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EDUCATION

Italians ranked among worst in the EU at speaking English – again

Despite some progress in their foreign language skills Italians are still behind most other EU countries when it comes to speaking English, according to a new global ranking.

Italians ranked among worst in the EU at speaking English – again
How does English teaching in Italy compare to other European countries? File photo: Mychele Daniau/AFP

Italy's English proficiency is second to last in the European Union, going by how its nationals scored in language tests, with only Spaniards performing worse.

Italy ranks 30th out of 100 countries where English isn't a national language in the latest English Proficiency Index  from global language training company Education First, on par with Malaysia and well behind top-scoring countries in northern Europe.

The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Sweden topped the table, while Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq and Tajikistan scored lowest worldwide.


An extract from Education's First's 2020 English Proficiency Index.

Within the EU, Italy and Spain were the only two countries where English-language skills are classed as “moderate” rather than “high” or “very high”. 

And even though Italy has climbed the ranking compared to last year – when it came bottom in the EU and 36th overall – its two biggest cities performed worse than any other EU city included in the index. Even Madrid and Barcelona in Spain showed “high proficiency” compared to “moderate proficiency” in Rome and Milan, Education First said.


An extract from Education's First's 2020 English Proficiency Index.

People with moderate English skills should be able to make small talk, take part in meetings and write professional emails about subjects they're familiar with, the company says, but cannot necessarily read a newspaper, understand TV shows, give work presentations or communicate at an advanced level in social situations.

Italy has long lagged behind its neighbours in the index, with a lack of native-speaker teachers in public schools, lessons that focus on memorising grammar rules than practicing speaking and the tendency to dub foreign films and TV shows all cited as factors in why Italians struggle to perfect their English.

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“The gap in English proficiency is particularly concerning because both Italy and Spain suffer from high rates of unemployment, particularly among the young, and could desperately use the new economic opportunities that faster, smoother communications with the rest of Europe would bring,” Education First said.

Its ranking is based on scores from more than 2.2 million English learners worldwide who took its free online language test in 2019. People who choose to take the test are probably interested in studying English, which means that people who already speak it to a high level are less likely to take part.

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BREXIT

‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

Ranked: Italy’s best universities and how they compare worldwide

“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.

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