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Learning Italian with the “Maestro”: Andrea Pirlo

The Interview with the former midfielder of Milan and Juventus, today in New York, where he is also the protagonist of a new Italian Language Course Online

by David Ward and Daniela Bartalesi-Graf
Andrea has been a “Maestro” of the soccer field thanks to his ability to orchestrate spectacular goals. From August 7th, opening day on the edX platform of the online course AP® Italian Language and Culture developed at Wellesley College by Daniela Bartalesi-Graf, Andrea is also “maestro” of Italian.

“Soccer in Italy? It brings the nation together. Playing for the national team? It’s like having a second skin. Greatest challenge for the team captain? To be in charge of everything that happens on the field and … teaching Italian as a second language!”

Andrea Pirlo is one of the greatest midfield generals in the history of Italian and world soccer, a player who “thinks therefore he plays” to quote the Cartesian title of his autobiography. In his long and glorious career, Pirlo has won everything a soccer player can win: World Cup winner in 2006 with the Italian national team, gli Azzurri; twice winner of the Champions League with Milan in 2003 and 2007; winner of six Italian national championships – scudetti – twice with Milan in 2003 and 2007 and four consecutive times with Juventus, 2012-2015; he has played 116 times for the Italian national team, scoring 13 goals. In 2015, in search of new challenges, he came to the US to play for the New York City Football Club in the Major League Soccer championship.  Perhaps he did not imagine that as well as being a “maestro” in midfield, he was also about to become a “maestro” in an online Italian language and culture course—but that’s the way it went!

From the outset of his career, Andrea has been a “maestro” of the soccer field thanks to his ability to orchestrate spectacular goals. From August 7th, opening day on the edX platform of the online course AP® Italian Language and Culture developed at Wellesley College by Daniela Bartalesi-Graf, Andrea is also “maestro” of Italian: the exclusive video interview he granted us is the center of the unit on sport in our online Italian language and culture course, free and open to all, especially to people who want to continue their study of Italian language and culture beyond the beginners’ level, or to high school students all over the world looking for a way to prepare for the AP Italian exam. This course has been specifically designed with their needs in mind.

The idea to interview Pirlo for the online course comes from our belief that expatriate Italians like the “maestro” (or Federico Rampini, journalist from La Repubblica and the celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, both interviewed last year for the course) are the best ambassadors of Italian culture and, why not, popular teachers of our “dolce lingua del sì.”

In his interview, Andrea talks of the role soccer has taken on as a catalyst of national identity and of the low profile of women’ soccer in Italy, especially when compared to the US: important but often hardly examined aspects of Italian culture, on which our online students are invited to reflect. And there are many who will engage in virtual discussions with their new “maestro”:  already, even in the early days of the course, we have over 3,000 enrolled students from 124 different nations—a small army of Italian language and culture enthusiasts that is growing with the 100 new students each day.

We are certain that our virtual community will continue to grow exactly as our student numbers grew in our other three online courses, once again offered on the edX platform: Italian Language and Culture: Beginner, Intermediate e Advanced. In its opening year from January 2016 to January 2017 these courses, once again free and open to all, attracted more than 86,000 students from 186 nations. Our new online AP® Italian is the logical and natural development of this sequence and leads students to the most advanced level, where it is Italian culture rather than the mechanics of the language that is at the center of each lesson: the video interview with Pirlo opens our unit on sport in Italy; Lidia Bastianich introduces a study of the variety of Italian regional cuisines; Federico Rampini invites students to discuss Italy’s Republican Constitution.

David Ward, Andrea Pirlo, Daniela Bartalesi-Graf

These three video interviews, in addition to others with experts in the Italian economy, the Made in Italy, Italy’s universities, and the “brain drain” that has seen so many talented young Italians come to our shores, are accompanied by articles from Italian newspapers, weekly magazines, television and radio programs, short stories, advertizing, all with pre- and post-listening comprehension exercises, with self-correct functions, times transcripts and suggested points to be examined more deeply on the course’s Discussion forum. In our online AP® Italian course there is no separation between language and culture. This has always been our aim. We firmly believe that this course meets the needs, interests and motivations of today’s international constituency of online students of Italian: for many of them, studying the Italian language is not an end. Rather, it is an instrument that allows them to explore Italian culture in its various and multi-faceted forms—from Renaissance art to Slow Food, from fashion to robotics.

What else do our digital students of Italian have in common?  Most importantly, they all share an interest in Italian that they have not been able to pursue through lack of teachers that teach and schools that offer Italian, as well as a lack of the economic resources necessary to sign up for courses and buy textbooks. Online courses meet a need and open up new opportunities for students who would be otherwise denied instruction.  They are free, the material is “on demand” 24/7, and each lesson can be repeated, even ad infinitum. The units are flexible: students begin finish when they want or can. They study on their terms, working out the time, rhythm, mode and place according to their own schedule and needs.  For thousands of students from all over the world, their interest for our language and culture has found a means of expression, has grown and is being shared with others.

Online students form a virtual, international community.  Just two examples: in our Italian Language and Culture: Beginner course, a high school student shared his description of his village on the Algerian coast with a Lithuanian student; and in our Italian Language and Culture: Advanced course a French woman spoke of the effects of recent immigration on her city.  All in Italian, naturalmente. Online learning fosters intercultural exchange.  The course not only teaches a language, it also offers a forum for different points of view, encounters and debate.

With Andrea Pirlo we spoke of how soccer can bring a nation together; of how a series of painful historical events and experiences has led to a weak sense of Italian national identity and how at an international level the nation’s passion for soccer has helped to overcome factions and make us feel more like a united nation and people. We like to think that our online courses do that too:  a meeting place, a kind of virtual piazza, for the creation of an identity based on a common interest (and love) for our language and culture—an interest that we see growing day by day all over the world.

(For more information on Wellesley College’s online Italian courses, write to:

* We would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Consulate General of Italy in Boston for facilitating contacts with Lidia Bastianich, Andrea Pirlo and Federico Rampini, and the generous funding that made it possible to carry out these interviews.

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