Profiles of Success: Catiana Celentano

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Teaching Generations of Children & Adult to Speak Italian

In this week’s edition of Italian-American Profiles of Success, we chatted with first generation Italian-American, Catiana Celentano, founder and director of Let’s Play In Italian (Giochiamo in Italiano).

Let’s Play in Italian was founded in New Jersey in November 2005 Celentano, a stay at home mother at the time who had struggled to find a children’s’ Italian program to help her teach her own two children how to speak Italian. Discovering that there was not too many options, she created her own program that is now used throughout the state of New Jersey. Let’s Play in Italian is an enrichment program that teaches children and adults about the Italian language and culture through various techniques. Learning a second language is crucial to a young child’s development, and has many benefits for an adult as well.

We learned more about Let’s Play in Italian as well as Catiana’s heritage and some of her favorite Italian traditions.

CP: How many children and adults have you taught since the opening in 2006?
Catiana: Since the opening of Let’s Play in Italian in 2006, we have taught just under a thousand children and adults throughout the years. They were primarily children.

CP: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Catiana: The most rewarding aspect of what I do is to see children come to school every day excited to learn. It’s an amazing feeling when you see students continue to come back interested in educating their children about the Italian heritage and its culture. Also, hearing the children when they enter the preschool in the morning saying boungiorno or arrivederci maestra on their way out.

CP: What do you have in store for 2014?
Catiana: For 2014, I working on becoming a full day program for my Preschool- kindergarten classes currently we are a 2-hour program.

CP: What are some of the organization’s short and long term goals?
Catiana: The organization’s short term goals are to have a full day pre-k and kindergarten and a new location in New Jersey for my organization. Lastly, one of my long-term goals is to reach into teaching second grade.

CP: Now just some personal questions for you! Can you tell us about your Italian heritage?
Catiana: I am the first Italian and American generation. Italian was the only language to be spoken in my household. There were no exceptions. My parents are from Calabria, a region in southern Italy. They moved to the United States to find new opportunities.

CP: What are some of your favorite Italian traditions and why?
Catiana: Some of my favorite Italian traditions is celebrating Christmas Eve by having a Feast of the Seven Fishes as a family. Another tradition I enjoy is Saint Joseph’s Day which is on every March 19th and eating foods like zeppole and sfinge.  I also love celebrating Easter and eating foods such as Pizza Rustica and especially having “Sunday sauce” dinner every Sunday with my family. I love Italian food!

CP: What does being Italian mean to you?
Catiana: I am so proud to be a first generation Italian and to speak the language fluently. It’s probably the best gift my parents could give me. I value all the culture, beauty and what Italy has to offer. When I think about being Italian, it reminds me of the courage it took my parents to come to this country and give me this amazing opportunity. That’s something I appreciate the most.

CP: What advice would you have for others who would like to learn Italian but don’t have a center like Let’s Play In Italian in their community?
Catiana: An advice I would give to others who would like to learn Italian is to listen to Italian TV and radio even if you do not understand. Also, it would be great to buy simple Italian books on CD’s to help you understand better. You will be surprised how much you learned and how much it will inspire you.

CP: What else would you like our readers to know about Let’s Play in Italian?
Catiana: Lets Play in Italian has been in business for 8 years. I always work hard for the organization to grow and be able to offer new opportunities. My intention is for children to adapt to the Italian language and enhance their skills.

In 2008, the non-profit organization, the Italian Language and Enrichment Center (LEC) was established as a bi-lingual preschool and enrichment center in Scotch Plain, New Jersey that provides lessons to children ranging between the ages 2-1/2 and 5 as well as teenagers and adults.

We also host a Christmas concert and an End of the Year Celebration concert every year where the children sing only in Italian. The children are anxious to share their knowledge and sing new Italian songs to friends and family.

This program offers a wide variety for parents to choose from. Our vision is to inspire the next generation to continue in their studies and keep traditions and cultures alive through the programs we offer. Since we are a non-profit organization, we are always looking for help and support to keep the school going. It is important we try to keep the Italian-American culture alive and with the center, I feel we are doing so.

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