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Legal framework


There are no specific legal provisions concerning the national language in Italy.

Political movements regularly mount campaigns in defence of the Italian language and call for the introduction of regulations against the infiltration of foreign words, often along the French legal model.

In June 2006, at the request of a group of politicians, intellectuals and artists who had formed an association called La bella lingua, the President of the Chamber of Deputies put forward a motion in favour of the defence of the Italian language which called for Italian to be named as the official language in the Italian Constitution. The proposal was immediately rejected both by the Communists, who opposed making linguistic competence in Italian a criterion for obtaining Italian citizenship and by the Northern League, who saw it as an attack on federalism and regional dialects.


Institutional body with responsibility for developing, implementing and controlling linguistic legislature


There is no provision for this in Italy.


Legal provisions concerning the linguistic integration of migrants and public training facilities available to them


These are set out in Presidential decree 394 of 31 August 1999 on immigration and the right to instruction.

For foreign pupils, it is the school which has responsibility for the following with regard to each pupil, making use of the professional resources of the school and referring to the national curriculum:

  • adapting the school curriculum; 
  • intervening where necessary with individuals or groups to teach the Italian language alongside their native language
  • ensuring that teachers participate in the national continuous training programme on integrating foreign pupils.

According to the official statistics of the Ministry for Public Instruction, 360,000 foreign national pupils attended school in Italy in the academic year 2004/2005 (about 4.2 % of the school population) and 430,000 in 2005/2006. There have been nearly 500,000 foreign national pupils in the school system since September 2007, around 5% of the school population. However, these figures fall short of the European average and there are only a few isolated cases of segregation in schools, most notably in Milan.

These figures bring to light a new reality: the initial phase of receiving newly arrived pupils being completed, their presence in class is no longer a transition phenomenon. In addition, the presence of foreign national adults in centres for continuous training is still on the increase, particularly in the north of the country. As far as linguistic training is concerned, it is expected that school and university establishments will liaise directly with foreign associations, diplomatic and consular representatives from the country of origin or even voluntary organisations to set out conventions for literacy at primary and secondary school level and for learning the Italian language. The Italian radio and television channel RAI offers an online distance learning course for those wishing to emigrate to Italy, Io parlo italiano: corso d’italiano per immigrati, for which the final certificate in Italian as a Foreign Language is issued by the Universities for Foreign Nationals in Siena and Perugia and the Società Dante Alighieri (

There are pupils from 191 different nationalities in the Italian school system. Most are Albanian (16.3%) or Moroccan (14%), followed by Romanians, Chinese, Argentinians, Equadorians and Serbs. 90.6 % of these students attend State-run schools. 38.7% are at primary school and 22.7% at college. The highest concentration of foreign national pupils can be found in the north east of Italy (7.4%). Lombardy has the highest concentration among the regions (24.6%), Mantua among the provinces (11.9 %) and Milan among the towns (12.7 %).

Today, 64% of Italian schools host pupils of other nationalities. The problem of delayed graduation is very serious. In the second year, more than seven out of 10 pupils (75.5%) are at least a year behind the standard required for their age.

The Italian Ministry has made receiving and integrating such school populations one of its priorities, defining the Italian school as “the world’s school” and creating a specific department devoted to the concept of intercultural education. This has resulted in triennial contracts being introduced to finance national projects. One of these provides assistance in the workplace for teachers working with receiving and integrating foreign national students and/or transient migrants. Another is specifically dedicated to those zones referred to as being ‘at risk’, i.e. those with a high level of immigration. These two national collective contracts receive 53 million euros each. In addition, a project piloted by the Personnel Office of the Italian Ministry of Public Instruction, Azione italiano L2: lingua di contatto, lingua di cultura, provides for teachers teaching multilingual classes to be able to receive training online.

Within schools there is access, where necessary, to a cultural mediator with responsibility for welcoming pupils and their families, mediating with teachers, providing an interpretation and translation service for communications between school and family and promoting school projects on the native languages and cultures of visiting students.

On 5 September 2006, the Ministry for Public Instruction, declaring that integration began above all in school, announced some new measures. A review committee was created to manage the foreign national student population. Their native languages were to be taught at school and an audiovisual programme was to be broadcast on RAI to teach Italian. The aim is to avoid the phenomenon of ‘ghetto’ schools and classes, to support school projects financially and to expand the principle of compulsory schooling to include these student populations.


Principal legal provisions in force concerning the use of regional or minority languages


Article 6 of the Constitution states that “the Republic will defend linguistic minorities using appropriate regulations”. The State officially recognises the existence of twelve other languages (law 482 of 1999). This law was enacted in accordance with the principles of the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages, to show a willingness to safeguard and, in certain cases, to rehabilitate linguistic and cultural minorities on the borders of Italy: Friulian, Ladin, German, Slovenian, Croatian, Occitan, French, Provençal French, Greek, Albanian, Catalan, Sardinian, all languages spoken by very small minorities. This flagship law provides for these languages to be used officially in public offices, taught in schools and used in radio and national television (RAI) broadcasts.

Italy is a country of many languages. According to recent statistics, 44% of Italians speak only Italian, 51% speak both Italian and a dialect or other language and 5% speak only a dialect or other language.

The official language is Italian, even if this is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, which, incidentally, is written in Italian. Only the Penal and Civil Codes require the exclusive use of Italian in legal proceedings and the obligatory presence of an interpreter if any other language is used.

Three autonomous regions have a special bi- or multilingual status, for geographical, historical and political reasons: the Aosta Valley, where Italian and French are the joint languages of administration and teaching, but Provencal French and Walser are also spoken; the Trentino-Alto Adige, which has bilingual Italian and German status for administration and teaching but where Ladin is also spoken ; and the Friuli–Venezia Giulia, which has bilingual Italian and Slovenian status, but where German and Friulian are also spoken. In Piedmont, the region promotes the Piedmontese, Occitan, Provençal French and Walser languages, by organising, in collaboration with school administrations, optional classes in these languages in schools (Article 5 of law 26/90).


Projects planned by the authorities in the field of linguistic policy


The new governmental majority is pushing a policy which is anxious to preserve plurilingualism, in contrast with the approach of the Berlusconi government. The project to create a special language school has been abandoned but experimental linguistic streams within classical and scientific colleges, remain (the BROCCA programme). The declarations of the Minister for Public Instruction in favour of plurality in schools have come to nothing as yet except that Article 25 of a legislative decree by his predecessor, which would have meant that it was no longer compulsory to study a second modern foreign language at college, has been suspended.



Teaching foreign languages within the education system


In primary school, the only language that it is compulsory to learn is English, which starts in the first year (preparatory class). In practice, many pupils also learn French at primary school, according to official statistics from the Italian Ministry. At college, English is compulsory as the first MFL, and one other MFL may also be taken (French, German or Spanish). In some streams, the second MFL is also compulsory.








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