Location/geographical coverage

ItaStra is promoted by the University of Palermo, which is based in Sicily (Italy), but by providing support to foreign students from all over the world, it can be considered international.

Background and description

The School of Italian Language for Foreigners is a teaching, research and innovation center working in the area of language inclusion and the teaching of Italian. It was established in 2007 with the aim of promoting teaching, training, consulting and research activities in the field of teaching Italian as a second and foreign language.

In detail, the ItaStra School:

  • throughout the year activates ordinary intensive and semi-intensive courses aimed at all foreigners, Erasmus and Marco Polo project students and foreign students enrolled at the University of Palermo; organizes the intensive Italian language and culture Summer School (July to September) and Winter School (February/March);
  • is the official seat of the Cils exam thanks to an agreement with the University for Foreigners of Siena and organizes preparation courses for the test;
  • collaborates with the Level I Master’s in “Teaching Italian as a non-mother tongue” provided by Dipli and the Level II Master’s in “Theory, planning and teaching Italian as a second and foreign language”;
  • organizes language integration projects with local primary and secondary schools;
  • participates and promotes international mobility projects with several foreign universities including Sichuan International Studies University (China).

Stakeholders and Partners

It is a structure that, working in close synergy with the educational realities of the University, moves in several directions looking at:

  • to the internationalization processes of the Athenaeum and promoting courses specifically aimed at Erasmus students, foreign students enrolled in the Athenaeum, foreign doctoral students, visiting scholars and visiting Professors, international cultural and youth tourism interested in language courses within study-stays or vacations;
  • to Third Mission activities in particular by supporting the world of immigration in its different components (adults, children and youth) and types (associations, organizations, public bodies, etc.), second and third generations.

From 2008 to the present, the School has registered a strong increase in the number of its enrollment from all over the world (from Asia to the U.S., from Australia to European countries) thanks to the teaching quality of its language courses.

On the side of Italian teacher training, the School promotes training courses for in-service teachers, in collaboration with the Regional School Office with which it has signed an agreement, and is a promoter of International Seminars on cutting-edge teaching techniques. To further its purposes, the School signs and implements international agreements with university institutions in different parts of the world. To date, there are dozens of foreign universities with which the School has entered into collaboration agreements on the teaching and training side, and other collaboration protocols are in the process of being signed. The School also promotes courses aimed at the training and language certification of immigrants staying in Italy, with particular attention to unaccompanied foreign minors and women. In particular, ItaStra has dealt with Unaccompanied Foreign Minors (MSNAs) and Asylum Seekers with multiple directions of work:

1. language inclusion (thousands of MSNAs and Asylum Seekers have been included in Italian language and literacy courses),

2. training (a thousand teachers and reception workers trained),

3. applied research (creation of a research line on inclusion for MSNAs and language teaching for illiterates with also multimedia products),

4. individual study support activities for MSNAs.

5. communication to the territory through high quality artistic projects (theater, music, visual arts).

The School’s activity, which grows year by year, is differentiated and moves on several levels, with the common intent of putting learning at the center of teaching activities and proposing a model of language open to uses, culture, territory, and social.

Methodological Approach

Currently, ItaStra is a reference hub for the dissemination of the Italian language to foreigners and has become over time a best practice for language inclusion policies addressed to Unaccompanied Foreign Minors (MSNA), trafficked women, and Asylum Seekers. The school is based on the construction of a linguistic learning model that brings together language uses and everyday practices through the use of participatory methods.

The methodological aspect that has made it an inclusive good practice is the typical approach of action research that has made it possible to identify very specific strands of applied research that has considered as direct beneficiaries a specific target group of young people.

ItaStra’s research strands were aimed at creating an educational model for MSNAs and adolescents and adults with low or no literacy. In particular, for adolescents and young adults who are making the migratory journey alone, projects were developed for the enhancement of multilingualism as an individual and collective wealth also through language autobiography and art projects.

The lines of research-action were mainly two. The first moves from the analysis of the cognitive and linguistic situation of people who have not learned to read and write at an early age or have a very weak relationship with the written language; the second, from the concept of literacy as the formation of communicative and social skills, of which the mastery of reading-writing is only one aspect. At the convergence of these two lines, lies the work of constructing, experimenting and reflecting on teaching devices that build on the skills students already havè and orient them to the simultaneous approach to all levels of language. Thus, the research unfolds on paths that aim at the enhancement of mother tongues and oral language competence as a starting point toward the processes of abstraction and metacognitive and metalinguistic awareness specific to written language, and on the development of strategic learning skills.


