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Italy has one of the worst levels of English in the EU, study finds

The Local Italy
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Italy has one of the worst levels of English in the EU, study finds
Photo: Francois Nascimbeni

Despite Italy's popularity with English-speaking visitors and home buyers, the country's average level of English is still among the worst in Europe according to a new study.

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Italy ranked 32nd out of 35 nations in Europe for English-language skills, according to the latest English Proficiency Index study conducted by language school empire English First, putting the country near the bottom of the table once again.

The ranking is based on English language test results of more than two million adults in a total of 111 countries and regions.

Italy scored 560 points out of 700 – placing slightly ahead of Spain with 548 points and France, which came last out of the European countries, with 541.

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On average, people in Spain, Italy and France have a "moderate proficiency" in English, the study says, which is in the same range as that in Ukraine, South Korea and Costa Rica. 

A colour-coded map of Europe based on English proficiency (credit: EF EPI)

People with this mid-level of English are able to carry out simple tasks in English such as understanding song lyrics and writing professional e-mails about subjects they’re familiar with, but may have problems with more complex conversations and understanding films that haven’t been dubbed.  

READ ALSO: Why Italians have a hard time learning English

All other European countries were rated as having “high” or “very high” average English-language proficiency levels.

The Netherlands was in first place with a score of 661, and Austria came second with 628.

The global average score was 502.

Italy's score this year was a slight improvement on 2021, when it came bottom of the ranking among European countries.

The study this year again showed a clear north-south divide when it comes to English language levels, with southern Italian regions scoring markedly worse than those in the north.

A map of Italy showing English language proficiency by region. Dark green indicates a higher average score. There was no data available for Marche. (credit: EF EPI)

Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy, all in the north, were named as the Italian regions with the highest levels of English proficiency.

At the bottom end of the table were the southern regions Sicily, Basilicata and Calabria.

Cities with the highest English language levels were Vicenza, Modena and Bergamo, while Puglia's regional capital Bari fared worst overall, followed by the Sicilian cities of Palermo and Catania.

Why is Italy lagging behind other European countries?

There are thought to be several factors contributing to Italy’s persistently low scores in English-language proficiency rankings.

Teachers, students and language experts say that the way the language is taught in Italian schools generally leaves students at a disadvantage, and that students have few opportunities to use the language in real life.

READ ALSO: Why is Italy ranked among the worst at speaking English in Europe?

Meanwhile, the prevalence of dubbing in film and TV means young Italians are not exposed to foreign languages in this way as often as their counterparts in some European countries.

Why does it matter if Italians don’t speak English?

Criticism of Italians’ English language skills can be a source of irritation for some. 

After all, many Anglophones don’t speak any language other than English – so why should Italians or anyone else need to speak English?

But the study is concerned less with the convenience of tourists, and more with the fact that language learning opens up more opportunities for work, study and communication - and comparatively poor attainment in this regard leaves Italian nationals at a disadvantage.

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“A worldwide lingua franca is still necessary,” stated the study’s authors.

“This explains the estimated 2.5 billion English speakers, of which only about 400 million were born into the language. People are learning English because it is useful to them,” the findings noted.

“English is by far the most common language of information exchange across borders, making it a key component for accessing knowledge and expertise.”

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liseinwoodacre 2022/11/18 06:48
As long as the majority of Italians have the attitude that Italian should be the lingua franca—so that even people who work with tourists every day get snotty when they aren’t understood—this situation isn’t going to change. When I lived there in the 60s, French was still the lingua franca, and I never met an Italian who spoke it. The will to change this attitude has to come from somewhere, and it certainly isn’t going to come from the fascists!
vowmeeja 2022/11/17 18:46
Why don't more Italians speak English? May be because the English language doesn't involve hand gestures?!

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