Italy hosts millions of tourists every year, thanks to its unique historical-architectural capital in the world. How hospitable is Italy in linguistic terms? How simple is it for a tourist who doesn’t speak a word of Italian to get around the country? From the restaurant, through the hotel and public and private means of transport, do we, as a country, offer adequate support materials in terms of translation quality?
Italy and the language barrier
Italy is a wonderful place, capable of enchanting millions of tourists every year with its beauty. There are so many factors that leave tourists speechless: from naturalistic to artistic feats, through to the cuisine, so rich and varied that it satisfies any palate. But what do those who visit from abroad think of Italy’s linguistic hospitality? In the most touristy areas, such as Rome or Venice, just to name two, foreign citizens will always find themselves at ease, being able to fully enjoy the experience, especially in the historic centres, which are designed and designed for tourists. Everything is translated and the level of language skills of service staff in restaurants, museums and transport is very high. However, in the rest of the country, in the ‘real’ country so to speak, things are not quite the same. The tourist who wants to visit and experience Italy at 360 degrees will encounter more than a few difficulties in communicating, moving and eating. Italy, as is well known, is one of the last in Europe for language skills.
The biggest disadvantage for a tourist visiting Italy is therefore the language barrier, especially outside large population centers or where the length of stay is too short to allow adaptation. Generally speaking, we are not a ‘tourist-friendly’ country from a linguistic point of view. Like all Europeans, we are proud of our language and culture and expect foreigners to follow our pace.
Food is one of the many reasons that drives millions of tourists to visit the Bel Paese every year. But how easy is it for a tourist to orient themselves in the culinary offer of Italian restaurants? Well, although most of the restaurants in the most touristy areas and cities offer translations of the menus into English, it is enough to deviate a little from the route, perhaps towards more rustic and less traveled beaches, and here is life (and cuisine! ) starts to become more bitter. In fact, it is very rare for a slightly out-of-the-way restaurant or farmhouse to offer international menus.
To overcome this lack, the tourist will need to directly request the translation of the menu from the waiter or someone on his behalf. In the end, round and round, a solution is always found, but it is likely that the tourist will first have to look around a bit in search of someone, among the specialized staff, who knows a little English. In fact, the statistics don’t lie: only 18.9% of Italians say they can speak two languages. About a third are totally incapable of processing a meaningful sentence in a foreign language, while 56% say they have the basic knowledge to at least make themselves understood by their foreign counterpart. Things are a little better by restricting the sample to the new generations: almost 50% of the 2021 graduates have a medium-high knowledge of English (B2). For foreign tourists there is therefore still hope; he will just have to be patient a little.
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