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Euro ambassadors protest at extra time for English

ITALY

The ambassadors of five European countries have protested to education minister Letizia Moratti about the disappearance of their languages from schools in favour of "extra English".

The delegation, from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Belgium, voiced the concerns of teachers' associations and cultural organisations.

In 2004, a compulsory second foreign language (in addition to English) was added to the secondary curriculum.

But in a U-turn last October, the minister ruled that to allow pupils to reach a level of fluency in English similar to their native Italian, families wishing to do so could request extra hours of English instead of a second European language - usually French, German or Spanish.

The ambassadors fear that most parents will choose English, and that the second language will virtually disappear.

But there are two puzzles behind the change. The first is the minister's belief, against all the evidence, that an extra two hours a week of English is going to give Italian schoolchildren near native-speaker fluency in the language.

The second is why she made the change. Reporting the ambassadors' protest, the Turin daily La Stampa hinted that it was the result of a personal request from the prime minister.

One of the most memorable slogans from Silvio Berlusconi's 2001 election campaign was the education mantra Inglese, internet e impresa (English, internet and enterprise).

But, as one unnamed diplomat quoted in La Stampa said, the measure is contrary to the spirit of linguistic pluralism in Europe, and will have a negative effect on student mobility in the European Union.

"Where will they all go?" he asked. "Manchester?"

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