Indicators for the years 2015-2019 testifying that the practice meets the needs of beneficiaries:

Number Total Italian language course students – 15,000

Number of migrant students – 8000

Number of teachers, volunteers included in training activities – 2000

Number of teaching contracts activated over the years – 300

Number of Unipa student trainees who participated in individual tutoring, study support and social and language inclusion activities at ItaStra – 100 to 150 for 600 hours

Number of dissertations that focused on ItaStra activities – 100

Number of doctoral dissertations that have worked within ItaStra number – 2

Number of partnership projects presented (Fami, Fondazione con Il Sud, Giovani per il Sociale, City of Palermo) – 50

Number of third mission projects funded (to date) – more than 10

Number of collaboration protocols signed (City of Palermo, USR Sicily, Schools, NGOs, Cultural Associations, Sprar, Cultural Festivals, Unicef, etc.) – 150

Number of Public Events addressed to the territory (theater, music, photo exhibitions, film screenings, production and screening of original videos) – 300

Number of people who participated in ItaStra events – 30,000

Number of articles, television broadcasts, RAI reports – 30

Innovation potential

The innovative potential of this good practice lies first and foremost in promoting a participatory method based on the importance of the sharing of daily life practices and in having created a network of institutions in the area that generates and regenerates inclusive processes. Particularly in the years 2015-2019, the city of Palermo has been a place of arrival of impressive migratory flows “by boat” that have required the construction in a support network unique in Europe. ItaStra and the university spaces of the former Convent of St. Antonino have been among the protagonists of this extraordinary activity of reception and linguistic inclusion towards new migrations.

Success Factors

To be successful and replicable, it is essential that the practice be:

  • a convergence of intentions among the actors operating in the area,
  • a deep understanding of the needs to which the practice wants to respond;
  • a level of flexibility such that it can adapt to changes that contextually occur locally and globally.


The challenge was to create networks on the ground and to spread a more inclusive mindset that was respectful and welcoming to other cultures. The results show that this challenge was met with the perseverance and determination of those who believed in this mission and still continue to believe in it and carry it forward.

Lessons learned

Through mixing in class, in common spaces, in moments of conviviality, each student is contaminated by life experiences totally different from his or her own and acquires, along with the Italian language, new perspectives on the world.


Networks on the territory and funding from multiple funds have ensured its sustainability over all these years (more than 14 years now), which gives hope that it can be continued in the future.

Replicability and/or up-scaling potential

It is a replicable practice on a large scale in that it is based on a model of cultural sharing that starts with the sharing of daily practices and a model of language that is open to customs, culture, territory, and social.

It is not a practice closely linked to particular characteristics of our local context. Here in Palermo it could be experimented with as a multicultural city par excellence.


The impact of the activities carried out by ItaStra in the five-year period 2015-2019 is measured in relation to the individual areas of action in which the School operates, but also in relation to the local national and international context.

Collaborative agreements are in place with the City of Palermo and the Provincial Centers for Adult Education (CPIA) that have made it possible to reach, through language training courses built on the needs and requirements of the target group, an important number of students. These include those who, starting from a condition of illiteracy (not having previously undertaken any kind of schooling), have learned both literacy skills and a language, Italian, which they use alongside the often vast multilingual repertoire. Continuous training initiatives have been carried out in the years 2015-2019 in collaboration with the Regional School Office, in response to requests for training gradually submitted by schools in the area. Language training activities aimed not only at students but also at trainers have been outlined and detailed by specific collaboration agreements. ItaStra has then been collaborating for years with Italian and European institutions and research centers by participating in funded projects specifically aimed at research and teaching in the area of language inclusion of adolescent and adult migrants with low schooling and unaccompanied foreign minors (MSNA).

ItaStra is also a best practice in the certification of the Italian language at the European level: it has been awarded the European Language Label, awarded as part of the Erasmus+ Project, managed by the European Commission – DG Education and Culture, in cooperation with the Member States, with the assistance of the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and the National Agencies of the different participating countries. The European Language Label is a “quality label” aimed at promoting the language skills of European citizens that is awarded to organizations and institutions that implement innovative language learning and teaching projects in education and vocational training each year. Demonstrating the overall impact of ItaStra’s activities on the national level is the collaboration agreement between the Ministry of Education, and the Department of Humanities of the Universitỳ degli Studi di Palermo, within which the School of Italian Language for Foreigners operates, for the provision of teaching modules for ill national project directly implemented by MIUR “Language Literacy and Access to Education for MSNAs – ALI MSNA” aimed at 1,000 newly arrived young migrants. The agreement sanctions and affirms that the Department of Humanities “is, on a national level, a center of absolute excellence in the field of teaching Italian as a second and foreign language. In particular, ItaStra has a consolidated experience in the research of educational and training paths aimed at the linguistic and cultural inclusion of foreigners, using innovative approaches, models and methods that put the person at the center of the teaching action. The Ministry through this agreement has recognized the high degree of excellence, exclusivitỳ and specificitỳ technical and scientific expertise within the university administration. This agreement allows ItaStra to carry out projects aimed at the development and adaptation of models for the analysis of learner profiles and disciplinary content for the learning and enhancement of basic (Italbase) and didactic (Italstudio) Italian and civic and social modules, to be conveyed via digital platform in e-learning mode, for the specific target of unaccompanied foreign minors (MSNA).

