This month sees thousands of Italian 17/18 year olds packing bags and saying farewell to their parents as they head off to the UK. They travel by plane,train,or car and end up either in a university town like Oxford, York or Durham staying in accommodation vacated by students for the summer holidays. If not there then they head for seaside towns like Brighton, Eastbourne and Torquay.
The reason they go is to spend 3 weeks learning or improving their English . They will be joining hundreds of thousands of other students from Europe who are there for the same reason. It is an industry that is worth some £100 million to the British economy.
For many Italians it will be the first time they have met kids from other countries and is the first time they have been allowed to slip away from Mamma’s control and experience true freedom. The Vacanza- Studio ( study holiday) as it is called .
What they all find is that to speak to the opposite sex from another European country they have to speak English. An Italian boy wanting to date the beautiful Swedish girl from Stockholm will need to brush up on his technique in English. A Dutch boy eyeing up an Italian girl will have his English phrase book out the night before rehearsing his opening line.
What ever proficiency they obtain during the 3 weeks in Britain they will come home knowing that to succeed in Europe they must lean more English and for many it will be the start of a new beginning when they study hard at English with the idea of obtaining a good professional job in Italy or Europe or simply develop a love of English and become teachers like my present Italian teacher Stefania.
Weirdly they are studying in places like Eastbourne amongst a people who are the most European sceptic of all the E.U. countries and in towns that are the most non European in style and loving every minute of it.
Debussy composed ‘La Mer” in Eastbourne and since then French, Italian, German, Hungarian and Polish amongst others have made the amazing discovery that for all their obvious differences they are all very much the same with lots of things like music to share. They return home with a whole new list of Facebook friends many of whom will be with them all their lives.
They also see Europe differently than say their parents and certainly from the way the Eurocrats in Brussels do.
It also allows the same Italians who have learnt some English to mock their politicians who attempt to make speeches in English. The internet is now full of examples and have become a humorous diversion for Italian youth who feel their politicians are not only out of touch but shouldn’t really try to speak English unless they too have a couple of lessons. Maybe a few weeks in Eastbourne would do them the power of good too.
The latest to get the treatment is Matteo Renzi who made this brief speech in English
No one is quite sure what he was on about. Quite why a genius would want to invent the telephone just to speak in the theatre is unfathomable but there you go.
It has now been put to music.
This is a chart of the number of people who can hold a good conversation in English by country
Apart from Spain and a couple of Eastern European countries where Russian was the order of the day. They are impressive figures. Just look at Scandinavia where when I was running Abercrombie and Kent the tour operator we sent our English brochures over there rather than bother translating them. Sweden has almost as many people who can hold a conversation in English as the UK !!!
Whilst Brits might complain in say Paris that no one speaks English it is now becoming far more common for a Dutchman or a German girl to complain that too few people in say Naples speak English. It is now the language of Europe. Poor Charles De Gaulle must be turning in his grave.