University classes all’italiana: in English

In news from the other end of Italy, the venerable Politecnico di Milano announced recently that, starting in 2014, all its courses would be taught in English. The university cited the obvious reasons for the decision. It aims to train its students for a globalized economy; Italian is not a world language, and will only isolate the nation if it does not open itself up to the new lingua franca of professional and academic life: English. It’s a pity the old lingua franca won’t do! The original lingua franca was a pidgin Italian spoken in the Mediterranean ports by sailors, merchants, pilgrims and corsairs. But that language vanished, along with Italian hegemony over the Mediterranean. Now, alas, Italian risks becoming a boutique language – like the Scandinavian languages, like (even) German – studied by those with a special interest in local history or culture, but not suited to a globalized marketplace.

There has been resistance to the Politecnico’s announcement, reports La Repubblica, though La Stampa takes a brighter view of the decision: Italian students will be more competitive in a global market, universities better able to attract foreign students (click through for articles, if you read Italian). I find a blogger who is delighted with the decision for one reason in particular: he can teach in English and will be happy to come home from Prague, where he is currently teaching, if it means there will be a university job open for him.

What is to become of Europe’s national languages, in a world where a language must go global or stay home?

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