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ITALIAN LANGUAGE

TEST: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?

To become an Italian citizen, you may need to prove your language skills. Do yours make the grade?

TEST: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?
So you speak Italian - but are your language skills good enough to impress officials? Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

From being able to confidently order a gelato to total fluency, there’s a huge variation in the levels of Italian attained by foreigners in Italy.

But there are certain bureaucratic processes that require formal qualifications. When applying for Italian citizenship through marriage or residence (but not via ancestry), you must prove proficiency in the Italian language at B1 level or higher.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Italy’s language test for citizenship

In most cases, getting a carta di soggiorno residency permit has no formal language requirement, though some non-EU nationals may need to sit a language test at the lower A2 level. Read more about that here.

This article relates solely to language ability for obtaining citizenship; the application process has several other requirements depending on which route you take. Read more about this here.

So what does B1 mean?

A B1 level certification is a ‘lower intermediate’ level and means you are proficient enough in the language to manage everyday interactions, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL).

This level of proficiency allows you to “communicate in most situations that arise while travelling” and to understand topics “regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.”

So there’s no need to write with perfect grammar, have an extensive vocabulary, or be able to recite Dante’s Inferno in the original language – but people at this level should be able to make themselves understood in most everyday situations.

It should also be enough to follow most conversations and TV shows or get the gist of what’s in Italian newspapers.

If you’ve lived in Italy for a while, there’s a good chance you’re already at this level or close to it. After all, a decent grasp of Italian really is necessary for everyday life in the country outside of the main city centres and tourist hotspots.

If not, it might be time to sign up for Italian language classes – if you haven’t already. 

If you want to check, there are numerous Italian language level tests available online, such as this one.

What does the B1 language test involve?

The exact structure of the test varies between the four administered by educational institutions approved by the Italian Education Ministry or Foreign Ministry.

They are: The University of Siena for Foreigners (CILS); The University of Perugia for Foreigners (CELI); The Dante Alighieri Association (PLIDA); and The University of Rome 3 (CERT)

These tests can be taken at language schools around Italy and abroad. If your language school advertises B1 testing for citizenship, make sure they are accredited by one of the above institutions.

The structure of the test also differs depending on whether you’re taking the B1 cittadinanza exam or a regular B1 level Italian language certification.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you’ve cracked the Italian language

Could you pass an Italian language test at B1 level? Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Both tests involve answering similar questions at the same level, but the B1 cittadinanza is essentially a shorter version which costs less to take. The downside is this certificate can only be used for your citizenship application and not for other purposes, such as for university applications.

And though it’s shorter, it may not actually be easier to pass; if you fail on one section you will have to retake the entire test (as opposed to just retaking that section under the standard B1 level tests listed above.)

If you’re fairly confident of passing and don’t need it for anything else, it may be the more convenient option.

In any case, the test will involve at least four sections; a written test, reading tests, listening test and an oral test where you have a conversation with an examiner.

Listening 

For this section you will have to listen to two recordings; one of a conversation, and another of a short monologue.

The format varies and each section will be played at least twice.

Here is a sample question from a past paper, after the candidates had listened to a short clip of someone talking about the southern region of Puglia – click here for the audio and transcription.

Ascolta il testo. Poi leggi le informazioni. Scegli le informazioni presenti nel testo (3 per testo).

A) Il programma radiofonico riguarda la cucina tradizionale italiana.
B) Gli ascoltatori partecipano a un quiz e possono vincere un viaggio.
C) La regione Puglia ha ricevuto un importante premio.
D) Questa estate in Puglia è diminuito il numero dei turisti.
E) In Puglia ci sono paesi tranquilli dove ci si può rilassare.
F) La Puglia offre un’ampia scelta di sistemazioni turistiche.

Reading and grammar

This section involves reading two pieces of text, testing your reading comprehension and grammatical knowledge.

Here are some sample questions from a past B1 paper, relating to a report about new public services from the regional government in Tuscany.

A) La Regione Toscana vuole migliorare i servizi online per i cittadini e i turisti.
B) Attraverso un numero verde i cittadini possono segnalare difficoltà, chiedere informazioni, dare consigli sui trasporti pubblici.
C) L’attivazione del numero verde ha lo scopo di limitare i danni ai viaggiatori nell’ambito del trasporto locale.
D) Il numero verde 800-570530 non è attivo il sabato e la domenica.
E) Se il numero verde riceve una telefonata di protesta su un servizio deve informare la ditta responsabile di quel servizio.

See the text and further questions here.

Writing

For the writing test, you’ll need to choose between two prompts and then write 80-120 words.

In this example, you’re asked to write to your landlord to tell them you’re moving out because you have problems with the neighbours.

You’re asked to explain the problem and ask what you need to do, and whether you need to pay rent for the next few months.

Hai dei problemi con i vicini e hai deciso di cambiare casa. Scrivi un messaggio al proprietario del tuo appartamento per chiedere cosa è necessario fare. Spiega perché vuoi trasferirti e chiedi se devi pagare l’affitto dei prossimi mesi.

Do you understand the prompt? Now you need to prove your ability to get the double letters and accents in the right place when writing.

Speaking

The speaking section is in two parts.

The examiner will ask you to begin by introducing yourself and talking about your work, family or hobbies – the examiner will then ask you some questions about yourself.

