Italy has made relatively rapid progress in language teaching, with all lower secondary students taught English in 2012 compared to 89.1 percent in 2005, figures released on Thursday by statistics agency Eurostat show.
There are only four other EU countries – Denmark, Germany, Malta and Sweden – that teach English to every pupil.
Italians often bemoan the approach to English teaching when they were at school, arguing that the subject was in the past taught too late and to a poor standard.
Federica Antonelli, who completed an English-language masters at Polytechnic University of Milan (Politecnico di Milano), told The Local that English was taught at a “very low” level at her school.
“In Italian schools the quality of English lessons is not very high,” she said, having being taught the subject from the age of 14. “I did learn English in high school, but I also attended a private course because for my masters degree I required a higher level.”
In addition to the jump in the number of pupils learning English, Italy has seen an even bigger change in the teaching of French. While 46.3 percent of pupils learnt the language in 2005, by 2012 this figure had risen to 69.9 percent.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of students learning Spanish in Italy – 20.5 percent in 2012 compared to just 3.6 percent seven years earlier. German is proving more popular, with a jump from 4.9 percent to 8.5 percent in the same period.
Across Europe the Italian language is becoming more popular, although overall it is learnt by few students in Europe. In 2012 Italian was taught to 1.1 percent of pupils, up from 1.0 percent in 2005.
Malta boasts the most students learning Italian; 63.9 percent in 2012 compared to 63.0 percent in 2005. Coming in far-off second place is Croatia, where the number of pupils being taught Italian increased from 6.1 to 10.3 percent.
Italian is not taught at all in nine EU countries, including Belgium and Portugal, according to Eurostat figures.