italian.  Students are especially encouraged to double-major in Italian. 

Ok, Italian is helpful for my studies, but how will Italian help me after graduating?

Probably the best answer I can give you is to look at what our alumni are now doing.  Click on the "Alumni" link (above) and browse through our former students.  You'll see  many different ways that a BA in Italian has helped them. 

If that doesn't convince you, try this: Italy has the seventh-strongest economy in the world, with a Gross Domestic Product of $1.7 trillion, and is a founding member of the European Union.  Some careers that require Italian include: teaching; import / export; art restoration; museum curating; music; hospitality, food and food-service; high fashion; cinema. 

More broadly, however, Italian language and culture is central to the study of the Humanities.  Studying the Humanities results in a comprehensive education, which requires knowledge of history, sensitivity to language (both one’s own and a foreign language), sharp analytical skills, good critical thinking, and strong communication skills.  These are all abilities that are increasingly in demand. 

Throughout these tough economic times, various news stories have shown that firms are always looking for people with skills in the Humanities. 

While there is no doubt that preparing for a career is important, human beings are more than their jobs.  Studying the humanities truly broadens your horizons.  It allows you to “wear someone else’s skin,” through study and analysis of literature, and by exposing you to other cultures, perspectives, and lives.  

Why should I bother learning Italian (or any other foreign language) when the rest of the world speaks English?

Let me answer that question with an analogy: imagine someone who’s only ever eaten one food—say, apples—for their entire life.  That person might argue that there’s no need to eat anything else, that other foods are “worse”—even “disgusting!”—and that the people who eat them are incomprehensible.  Instead, everyone else should only eat apples!  Sound familiar?

In the US, a surprisingly large percentage of people are monolingual.  Many prevalent misperceptions are borne from this pervasive monolingualism: stereotypes, stilted public policy and discourse, and incomprehension of other people.  Just as bad, without exposure to another culture, your own culture remains transparent, invisible.  It’s simply understood as “the way things are done,” and not a set of beliefs, values and behaviors that developed historically.

Knowledge of another culture broadens your horizons, and changes you in a profound way.  

And isn’t it a pity that so many people go through life “eating only apples” without experiencing the joy of some of life’s other possibilities?

But can’t I learn Italian by listening to CDs in my car?  

Not really.  Let me put it this way: you may also sing in your car, but no one would confuse that with true voice training.  Why should language learning be any different?

Language learning is fundamentally about relationships.  

Children learn their first language to interact with their families.  Even in adult education, languages are learned best when interacting with other individuals.  

In today’s world, relationships are everything—in business, in politics, and in life. The entire field of the Humanities is about relationships: with other people, with other individuals, and with oneself.  Now more than ever, the humanities are essential… and an important component is Italian!

For more ideas about the importance of studying Italian, please watch the news story that KUAT-PBS 6 did about UA Italian on November 4, 2009