When in Rome, Speak Italian as the Romans Do

by Translation Guy on March 11, 2011

If you want to live in Italy, you’d better be able to write a postcard. In Italian. That’s part of the language test now required by Italian authorities for non-Italians who want to live in Italy, where basic Italian proficiency is required for permanent residency following five years of legal residence.

“Italy is the latest Western European country turning the screws on an expanding immigrant population by demanding language skills in exchange for work permits, or in some cases, citizenship.” So far screws aren’t so tight, at least not in Italy. It is only a postcard, after all, and no oral skills are required. In Austria, foreigners from outside the European Union need to prove that they speak basic German within five years. Otherwise, they face fines or imperil their right to remain in the country.

In England, since 2005, seekers of citizenship and long-term foreign residency have been asked to prove their command of “Britishness” by answering multiple choice questions, in English, on British history, culture and law. This reminds me of my wife’s own struggle with the test for US citizenship, during which I became reacquainted with the three branches of government and the presidents. “Hun, don’t worry about Millard Fillmore. He will definitively not be on the test.” But English was not required here in the USA.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Brit Home Secretary Theresa May, who aims to cut immigration to below 100,000 by 2015, said language tests will help weed out those who don’t plan to contribute to British life.

“Some immigrant advocates worry that as harsh economic times make it harder for natives to keep jobs, such measures will become more a vehicle for intolerance than integration. Others say it’s only natural that newcomers learn the language of their host nation, seeing it as a condition to ensure they can contribute to society,” writes Frances D’Emilio of AP.

Austrians are looking to raise the ante for foreigners by requiring most immigrants to have elementary German skills before they even enter the country, a bill now before the Austrian Parliament. Critics see it as a tactic to keep out poor immigrants who can’t afford to study German before crossing the border.

In Italy, the language test also requires permanent residency applicants to answer a fictional job application in Italian.

That would never fly here in the US, where, if the 1-800-our resume slush pile is any indication, it’s downright un-American to apply for a job in coherent English. Those dang over-educated foreigners keep showing up America’s sons and daughters by writing in cogent English, with all their fancy punctuation and spelling, sometimes even employing such tricks as grammatically correct sentences! It’s an outrage!

Which reminds me, we are going to be posting listings for some telecommuting sales and project manager positions soon, and readers of this blog are already on the inside track. Send a note to resume@1-800-translate.com expressing your interest and we’ll update you when we post. Just mention “TranslationGuy” in your subject heading.


  1. Wilber says:

    Informative and useful, as always. Spassy beaucoup!

    But I don’t quite get the dang point of your penultimate paragraph, the subtly mocking echo of pseudo-Cracker locutions and sentiments. I suppose there’s a tie-in with the reportage in the preceding paragraphs.

    BTW, I meant to thank you – I cried a little – for mentioning me in a blog not long ago.

  2. We're Nuts says:

    Thanks KEN!

  3. streamer says:

    I don’t think it will ever pass in Britain. There are too many immigrants and the laws are far too relaxed; have been for far too long.

  4. Pissy Missy says:

    Answering a fictional job application in a mother-language is one thing, but how do you pass/fail an application? Isn’t it more/less a subjective document?

  5. John says:

    Austria is even tighter and I respect that. How can you not?

  6. I just subscribed to your blog updates. I should get the job postings that way right?

    • Ken says:

      I’ll post the link on the blog when I put up the jobs on the career page.

  7. Ohhh, Ken. Great idea to post jobs on here. You’ll get the cream of the crop on here.

    • Ken says:

      LOL I guess I hadn’t thought it through.

  8. Required basic Italian proficiency is a great idea. How many less Mexicans would we have here in Texas if this was the case in the US?

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