For people living in Italy permanently, learning Italian isn’t an option, particularly as in many areas little or no English is spoken. Although it isn’t easy, even the most non-linguistic (and oldest) person can acquire a working knowledge of Italian. All that’s required is a little hard work and some help and perseverance. You won’t just ‘pick it up’ (apart from a few words), but must make an effort to learn. Your business and social enjoyment and success in Italy will be directly related to the degree to which you master Italian.
Teaching Italian is a huge business in Italy, with classes offered by language schools, Italian colleges and universities, private and international schools, foreign and international organisations, town councils, cultural associations, vocational training centres, clubs and private teachers. Tuition ranges from introductory courses for beginners to specialised business or cultural courses and university-level courses leading to recognised diplomas.
There are many language schools ( scuole di lingua) throughout Italy offering a wide range of classes to suit your language ability, how many hours you wish to study a week, how much money you want to spend and how quickly you wish to learn. Language classes roughly fall into the following categories:
No. Of Hours Per Week
Up to 20
20 to 30
The cost of a one-week (40 hour) total immersion course is around €140 depending on the school. Courses vary in length from four months to a year and can be attended either in small groups or individually.
Many language schools offer a variety of other courses, ranging from translation and interpreters’ courses to business, cooking, literature and history of art. Schools offer a variety of language diplomas (including their own internal qualifications) but only a few offer the Certificato d’Italiano come Lingua Straniera (CILS), which is recognised as an entry-level qualification for non-EU students wishing to study at Italian universities.
One of the longest-established language associations in Italy is Dante Alighieri, which has schools throughout the country (not to be confused with schools that use Dante Alighieri in their title but don’t belong to the society) and promotes the Italian language and culture through a network of world-wide committees.
The British Institute has a number of schools in major cities, where it teaches both Italian to foreigners and English to Italians. Many universities in Italy have language centres ( Centri Linguistici Atenei/CLA) offering a variety of courses; these are generally held only in the summer and are cheaper than most private schools.
The Universities for Foreigners ( Università per Stranieri) in Sienna and Perugia (not strictly universities but large language schools) offer year-round, Italian-language courses at various levels.
As with all private schools, it pays to shop around and compare fees, as there’s a considerable variation in standards and facilities, and famous international schools don’t necessarily offer the best value or the best tuition.
A quicker, although more expensive, way to learn Italian is to have private lessons. Because Italian teachers also among the worst paid in Europe, there’s no shortage of people prepared to give private lessons. Rates vary widely according to where you live, from around €12 per hour in some central and southern regions to €30 per hour in Rome and Milan with a qualified teacher.
Some good places to look for a suitable teacher or to place an advertisement include local newspapers, and university and public notice boards. Friends, neighbours and work colleagues may be able to recommend a good teacher. In some areas, the local youth advisory service (Informagiovani) provides free conversation classes for foreign students.
Families planning to move to Italy may be interested in Intercultura, the Italian branch of the American Field Service (www.afs.org) organisation – an international, voluntary, non-profit organisation offering world-wide educational and cultural exchanges for young people. Exchanges with Intercultura are for students of 15 or over wishing to stay with an Italian family for between two weeks and a year. For more information, contact Intercultura, Via Gracco del Secco, 100-53034 Colle Val d’Elsa (SI) (Tel. 0577-900 011, www.intercultura.it).
A number of scholarships and grants are available from the Universities for Foreigners at Sienna and Perugia. For information, contact the cultural sections of Italian embassies abroad.
A guide to many language schools, institutions and organisations offering Italian-language tuitions is provided by the Associazione Scuole di Italiano come Ligua Seconda / ASILS (Tel. 09-422 3441, www.asils.it) and from the Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8NX, UK (Tel. 020-7235 1461, www.italcultur.org.uk). A good directory of Italian-language schools is available on the Internet (www.it-schools.com), covering most regions of the country and offering links to a number of schools.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy from Survival Books.