Never before has knowledge of a foreign language been the tip of the balance that tilts a company’s hiring in favor of one candidate rather than that of another.
Business demand continues to be unsatisfied; in Italy finding bilingual workers is truly a difficult task. Why do Italians speak English so badly? There are many examples out there. In our political class but also in your immediate environment.
Here everyone knows everything until the moment of truth arrives, but beyond ordering a coffee, giving an address or introducing yourself to someone, do we really know how to speak English? The answer is no. Let’s try to understand why.
English in Italy: we have good intentions, but the road is still long
Italians spend, on average, 10 years learning English, yet 50% admit they don’t speak it at all.
Italians are still at the bottom of Europe, as Eurostat or Education First surveys place our country in the last positions on the continent. The best, or at least those who mostly claim to speak English, are in the North, while the worst in the South; however, regardless of territorial distinctions, almost 50% of Italians between 25 and 64 do not know any foreign language.
We remain in the eternal intermediate level of English. Italy is at an average level of knowledge of the English language. The three qualifications registered in Italy (low, high and, above all, moderate) can be included in level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
This is the first of two intermediate levels of English, which means we can understand song lyrics, write professional emails on familiar topics, or even attend meetings in the area of knowledge that is familiar to us. But that’s all, don’t ask for more.
“Neither find love nor earn more money, I want to improve my English level.” According to a recent study on the importance of English in 2022 conducted by ABA English, learning a new language is the main purpose of this new year according to 25% of Italians, ahead of other desires such as traveling more (18% ), live a healthier life (14%), spend more time with family and friends (12%), save money (10%) or change jobs (7%). This is followed by goals such as learning a new skill (4%), making new friends (4%), volunteering (3%) and falling in love (1%).
Reasons why we struggle with English in Italy
Italian is the twentieth most spoken language in the world. It is estimated that there are around 63 million Italian speakers worldwide, to which must be added another 3 million people who speak Italian as a second language. When we go abroad, it is very difficult to find someone to communicate with in our native language, yet this does not seem to motivate us to improve our language skills. Why?
The school and its methods that don’t work
Probably the most important reason of all is that we are taught English the same way we are taught history or biology: as a body of knowledge to be memorized, when in reality English is more of a tool that we need to know use. After all, languages are for communication. Understanding grammar but not understanding and speaking a language is a contradiction.
If as a child you learned your native language not by studying grammar or doing exercises but simply by listening, why should you learn a second language any differently? It doesn’t make sense, right? Language is a skill and not knowledge. Since prehistoric times, when there were no written texts or academies and native speaking teachers, humans have acquired language the same way they learned to walk. In short, English is not studied, it is trained.
Children should be enabled to use the language, having fun, through an intuitive and interactive approach. The teaching principles should follow those that children, independently, assimilate from an early age to learn their own language badly, yet this is far from what happens every day in Italian schools.
The bilingual model is not widespread and questioned
In Italy, the bilingual model does not have many admirers, as well as being not very widespread. While some believe that teaching the language through other subjects has significantly improved students’ proficiency in English, others criticize that it is a discriminatory model that sacrifices the content of other subjects, being suitable only for those receiving a extracurricular reinforcement, and which further penalizes students with learning difficulties.
Nonetheless, dozens of teachers have indicated the low level of oral English in classes as the main reason why English is not spoken in Italy. Speaking a language is the most natural way to learn it. A language is learned through use and exposure, but in Italy, rather than practicing listening or speaking, teachers tend to use written activities more in teaching English. The reason? It is a more practical tool for managing groups of 25 or 30 students.
We don’t watch films in the original version
Since Italian is a fairly closed language, we have benefited over the years from a broad tradition in the publishing, audiovisual, translation and dubbing sectors. This is something that doesn’t exist in other countries, where people are forced to watch more films and television in the original version with subtitles.
It must be said that it is half a reason, since seeing content in English whose level is much higher than yours will not make you improve at all: you will continue to understand too little.
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