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A homage to Italy: Why Brits love the Italian language

by Gisele Navarro Méndez

Italy

Despite Italy's faltering economy and the language's limited global application, the desire that drives native English speakers to embrace the country's emotive language continues unabated. While Italy may not be Europe's centre for commerce, its artistic richness is a far more romantic commodity. Since the end of the 18th century, enraptured Brits, such as Lord Byron, have fled UK shores for a taste of the Italian cultural experience.

Language of music

Italian is the language of music, a fact drummed into Brits from an early age. Anyone who's ever received a music lesson will be familiar with terms such as allegro, pizzicato and libretto. German-speaking composer Mozart was well aware of the power of the Italian language, employing it in his operas to great effect. Italy continues to be a draw for those seeking to refine their musical education. For example, between 1994 and 1995, Italy had 20,000 classical concerts and other live performances. By comparison, Britain had 2,200.

Artistic endeavours

Italy has been a world-renowned cultural giant from antiquity through to present day, though it is probably best known for the Renaissance period. Many of the world's most famous artists – from Caravaggio to Michelangelo – were Italian. Indeed, according to UNESCO, over 60% of the world's art treasures are found in Italy. Brits have long sought to master the Italian language in order to fully appreciate the context in which these works were produced.

Similarly, although the UK has a literary history to be proud of, native English speakers often learn Italian to appreciate significant works by writers such as Dante, Machiavelli, Boccaccio and Petrarch.

Height of fashion

Italian designs have been setting the standard for Europe since the 11th century, when cities such as Milan, Venice, Florence and Vicenza began producing luxury items for the era's fashion elite. Milan was ranked as the fashion capital of the world, and Rome was ranked 4th, by the Global Language Monitor in 2009. Non-Italians working in the industry often learn Italian in London before seeking jobs in the country with one of its many major fashion houses.

Speaking Italian is also beneficial to Brits working in other industries in which Italy is a world leader, such as interior, furniture and graphic design; shipbuilding; machine-tool manufacturing; and space engineering. More than 1,000 major foreign firms have offices in Italy that require bilingual staff, including Motorola, Citibank, IBM, General Electric, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Familiarity with food

Coffee

Out of all the languages, Italian has the highest number of words for describing food. The stunning quality and diversity of Italian cooking is admired throughout the world. Brits in particular have long been enamoured of Italian cuisine and frequently venture to the country in order to enjoy its wealth of culinary delights. The best food is usually found outside of the tourist areas, so with this in mind, many choose to learn to speak a little Italian at a school such as St Georges International before leaving the UK.

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