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English In Italy

June 9, 2017

English in Italy? In a couple of words: Practically non-existent! However as the local English speaker par excellence, I must ever try.

We live in the Val di Non of northern Italy where the English language is largely just a mere rumor. Our local languages are Nonese (ancient vulgar Latin), Italian, German and Tirolean (low German dialect). English is at best an afterthought hereabouts. It is a curiosity that is practically never explored by local residents.

However English is our native language and as such, we speak it together most of the time. Locals are amazed. They often ask (with a straight face), “What language do you speak together at home?” English of course! Although we do speak a bit of Nonese, Italian and German within our abode just to keep each other on their toes.

When we speak to one another in English in public, heads whirl about. It is probably not that our neighbors dislike our language. It is just that most have never heard it leaving the lips of another person. Occasionally we are asked, “Siete di Ingleterra? (Are you from England?) I almost always respond, “Ma no. Abbiamo denti e menti! (Oh no, we have teeth and chins!) The poor joke is rarely appreciated. Like English itself, there is not a lot of curiosity where we live and little humor as well.

We have a satellite TV system which brings us little bits of our native tongue via broadcasts. However this English is of the isles version and takes some getting used to. There are no Ts and all ending As are pronounced as Rs. “So ‘ats ‘he ‘hing. isn’ i in Americer.” An English teacher friend of ours in Italy used to call while preparing her lesson plans for the following week. A frequent question was, ” Is is I have or I have got?” My answer, also a tired joke, was always, “It depends on whether you are teaching modern American English or the medieval variety still used in Britain.” In the end, she always went with the latter.

While most of Europe’s population speaks at least some English, Italy is the notable exception. The volanta’ (will) just isn’t there. English is offered in schools here and there is some hope for the younger generation to learn the language. However, as with any new language, one must speak it regularly to retain it. Children go to school, learn English for an hour and return home to where their parents and friends don’t speak English. It is not a supporting system. Aah, but necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Once these same students understand that the majority of the internet is presented in English, a new motivation is found.

There is a small paper-thin minority who have taken the time to learn other languages including English. However, without much support, it has been difficult for them. Some have gone abroad to learn and practice the language. These same people almost always relish the opportunity to practice their English and often admonish me not to speak their native Italian. They value the practice. They are the exception and never the rule in Italy.

English in Italy? Probably not in this century. Things are slow to change here. But who knows? C’e sempre la speranza….

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From → America, Humor, Italy, Travel

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