This is a question every Italian person, especially students and workers who desire to go abroad, ask themselves usually without getting an answer.
Starting with a description of what it means to be fluent in a language: it is known that it is the ability to speak, to write and to express oneself in a foreign language easily, accurately and naturally. It is what Italians lack. This is because they do not have the opportunity to practice this language daily, so they just study it without living it.
Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t concern only Italian people, but it is a wide phenomenon spread in other EU countries. Some examples are Spain and Portugal whose languages derive from Latin, like Italian. This common characteristic causes difficulties to Spanish and Portuguese people to be fluent in English. However, the Italian case has been taken into account as an example of places where this problem could happen. It is appropriate now to analyse in detail what happens in Italy and what are the reasons for the existence of this big problem, especially for young people.
The first big problem is the poor education system Italian schools adopt. This is because the Italian education system tends to focus on acquiring theoretical knowledge rather than the practical application of it. This is a problem for every subject, but it applies to languages particularly. This is because languages need to be practised by speaking, listening and writing. Italian students are obliged to memorise English grammar rules without practising and speaking the language. In this way, they tend to forget everything they memorise after finishing school. This happens because even some teachers don’t speak English, so they just explain grammar rules and give homework. As a consequence, everything the students learn, they don’t use in daily conversations. In addition, all English classes are explained in Italian, just a few professors try to explain in English, but these are the exceptions. Furthermore, English is not studied in every school, but it can be substituted with French or German.
Another reason why Italian people have some problems speaking English is the economy. This is because most Italian companies are a family-run business, aimed to Italian market instead of foreign markets. Even though in recent years, thanks to EU rules, exports became very important even for the small companies, the staff don’t know English very well and only now companies are paying for English courses for its own employees.
3. LACK OF ENGLISH MEDIA
In Italy, everything relating to entertainment like movies, cartoons, books, TV shows, documentaries are translated from English, or other languages, to Italian because the Italian dubbing industry is among the best in the world. Because of this, it is very difficult to find a movie on TV or at the cinema in its original language, and even more uncommon it is to find theatres showing English operas. If someone wants to watch a movie, for example, in the original language he/she has to search for it online.
4. NO CHANCE TO SPEAK IT IN REAL LIFE
There are not many chances to speak English daily in Italy, because nobody speaks it on the street or at work. The one opportunity is at school or at University with some professors, but English lessons are often explained in Italian because only a limited number of Faculties in Italy give lessons through English.
Because of a difficult history, Italy became a united country just two centuries ago, so today there are still a lot of people who speak their own dialects and don’t know how to speak Italian, so how could they speak English? In addition, only in the last 20 years immigration has grown in Italy, so meeting people from other cultures and other languages is normal for young people but not necessarily for older ones. Until now, it was not necessary to learn another language, because Italian was more than enough.
6. THE ART OF SPEAKING
Italians consider public speaking an art and this skill is prized, so they concentrate on learning how to create a good discourse with appropriate words and with all adjectives used in order to embellish the discourse and the topic you deal with. As a matter of fact, in Italy even the University exams are oral, and a student has to learn to manage the anxiety and in the meantime, to create an almost perfect discourse, stylistic speaking.
In conclusion, it is important to explain that it is not Italian people’s fault if they don’t speak English very well, but it is a combination of details which create this problem. It could be solved in the near future as globalisation, immigration, and export activities continue to develop in Italy. Of course, this problem doesn’t affect every Italian, but the majority of them.
Written by Fabiola Sibilla