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Multilingual Education
A special session at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Conference

Abstract for "Heritage Language Programs: The Case of the Slovene High Schools in Italy"

Carla Paciotto
Western Illinois University

The case of the school system for the Slovene minority in Italy presents a remarkable and enduring case of state-sponsored high school heritage language program which provides instruction employing the minority language (Slovene) as the main medium of instruction, while the national language (Italian) is studied only as a subject matter. This presentation will provide the preliminary results of the initial stage of an ethnographic study of a high school in Gorizia, Italy, serving 99% of Slovene students. The presentation will illustrate the general characteristics of the program, together with the results of school observation, teacher in-depth interviews and open-ended student questionnaires, and student focus group interviews investigating:

  1. teacher and student uses of and attitudes toward the heritage and national language;
  2. the role of the high school program in relation to heritage language and culture maintenance;
  3. the effects of the program on the development of the national language (Italian).

The preliminary results of the study show that, consistent with Thomas’ and Collier’s (1997) study of the effectiveness of bilingual education programs for minority language students in the U.S., strong forms of bilingual education such as heritage language programs are effective in developing literacy in both the first (minority) and the second (dominant/national) language at appropriate academic levels. In addition, the study shows that the high school heritage language program is of greatest importance in the process of strengthening the Slovene language and culture among the young generations.


Thomas, W. P. and Collier, V. (1997). School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education: Washington, DC.