Speaking English in Italy

Will Speaking English in Italy Get You Fined?

A few days ago, I published an article addressing one of the top questions tourists ask about visiting Italy. Can you get by speaking English in Italy, or do you need to speak Italian?

So imagine my amusement when I saw this CNN article. Italian government seeks to penalize the use of English words.

I encourage you to take a look at the article itself. However, for the sake of discussion, here is a summary of a few key points.

Public officials who use English in official documentation will be subject to fines. The fines are steep at up to €100,000 ($108,705). Additionally, schools and universities are required to teach in Italian unless the purpose is to learn another language. Furthermore, acronyms and job titles are to be regulated.

In other words, instead of saying Social Media Director, Italian officials would need to say something like “direttore dei mezzi di commicazione sociale.”

So what are the headlines not saying?

Speaking English in Italy is Not the Issue

First, the legislation has only made it as far as the proposal stage. Plus, even if the proposal becomes law, it applies to Italian officials, not tourists visiting Italy.

In other words, no, it’s not illegal to speak English in Italy despite what the twitterverse says.

Speaking English in Italy. Italian Government Seeks to Penalize the Use of English Words
Italian Government Seeks to Penalize the Use of English Words

English is not the only language targeted by the legislation. All foreign languages are. However, because English is an example of a language that “demeans and mortifies” Italian, it’s making headlines.

3 Reasons Using English in Italy Won’t Be Fined

Here are three solid reasons speaking English in Italy is unlikely to become a punishable offense anytime soon.

1. CNN Left Out The Italian Perspective

What CNN left out is how Italian newspapers are covering the story. Fabio Rampelli is taking a beating from opposing political parties in the press. For example, this reply from M5s in La Repubblica.

“We thought we had already seen many inconclusive and bordering on ridiculous proposals from this majority, but the one that comes with a special bill from the vice president of the Chamber Rampelli beats them all. The standard bearer of the Brothers of Italy brings to Parliament a crusade against ‘foreigners’, providing for penalties from 5,000 to 100,000 for those who violate the Italian language. It is a pity that it is his government that has established the Ministry of ‘made in Italy’. Rampelli will denounce his colleague from Urso party who is at the head of such a ministry, so prone to foreignism even in its name?”

2. Italy is Part of the EU

Secondly, Italy is part of the EU. One of the principles of the EU is multilingualism. Part of that principle belief is that EU citizens have the right to use any of the 24 official EU languages to communicate with EU institutions. What’s more, the institutions must reply in the same language. Despite Brexit and the UK leaving the European Union, English remains one of the 24 official languages of the EU. Therefore banning the use of foreign languages goes against the principles of the EU. Hence, it seems unlikely the proposed legislation will pass.

3. The Italian Constitution

Lastly, is my favorite. Italy is a democratic nation with a Constitution. Article 21 of the 1948 Italian Constitution states the following. “Anyone has the right to freely express their thoughts in speech, writing, or any other form of communication.” Freedom of speech and expression became key components after censorship of the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini (1922–1945). A lesson remembered by many Italians, their children, and grandchildren today.

So while I stand firm that you need to speak Italian to live in Italy, it’s not for fear of the proposed legislation.

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  1. Great breakdown of this news that has been misinterpreted so many ways haha!

    Yeah to me it didn’t make sense because as a EU member and democratic society, this proposed legislation seems against what you thoughtfully presented.

    I also think the idea is a bit pretentious… sure, it’s good to know the language of the country you are planning to live in, but even learning the language fluently is a long and hard process for most!

  2. Totally agree that we can’t believe everything on the news.The problem started as the Corte Costituzionale defined that University Courses or papers requesting money for the research could not be only in English and second huge problem is the wrong use of English in public documents with a large population who do not understand the words(most of the time non even corresponding to the original meaning in English).So we can go on speaking English or any other language if we like .Sorry for writing so much but the study and use of foreign languages is so much part of my Being.

    1. Your thoughts are welcome here, thank you for taking the time to share them. Do you think the start was an honorable intent but the proposed legislation went in an alternative direction? Also curious if the media is just extrapolating it too much and not getting to the heart of it accurately. All of that to say, I appreciate your sharing your thoughts. Don’t feel you have to cut them short. I highly admire the study of foreign languages as a skill and hope to one day reach a professional level of the Italian language. Studying away till then!

      1. Thank you. The subject is quite complex and it has been clever of you to talk about it. You’ll be very good in Italian as learning languages is communication and it seems you’re very good at it🙂

  3. “So while I stand firm that you need to speak Italian to live in Italy, it’s not for fear of the proposed legislation.” – Brandy S., ALOR

    I agree wholeheartedly…learn some Italian (and German and French and Spanish when visiting those countries). It goes a long way towards good will and you will find people generally want to help you in what ever language you speak. Your analysis of the situation regarding EU requirement is spot on…after all, Ireland speaks English and they’re part of the EU. The legislation seems to be more “attention getting” than actual serious lawmaking. And being picked up by CNN doesn’t hurt in amplifying the outlandishness. In the meantime…Impara un po’ italiano!