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Problems for Learners of English in Italy

Problems for Learners of English in Italy | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Learning a new language can be a wonderful experience. However, its success depends on several factors. Personal propensity above all. By this, I mean interest and passion for whatever language it is we have set our minds to learn. More often than not this propensity involves a sort of an innate talent which makes it easier for some students to master specific language skills. The right hint of motivation goes hand in hand with the environment. At a very early stage, this environment is represented by our teachers, masters, and tutors. Their ability to pass on the interest of another language will be crucial. How are we ever going to enjoy foreign language classes if they are carried out in a monotonous and dull manner? They have to be diverse and engaging and leave us wanting for more. However, there is another environmental component which I find to be of utmost importance-language exposure. The language content we spontaneously hear around us, mostly on Tv, DVDs, and music. This particular element is almost entirely absent in the country whose language acquisition problems I would like to discuss – Italy.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Katarina K. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Cultural Challenges

Due to a twisted set of circumstances that originated during the fascist regime, the Italian cultural system tended to be mostly introverted and focused on itself. Italians took great pride in the richness of their vocabulary, musicality of their words and overall prestige of Italian language made famous through Alighieri, Petrarca, etc. Hence, for as long as the old generations can recall, there had never been books read in any other foreign languages, especially not French and for that matter English. An enormous wave of excellent translator formed throughout the 20th century and books are written in all the languages were translated into Italian. Brilliantly if I may add. The same happened to the movies leading to an incredibly popular surge of dubbing, an art still present in Italy. It is so well regarded that the Italian dubbers are somewhat celebrities and up until recently they enjoyed the same reputation as actors themselves.

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Which brings me to one of the problems Italian students face when learning English. They lack familiarity even on a phonetic level. This means that most of the times they will not be able to pronounce words correctly. One reason for this is the lack of exposure to the language. As they have never heard what certain words sound like, consequently they are not able to reproduce it. Another is in a different accent system, especially in multi syllable words. The accents tend to be placed at the beginning of a word and a lot of words originate in Latin and they sound differently in English. Given this problem, Italian students take the longest time to learn to speak and pronounce the words properly. This might be their biggest challenge.


Secondly, the Italian language has a very complex grammar system and it is a bit unruly too. By this, I intend that the usage of this system is not widely applied. Italians themselves are often unable to correctly use their language, as it poses a lot of problems. On the other hand, English is more simple and the usage of tenses is very specific, context-oriented. Italian students struggle to understand the difference between Past simple and Present perfect because time is handled differently in these two languages. Take for example the adverb of time recently. Un English it is strictly connected to the usage of present perfect whereas in Italian it can be applied to both past simple and present perfect. This is all very confusing, although sometimes there are similarities between languages too.

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Finally, vocabulary can be quite tricky too. This is only because there are sometimes a lot of words that are very similar with the exception of the pronunciation obviously. Other times however Italian student think that the word will be similar when it’s not and they get stuck with the thought of the word beginning and sounding in a specific way when the reality is that it will be completely different.

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To summarize, Italian students have to deal with a lot of difficulties when learning a foreign language whether it is English or Portuguese. These problems mostly have to do with political and cultural order but in the last couple of years it has been changing quite a lot and nowadays thanks to huge platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime, people are given the opportunity to choose the language they want to hear. It is still not as common as it should be but it is a work in progress and hopefully, the generations that come will be better.

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