How Patrizia Saraceni Corman is enriching children’s lives with language

Written by Daria Kurdyukova

Seventeen years ago, second-generation Italian immigrant Patrizia Saraceni Corman, 55, gave birth to her son William. Not wanting him to miss out on the Italian language and traditions she learned from her own parents, Patrizia decided to make sure he received the same cultural upbringing that she did and began teaching him Italian. Eventually, she quit her job and opened Carousel of Languages, a foreign language program for young children that’s situated on the Upper East Side.

Nearly two decades later, Patrizia’s son is 18 years old and her program has expanded to teach 10 different languages, including Hindi and Mandarin. Children attend for an hour each week, often learning the language of their parents or ancestors, and Patrizia maintains small classes and close relationships with families and students. Not only is it a meaningful way for kids to keep in touch with their heritage — just as Patrizia and her son did — but the school also provides an opportunity for kids to experience cultures, languages, and people that they otherwise might not.

Here, we chatted with Patrizia to find out more about her experience opening Carousel of Languages and keeping in touch with her Italian heritage.

How did your Italian heritage influence your life and career?

“We did move back and forth to Italy as children, so I did elementary school up to fifth grade in Italy and then we came back. My parents continue to speak to us in Italian — it is part of our cultural heritage.

“I continued my education in the US and because of my Italian language skills, I worked for several Italian fashion companies [including Giorgio Armani] that allowed me to use my Italian language and go back and forth in Italy before I started Carousel of Languages. For the last eight years I worked for Benetton family doing corporate communication and marketing. It wasn’t until I had my son that I decided I did not want to continue working in [fashion] only because I was traveling so much. I was so focused on my child, but I still needed to work and be productive — have my own purpose.”


How do you and your parents stay in touch with your Italian heritage?

“I have to say, my father is far more Americanized than my mother. She truly insisted that she speak Italian to us. We went to Italy every summer — she really maintained that lineage for us. That’s why it was easy for me to step into Italian fashion. At that time (mid 80s), the Italian fashion industry just started to hit the US market. It was really an opportune time for me. I was young and inexperienced and I had this wonderful asset. We have always maintained our connection with our home-based in Italy.”


What was it like to grow up between two cultures?

“As a child, it’s very challenging because you are comparing one to the other. It takes time to understand that you can appreciate one and the other. It was difficult for me and my sister to move back and forth. You create friendships and then you leave them. And I remember I came back to the States after one year and I noticed how big the cars were compared to Italy. But in Italy, I missed having pancakes with syrup like you eat here in the States. Then, it passes as you mature. You just look at it and appreciate good things about Italy and about the States. I always say to my son William, ‘If you are in Rome, do as Romans, but just appreciate where you are and don’t be critical of different cultures, lifestyles and heritages. Accept it and be part of it.’ Don’t be the tourist, be the traveller, be part of it, understand what is all about.”

The classroom at Carousel of Languages.

What was the process of quitting your job in fashion and starting Carousel of Languages?

“After I had William, I left my career. I felt very connected to that career and it was very hard for me to leave. As I always worked for Italian companies, I really missed my daily connection with Italy. It just stopped and so I realized how important it was for me to teach my son Italian. I started to look for [language] lessons for children. I found French and Spanish and other languages — this is 17 years ago. It was not as popular as it is now — everybody said I just need to speak English. After attending many different classes, specifically a language program in French, I realized with my background, I could do lessons in my home.”


And there was a demand for it.

“It was fascinating how quickly it spread by word of mouth and it was also interesting how parents loved the privacy of coming into our home without going to a program. A lot of celebrities with their children or grandchildren started to come to us. We received a lot of press — including in the New York Times style section because [the class] was unusual, unique.”

A child learns words in Spanish during an after-school program at Carousel of Languages.

And then you expanded to more languages?

“It was my husband who told me you need to do the same thing in many languages. He was very supportive of this. Once I knew what the foundation was in terms of early childhood learning standards, themes, logical thinking and how we communicate with a child who does not understand a language. For me it was very simple: verbal, visual, tactile. You can speak — you don’t have to read anything. It is all about what you say, see, and put into your hands.”


What languages did you first offer?

“We first started with Roman languages — French and Spanish — and we quickly added Mandarin and then the others languages — Russian, Hindi, Turkish, Greek — came from parents’ request. We may not have a lot of children in those areas because I have allowed the program to grow organically, without advertising. But to me it is very precious because it is about their heritage and how to maintain this heritage within one’s family. I love the older languages because they are speaking these languages at home and I do not want children to forget them.”


What was the most difficult part of starting Carousel of Languages?

“The hardest thing, you know you have to be ready to make an investment. You give 300 percent — I did not do anything other than my job. I think that you have to be so excited about something that you do not even think about the time and the money you put into because you just believe in it. It was not so much starting a business, it was also more about who I was as this new woman, because you have to reinvent yourself as a mom. Who I am as a mother is who my son is going to see when he grows up.

“Purpose is really important. For me, it was very important to prove to myself, to prove to my family and to my son that I could do something that is relevant and meaningful and give back. I feel that what we do here, it is of amazing educational value. It is just amazing to see all these babies coming here and how they respond — I am moved by it every day.”


Do you have any advice you can give to new immigrant women in the US?

“My advice to anyone who comes to this country is that you have the ability to try anything — no one is stopping you. Somebody said to me once when I started this business, ‘You are either going to sink or swim.’ I told myself, ‘I am swimming, I am not sinking.’ Sometimes it might be a hard to swim, but that, to me, it is the beauty of what this country is. Nobody is stopping you — you can do it.”

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