Italian Language, A Love Affair

Where Else but Coral Gables Would an Ancient Society Teach the Tongue of Italy?

Dante Alighieri was a 13th-century poet from Florence – you might remember him as the author of “The Divine Comedy” – who is considered by many to be the father of the modern Italian language. Think of him as the Italian Chaucer.

Naturally, then, when a group of Italian scholars got together in 1889 to form a society to promote the Italian language and culture worldwide, they called themselves the Società Dante Alighieri. Their organization has since spread to more than 60 countries, including to an outpost in Coral Gables launched 20 years ago. Today, at that outpost on Aragon Avenue, you can attend classes to learn Italian. They also teach German, French, and Spanish, but hey – dammi una pausa – Italian is specialità of the house.

The setting at Società Dante Alighieri is intimate; my small classroom felt like a miniature museum. Art covered the walls, books filled the shelves, and every detail connected to Italy, welcoming you to embrace not only the language you’ve come to learn, but also the civilized Italian way of life. It’s an environment that lends itself to erudition, but it’s the teachers and the community – both global and local – that make it special.

Claudio Pastor, the executive director, has been teaching at Dante for 26 years. He greets every student who walks in by name – a task made easier by class sizes that never exceed 10 people, with an average of six, allowing teachers to curate coursework to meet individual students’ needs.

Italian language, A Love Affair
Claudio Pastor, the executive director of Società Dante Alighieri

At the first class that I attended, Pastor introduced himself, explained the origin of the Italian language, and reviewed basic greetings like “Mi chiamo…” (My name is…) so each student could introduce themselves in Italian. Pastor is a charismatic man, creating an environment where no student feels uncomfortable, regardless of their inane questions or their (initially) bad pronunciation. Each question is met with a nonjudgmental explanation and each correction is done cordially and kindly. His enthusiasm and genuine affection for the language is perfectly mirrored by the way he teaches – one wonders if the methods are different for the German classes.

“To learn a language, you need to love it,” Pastor says. “It has to be a little bit like a love affair with the culture, with the language, and with the people. That’s the beautiful part of it.”

The long-time teacher asks each student why they want to learn Italian and uses their interests as part of his lessons. Words like “Gucci” are used to learn certain pronunciations – the Italian pronunciation is a little different from the American – and students are encouraged to come up with similar words from their own Italian vocabulary. Can anyone say “Spaghetti carbonara?”

Some students have been at Società Dante Alighieri for decades, and it’s no wonder. They come to learn a language, but they stay for the community – a community that allows them to immerse themselves in the purest form of Italian culture you can find – outside of Italy, that is. “I love the interactions with our students and our members,” says Pastor. “They are really the soul [of Dante].” 

Società Dante Alighieri

300 Aragon Avenue