Why can't Italians speak English fluently?

Apparently Danes are the best non-native English speakers in Europe, followed by Swedish and Dutch people. Nobody will be surprised to find out that the Italian position in EF English Proficiency Index is not even close to the top, but I’m sure someone will be secretly happy to know we are, at least, better than France. Not a great consolation, though. Italy is in fact ranked the 27th country of the list. Unfortunately for us English is also the most required language of the labour market.

The implied question is definitely: “Why?” What are the reasons why Italian people can’t speak English fluently?
Probably because the Italian education system provides theory more than practice so, in the end, we spend hours on grammar rules and English literature but we rarely speak the language.

English is regarded as a low-priority topic at school compared to Italian Literature, History,  Latin, or Math and this attitude is shared both by teachers and parents.

Native language teachers are not so frequent.

It’s hard to find a chance to have a conversation in English outside of of the classroom: nobody speaks English at home, on the street or at work.

Italians are proud of their dubbing tradition. Ever since the diffusion of television and cinema, movies, documentaries and TV shows are translated in Italian. Going to see a movie in its original English language may easily be considered as an act of snobbery. In Scandinavia practicing English since childhood, starting from cartoons, is extremely common, while it (almost) never happens in our country.

It’s a fact that those who speak Latin languages have greater difficulties than those who speak other European languages but, if this may be an additional obstacle, it can’t be a proper excuse.

Italians have an evident self-confidence issue: just because they know they can’t be the best at speaking foreign languages, they rather prefer to give it up than prove to themselves they can do it. In many cases the frustration coming from the difficulty to say what one actually means, acts like a mental block.

A doubtful cultural conservatism is often mentioned in these kinds of lists, but I wouldn’t rush to affirm that Italians are really conservative towards other countries. Otherwise, we have always been attracted by Anglo-Saxon and American cultures especially for what concerns cinema, literature and music.


We love sarcasm and irony but what we are actually fond of is making fun of everybody in every context and situation. Do you remember what happened when the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi made his 28-minutes-speach at Digital Venice, in July 2014? In front of an international audience Renzi gave a memorable performance, that immediately went viral. But what is curious is that the ones who have been less indulgent towards him have been his own compatriots.

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Most of the time Italians know how to speak but they are too ashamed to give it a try and show a weakness.

Those are only few of the possible explanations to this linguistic phenomenon.
The consequences, on the other hand, are more than visible: without an adequate level of English it’s difficult to apply to job offers (abroad and even in Italy), it’s hard to improve our own business and make it open to a larger market, to communicate with potential customers and partners and, generally speaking, it constitutes a barrier to innovation in every sector.

But it also constitutes a barrier on a personal level, preventing one from getting the chance to enjoy new life experiences, and from a larger perspective it can also be a political issue, preventing, for example, the participation in an international debate on what we care about.

Speaking good English is not easy but failing to do so is not a crime, either. The only blame here is not trying to improve.

The fact is that speaking English fluently is a further opportunity to become a better citizen of the world.

Need to improve your English? See more about DoLab English for work.

DoLab in English, in partnership with John Peter Sloan – La Scuola, is the combination of DoLab’s practical and smart method, and the experience of JPS certified teachers. The aim is not to study English but to study in English, to get more comfortable with the technical language, essential to professional contexts.