The Importance of Teaching in English According to Prof. Alberto Mantovani
This is a translation of an article appeared on the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica”. The author is Alberto Mantovani, Scientific Director of IRCCS Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University.
Based on my experience as a physician and as a researcher who has worked abroad, and, above all, as a faculty member at Humanitas University, where about 40% of the students are not Italian, I believe that the best way to defend and promote Italian – and Italian talent – is to teach in English, at least in appropriate settings. First and foremost, therefore, in the sciences.
Why is it so important to teach in English, especially in the sciences?
English is the language of science, just as Greek and Latin were the koinè of classical culture: no Spanish or African or English author of that period would have ever considered doubting that.
Teaching the sciences in English is important first of all for the sake of our young people.
In a recent Keystone Symposium held in the United States, four of our students passed a rigorous selection process and were chosen to give oral presentations, a source of great pride for me. We should, however, reflect on what my friend and colleague Michael Karin has said about the Italians working in his laboratory, who have distinguished themselves among the young people from all over the world. “The Italians are bravi. It’s a pity they don’t speak English well.” This opinion is unfortunately shared globally: our young people are no less prepared and competent than their Northern European colleagues but often enter the competition at a gross disadvantage because they are not familiar with the koinè of the sciences.
Teaching in English to promote Italian culture worldwide
Let us not underestimate the fact that a high percentage of international students in our university courses is an added value for our students. An international atmosphere allows our young people to breathe in and experience the world, to go beyond a provincial dimension and live in an environment that is more stimulating. It allows our young people to get to know different cultures thanks to their international classmates and thus to broaden their horizons. And how can we attract students from all over the world to our universities if not by teaching in English?
Opposing teaching in English to defend Italian culture is therefore, in my opinion, a grave mistake. The opposite is true, in fact; by welcoming young talent from around the world, by bringing them to our country to study and where they may stay for years, is absolutely the best way to promote our culture. Though these students study in English, they are living in Italy, alongside Italians. And when these international students start applying the academic notions they have acquired – medical students, for example, have direct contact with patients during their clinical training – they have in any case learned Italian because they use our language every day, outside of the classroom. They spend their free time in our country, going to the theater, to the cinema, to concerts. They eat and appreciate our food, and they learn to tell the difference between real Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan cheese.
They meet new people and establish long-lasting ties with our country, friendships that will last their whole lives. They breathe and absorb our culture and our values for years, and when they return to their homes, these international students will help to spread this culture and these values.
Closing the door to the world does not in any way help to defend our culture. We must open our doors and attract the best and the brightest, those who will enrich any country that welcomes them and who will contribute to the scientific growth of their home countries. Highly qualified academic programmes taught in English are therefore the best way we have not only of defending l’italianità but of promoting it as well.