I am watching tv while eating dinner, the news on and the Italian president of the government is talking in English in a very important ceremony or event, or European congress, or very big political event. I’m dining and he’s talking in English. Something really bad is happening inside me. I’m thinking about all these young people, including myself who’s life has been marked by English lessons, by thousands of moms telling us the importance of learning English, English pronunciation, English “how to have a British breakfast”, “how to laugh in English” , “how to put a cat under and on and beside and in front of the table”. extra classes of English. thousands of horrible songs, with teachers that ordered us to sing it by memory in front of the hole class…
“My name is John Johnson, and I come from London, I work in a pub near the station, bum bum, the people I meet when I walk down the street, they say…Hello! and I say….Hello, My name is John Johnson…”…do you remember it, isn’t it? (for whom may have forgot it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAs1x1k6zmM)
While I am recalling all this he’s still talking. He is talking about something I cannot really understand, something horrible with so much saliva in it and with ugly facial expressions that reminds me of Mr. Bean in that church with the chewing-gum issue. I really can’t listen to him. I want to change channel because I can’t deal with it anymore and then it happened: The tragic moment when someone from the public, perhaps a journalist, asks him a question. At this point the biggest question mark ever seen in the world appears so yellow and flashing and big right on his face. He turns and asks for the interpreter to come and help him.
SO DID HE HAVE AN INTERPRETER?!
I think about all the people listening to him, there in the public, and I imagine them wondering if there’s someone in Italy that speaks decent English and if we ever were taught any English at all ignoring the fact that in the last 30 years all of us sang, studied and repeated all sort of grammar rules, vocabulary, prepositions and irregular verbs…all of this with the sole purpose to be European and be able to travel and work in foreign countries like our colleagues in the rest of the world. We have been brainstormed by our parents with the concept that knowing The Language, knowing English means to be “competitive”. Knowing English well is the first step to achieve everything, it is almost necessary even for shopping at the supermarket, because this is what they told us…this is what we learned. And yet our biggest representative is struggling with English. I am sincerely sad about the reputation my President is showing to the world: that is my reputation! Now it’s personal. I really want to discover how we rank in statistics: I do some research, trying hard to avoid all the mocking videos about Italian governor saying something easy like “hello” in English without success. The situation is not so good, we are in the “middle”, not bad, not even good, we are stuck in the middle of Europe, near Spain and France but very far from Nordic countries (http://www.ef-italia.it/epi/). So, maybe the governor is showing the truth: we do need to work on it. We need school to teach English in a new way, teaching also the importance of knowing languages.
To conclude there’s something very interesting in Italian case studies: in Italy, women are more English speakers than men which leads me to a question: Does lifelong language learning revolution need to start from us women? If so, let’s do it!
author: Martina Coral, Project Manager at Athena Parthenos srl