Linguistic entrepreneur Gianluca Butticè

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When Gianluca Butticè moved from his native Sicily to the U.S., he faced the challenges of learning English and American culture. Surmounting that learning curve inspired him to make the journey easier for others. So after spending the past several years teaching Italian, he is branching out into offering tours of Italy that encompass language and culture in a mutually enhancing way.

“I know the doors that are opened when you learn a new language,” he says, explaining that traveling, learning the culture of a country and learning the language can all reinforce each other.

Butticè, 41, believes everything he has done in the past 15 years, including earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and industrial/organizational psychology from DePaul University, teaching Italian at Language Loop and Berlitz, and interpreting for business clients — is evolving into the business he founded last year, Madrelingua Italiana Inc. (Madrelingua means “mother tongue.”)

It will combine language learning and travel, as well as introduce travelers to the culture of Italy, which Butticè says has subtle but important differences from U.S. culture.

“I always had it in mind to combine the language learning with my hospitality studies and experience,” says Butticè. “I really put some effort into this, and this is really giving me joy.”

He’s offering his first trip, an eight-day tour of Sicily, in September, and plans to include language learning and information about Italian and Sicilian culture in addition to the travel. As the group circles from Palermo to Erice, Segesta, Agrigento, Noto, Siracusa and Taormina, he has arranged for experts to provide architectural commentary, cooking classes and winery tours.

It’s part of Butticè’s mission to get tourists to Italy beyond the usual tourism sites, like Rome and Venice, to discover the various regions of Italy in an in-depth fashion. He’s starting from what he knows, as he grew up in Favara, a Sicilian town outside of Agrigento.

He learned the basics of English in school there, in the Italian equivalent of middle school and high school. Not until arriving in North America in 2009 and spending time in Canada and the U.S., however, did he really begin learning the finer points of the language. After completing his studies at Truman College and DePaul and getting his degree in 2012, he began working as an Italian instructor for adult students and a translator.

His students have included people preparing to go to Italy on a student exchange mission, people preparing to live or work in Italy and at least one student who was getting ready to attend medical school in Milan.

As his views on the interconnection of language learning, travel and culture evolved, Butticè decided to add four terms below the name of his company: learn the language, travel, discover and grow.

“This is what I am all about,” he explains. “I try to convey cultural insight besides the language itself, and the travel adds to that so people discover and grow.”

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About Pam DeFiglio

A lifelong writer. Pam DeFiglio works as an editor at the Chicago Tribune Media Group/Pioneer Press. She has won two Chicago Headline Club awards for previous work as an editorial writer and features writer at the Daily Herald. She also won National Federation of Press Women awards for Chicago Tribune news features on immigrants, and has worked in public relations at a university. She loves Italy and all things Italian, thanks to Nanna and a magnificent college year in Rome. She's grateful for all the people working to celebrate Italian culture in Chicago. Contact her at

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