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Italian university switches to English – Another step closer to a one language speaking world?

The BBC reported that one of Italy’s leading universities, the Politecnico di Milano, is going to switch to the English language.

The university has recently announced that from 2014 the majority of its degree courses, including all its graduate courses, will be taught and assessed exclusively in English rather than Italian.

Globalisation and competition

Globalisation has hit higher education and the university believes that if it continues to remain Italian speaking it risks isolation. It feels it will be unable to compete as an international institution.

“Universities are in a more competitive world, if you want to stay with the other global universities – you have no other choice,” says the universities rector Professor Azzone.

He says that his university’s experiment will “open up a window of change for other universities”, predicting that in five to 10 years other Italian universities with global ambitions will also switch to English.

Professor Azzone believes that learning in English will make his students more employable in both the national and international markets.

With other European and Scandinavian universities adapting to change and adopting English as their official language, the English speaking University market is widening and providing more options for English speaking students. Enabling universities to target a wider market.

The cultural cost

With the English language already apparent in the city as it is; from the announcements on the local metro, to Italian websites offering English alternatives, is there a risk of losing the city’s charm along with its infamous institution of language?

Will the Universities adoption of the English Language taint the image of traditional Milan?

Yes the switch may attract and promote international business, but what about the international students who come to learn the language first hand by studying at these universities?

Professor Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College says “Less will be written in local languages and the culture may be weakened. Fewer textbooks will be written in local languages. Intellectual life may well be weakened.”

What effect will this have on the Italian students?

As the students will be studying and writing in a language different to their native tongue, will their work be affected? Will their work be as strong as if it were in their native Italian?

Another question is – is English the right language choice? Though English is currently the dominant language, Chinese and Spanish are growing rapidly as business languages.

One world, one language?

The beauty of language and culture is what drives us to travel, learn and experience. Universities are a place that shape a large portion of the future generations and if they all follow the same pattern of adopting English and dismissing their native tongues, won’t we become a one language speaking world? Omitting the very thing that differentiates us from each other and reconciles us with the tradition of our countries roots.

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