It should be a discussion, with the examiner asking questions and giving other responses which you are expected to understand. This part will last 6-7 minutes.

Then you’ll be given a choice of several topics to talk about for 7-8 minutes. These topics can be almost anything; you won’t see exactly what they are in advance, but the examiner should give you some time to read through the options and may help you decide which one to choose.

Your answer should include certain grammar points and involve giving your opinion. Again, the examiner will prompt you with questions and it should become a discussion.

Some examples of topics you may be asked to talk about:

    • Preferisci vivere in città o in campagna? Quali sono i vantaggi e gli svantaggi?
    • Quali sono gli aspetti della cultura italiana che senti più lontani rispetto alla tua cultura?
    • L’assistenza sanitaria in Italia e nel tuo Paese: somiglianze e differenze.
    • Quali documenti ti servono per ottenere la cittadinanza italiana? Quali sono le procedure?

Translation:

    • Do you prefer to live in the city or in the countryside? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    • What are the aspects of Italian culture that you feel are most distant from your culture?
    • Healthcare in Italy and in your country: similarities and differences.
    • What documents do you need to obtain Italian citizenship? What are the procedures?

Could you keep a simple conversation going on these topics in Italian? Then you might be ready for the citizenship test. 

These sample questions are from the CILS B1 cittadinanza exam – see more details on the university’s website here. Exam questions will vary and the structure of exams from other institutions may differ.

READ ALSO: Which italian verb tenses are the most useful?

It usually costs €100 to sit the B1 cittadinanza exam, though some schools also add a default charge for a preparatory course.

Even if you already have a higher level of Italian, exam preparation courses could be useful as they explain the exam structure and likely content.

Find out more about taking the exam in a separate article here.

Speak to your local Questura or consulate, or see the Interior Ministry’s website (in Italian), for the latest information on the process and requirements when applying for citizenship.

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BUREAUCRACY

EXPLAINED: What’s an ISEE and when will you need one in Italy?

There are plenty of Italian acronyms new residents need to be familiar with, and this may be one of the most important. Here’s what it means and why you’ll need it.

EXPLAINED: What’s an ISEE and when will you need one in Italy?

Long-term Italian residents might be already familiar with the ISEE, but to others it’s no more than a mysterious-sounding acronym seen in reports about Italy’s many government ‘bonuses’ and subsidies.

ISEE stands for ‘Indicatore della Situazione Economica Equivalente’, which roughly translates into English as Equivalent Financial Position Indicator.

In typically Italian fashion though, the full name is likely to leave you just as puzzled as the acronym.

Basically the ISEE is a parameter used by Italy’s government and public administration to gauge the overall economic situation of a household. 

It takes a variety of factors into account, though it is for the most part based on the ages, annual income, assets and any physical disabilities of the members of a household. 

You could think of the ISEE as a sort of ‘financial ID card’, which states your household’s level of wealth and financial security.  

READ ALSO: How foreign nationals can apply for an Italian ID card

Sooner or later, all Italian residents end up crossing paths with the ISEE, usually when accessing means-tested government financial subsidies.

For instance, recently-extended discounts on gas and electricity bills can only be claimed by households with an ISEE of up to 12,000 euros. 

ISEE thresholds are also set for Italy’s universal single allowance, nursery bonus and most exemptions in the public healthcare system.

However, a household’s ISEE status is not automatically calculated by the Italian public administration. So those looking to access a state subsidy must go about claiming their own ISEE certificate independently. 

How do get your ISEE certificate?

It may not come as a surprise to hear that getting an ISEE certificate isn’t nearly as straightforward as it should be.

For this reason, even Italian nationals tend to need the help of private professionals. 

Claiming the certificate revolves around completing the ‘Dichiarazione Unica Sostitutiva’ (Single replacement declaration, or DSU); a form asking claimants about their income, assets and size of their household.

Customer speaking with employee in a tax office in Italy

The ISEE system takes into account a variety of factors, including the age, annual income and assets of any given household member. Photo by Andreas SOLARO

You can complete this form yourself, or have your commercialista (accountant) or another professional do this for you.

INPS recently launched a new online service allowing residents can ask to receive a pre-filled DSU form – some questions are automatically answered based on records held by INPS and the Agenzia delle Entrate – and then proceed to complete the document by themselves. 

Once completed, the form must be submitted either to your local Centro di Assistenza Fiscale (Fiscal Support Centre, CAF) or via the National Social Insurance Agency’s (INPS) website.

A DSU form can be submitted either to your local Fiscal Support Centre (CAF) or via the National Social Insurance Agency’s (INPS) website.
 
More Italian bureaucracy:

It can be submitted at any time of year, with the resulting ISEE certificate valid until the end of that same year.

The ISEE certificate is usually available within 10 days of submitting the form, though there might be delays if the info given through the DSU doesn’t match the records kept by the Agenzia delle Entrate (Revenue Agency) and INPS. 

Once the certificate is ready, residents can choose to either have it delivered online in downloadable format or pick it up in person. 

The following INPS web page allows users to work out whether or not they might be eligible to claim certain state subsidies by ‘unofficially’ calculating their ISEE status.

Further info about how to get an ISEE certificate is available on the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Politics’ website (in Italian only).

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