The impact and usefulness of the good practice ItaStra can be explained through the words of noted local intellectuals:

“Today Sicily is really the new frontier of Europe. I am not thinking of the physical and symbolic landing place of Lampedusa. Far from the spotlight, in the heart of Palermo, the spirit of Erasmus is being reborn updated by new challenges among the desks of the School of Italian Language for Foreigners “ItaStra,” where the flower of university students who have come from the old continent and the rest of the world and the young people who landed in Italy by barges, the so-called ‘unaccompanied foreign minors’ (MSNA), sit shoulder to shoulder.” So begins Benedetta Tobagi’s 2016 chapter “Palermo. The Europe to Come” of her successful book The School Saved by Kids. Viaggio nelle classi senza confini (Mondadori 2016), which goes on to describe for more than ten pages a reality that is still unique today, not only in Italy. “The School of Italian Language for Foreigners “ItaStra” is based in the former seventeenth-century convent of Sant’Antonino, renovated in 2011, which is part of the University of Palermo’s University Museum system. Here the cloister has become something more. Together with the classrooms, it is the place where siderally distant universes touch: unaccompanied foreign minors and the international student elite. (…) The idea was exactly this: through mixing in class, in common spaces, in moments of conviviality, each student would be contaminated by life experiences totally different from their own and would acquire, along with the Italian language, new perspectives on the world.” A few years later, Vinicio Ongini, in “Grammar of Integration. Italians and Foreigners in the Classrooms” (Laterza 2019) also dedicating a chapter to ItaStra, confirms it as “a point of reference in the field of linguistic integration and a laboratory of ideas” with points of contact with the School of Barbiana and the Popular School founded by Tolstoy,” places where barriers fall and the idea of exchange and reciprocity makes its way. A few months earlier reasoning about the word ‘Accogliere’ in the pages of L’Espresso (October 10, 2018) Evelina Santangelo, about the docufilm, Soulyemane Bah, made on ItaStra and screened in front of more than 1,000 people at the Politeama Theater in Palermo, speaks of it as a place from which to learn that “language is a form of salvation”, it is an extraordinary force.

Contact details

URL of the practice Reference document

Related Web site(s)

Developed websites:

Related resources that have been developed

Research in the strictly educational sphere, which has produced dozens of scientific papers and volumes and was deserving of a specific 2015-2017 grant, “Network for Research and Didactics for Language Learning in Low Schooling Subjects.” In this direction, the project “Bridges of Words” ( was implemented, which produced an e-learning platform and multimedia course for learning Italian L2 for migrant youth and adults in 3 volumes starting with the profile of absolute illiterates. Through collaboration with the Institute for Educational Technologies of the National Research Council (CNR) and with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF, ItaStra has produced a digital App “Studiare Migrando.” The APP is aimed at mainly Unaccompanied Foreign Minors housed in reception facilities who attend Centers for Adult Education (CPIA). The use of the APP through a platform with seven modules, two designed to consolidate skills for the language of communication, and five disciplinary ones useful for preparation for the multidisciplinary interview as part of the state exam concluding the first cycle of education, has enabled users to go beyond their status as foreigners housed in a reception center and provide them not only with language skills but also with support to begin to take vision of their potential and ability to build a future for themselves. Dissemination of the tool was planned in the Provincial Centers for Adult Education, communities, and first and second reception centers for Unaccompanied Foreign Minors (MSNA) present mainly in the Sicilian territory. The tool available on PC or Android has been designed according to a modular logic thanks to which the student accesses interactive multimedia content and teaching modules and performs a series of activities on his or her own, while others are fully developed with the accompaniment of a native Italian speaker (CPIA teachers, but also community educators, volunteers, tutors, university students carrying out internship activities).

In the years 2015-2019, a series of projects were carried out that introduced both ItaStra and the entire world of new migration (including MSNA) to a very wide audience. Among others, we recall the show Echoes of the Long Distance, at the Biondo Theater attended by 1,500 spectators, and The Blind Man Who Opens Our Eyes made at ItaStra’s headquarters attended by 600 people over several evenings, both directed by Iraqi director and storyteller Yousif Latif Jaralla. In 2017 and 2018, the artistic and workshop journey of MSNA youth produced two screenprinted books, The Little Mermaid and Gulliver’s Travels. The encounter and contamination between art, theater, and storytelling has left important traces (photos, paintings, drawings, panels) in the classrooms and common spaces of the Convent of St. Antonino, where the classrooms, library, reading room, front office, and office of ItaStra are located. In addition, there are dozens of videos documenting and narrating ItaStra’s project, which have been screened both inside the facility during public events: we recall the screening of the docufilm Io, Soulyemane Bah, which was screened at dozens of events in Italy and abroad and also at the Politeama Theater in October 2018.