May 17, 2012

Switching to English

News like this are exactly what makes me hope for the best for the future of Italy: one of the country’s leading universities, the Politecnico di Milano, has announced that from 2014 most of its degree courses—including all its graduate courses—will be taught and assessed entirely in English rather than Italian. “Universities are in a more competitive world, if you want to stay with the other global universities—you have no other choice,” says the university’s rector, Giovanni Azzone. Read the full BBC article.

After all, let’s not forget that the idea of a “global language” is older than English itself, and Italy has more than something to do with it; this for the simple reason that Latin was the world’s first recorded global language, or lingua franca. So, to some extent, this could be described as a case of going back to the future—or at least the present!


  1. It would certainly suit someone like me who has not got a flair for languages, but is it suitable for their own people. Why should Italians in Italy speak English?

    My French is terrible, but I do feel that living here that I have to try and make the effort. I chose to live in France so I must try and speak French. Diane

    1. I see what you mean, and, to some extent, I agree with you. Yet I’d say, first of all, that what is at stake here are technical and scientific studies, not the humanae litterae.

      That being said, however, there’s another perspective from which to consider this issue: simply changing to English does not mean you’re actually using good English, which in turn must make us consider the effect all the non-native speakers are having and will continue to have on English. In this sense the article’s comparison to Latin is striking—should we expect a stylistically decrepit and syntactically irregular written and academic English to become the only English in the next century?

      As a result, perhaps the outcome of the whole thing might turn out to be (paradoxically) more a loss for the native English speaking than for the non-native English speakers, who in turn will certainly enjoy the advantages of their being “almost” bilingual.