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Why Study Italian at Cambridge?

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Why is Italian at Cambridge Special?

  • During national Research Assessments in the UK, Italian has consistently been ranked above all other Italian sections or departments in the UK.
  • Cambridge came top of the league table for Modern Languages and Linguistics in the University Guide for 2017 published by The Guardian newspaper, beating Oxford for the sixth year running.
  • In the 2014 Research Exercise Framework (REF), 40% of research submitted by the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages was rated as “world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour”.
  • The Italian Section has well over thirty years experience of teaching Italian from scratch and students who have taken a beginners’ course have an excellent record of performance in more advanced language courses. Many of them go on to specialize in Italian in their final year.
  • The ab initio course is an intensive course taught by highly specialized native speaker language teachers in small, friendly, supportive groups, combining a range of teaching methods.
  • The course provides a seamless entry into mainstream degree courses for students who are either genuine beginners or who have GCSE or equivalent in Italian. Students are brought up to A-level standard in 100 hours of teaching. By the end of the first year, they pursue the same courses as post-A-level entrants.
  • The Italian Section encourages students to go on specifically designed language trips to Italy, and funding is available to assist with this. Students can further consolidate their knowledge during the Year Abroad in Italy.

Why learn Italian?

  • Italian is within the 15 most influential languages in the world
  • Italian is spoken by c. 64 million people as mother tongue
  • There are over 800.000 students of Italian in the world (4th most popular studied language)
  • Italy is the 5th most visited country (2015: 48.2 million visitors) in the world
  • C. 3 million Britons visit Italy every year
  • Italy is the 13th best country in the world according to: Cultural influence, cultural heritage, economic influence, quality of life, sustainability, education, transport.
  • Italy has so far won 20 Nobel Prizes (ranking 7th in the world)
  • Outside Italy, because of heavy emigration over the last century, Italian is spoken by over 120 million people in c. 26 countries (the widest diffusion)
  • Italy is the country with the biggest number of UNESCO world heritage sites


Is Italian a difficult language to learn?

Absolutely not! Here are a few reasons why Italian is a beginner’s friendly language:

  • Being one of the Romance languages (with Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French, Occitan, and Romanian), it is generally quite easy to see similarities with French, the foreign language most commonly studied in schools in this country.
  • During the Renaissance, an enormous quantity of vocabulary of Latin and Ancient Greek origin filtered from Italy into English and still counts for around 60% of the English vocabulary.
  • Italian has a long history of being the language of the Arts, and is nowadays used in many different areas such as food, fashion and marketing. In fact it is very easy to spot Italian in every day language (think of shopping for food, names of fancy shops or products, just to give some examples), which makes it a ‘familiar’ and ‘approachable’ language to learn.
  • Italian is a very rewarding language to learn, allowing access to an extremely rich and diverse cultural world whose contributors range from authors like Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy, 1305-1321) and Niccolò Machiavelli (The Prince, 1537) to opera composers or libretto authors like Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini or Antonio Salieri, to cinema classics like Bicycle thieves (1948) by Roberto Rossellini or The Great Beauty (2014) by Paolo Sorrentino.

Independent Language Study

Independent language study is an essential and expected part of the language learning experience. Undergraduate students will be able to access a wide range of language and language related material to assist their independent learning on Moodle, the VLE in use for all papers taught in the Faculty. Students will be able to register for and access Moodle soon after their confirmation of placement in early September.

The University Language Centre on the Downing Site also provides a wide range of Italian language learning materials, including live access to the Italian television.


Book Purchase

If you want to buy Italian books for yourself, remember that copies of some of the principal texts on the syllabus are available from the Departmental Office. Both Heffers and Waterstone’s bookshops in Cambridge stock Italian books. Far wider selections are available from specialist London bookshops such as The Italian Bookshop, The European Bookshop and Grant and Cutler.

You can also order books online from the following Italian bookstores:

The Italian Society

At a less formal level you will be able to maximise your contact with Italian life, language and culture by supporting the student-run Italian Society, which holds regular social and cultural events, ranging from screenings of Italian-language films to samplings of Italian food and wine, to producing theatre productions in Italian. For more information, go to the stall at the Freshers’ Fair at the beginning of the Michaelmas term or check its Facebook page.

Independent Study In Italy

It is clearly important to spend as much time as possible in Italy during the first two years of study of the Tripos. Financial help for this is normally available from Colleges.

The Italian Department has a long standing affiliation with the British Institute in Florence, a language school that offers high-quality language and cultural courses throughout the year and organises a tailor-made course for Cambridge Part IA students in the Easter vacation (at preferential rates).

For information about a vacation course in language or culture in Italy, all the brochures received by the Department are available on the wall by the notice board on the 2nd floor North landing of the Raised Faculty Building. When selecting a destination, it is important to consider carefully where to go in Italy. The most popular destinations offer obvious attractions (and a very wide range of courses), but it may be harder to meet Italians there than in other less tourist Italian places. Dott. Domenici is available to discuss options at any stage of the Academic Year.

Over the course of the Academic Year there are opportunities to meet with Final-year students returning from their year abroad in Italy. They often have useful suggestions and contacts of activities available in Italy.

What do students of Italian do after Graduation?

The possibilities are endless! Cambridge has one of the highest postgraduate employment rates in the country. Graduates in Italian have been hugely successful in the many careers open to arts graduates such as law, media, arts and cultural organisations, teaching in schools or in academia, finance, industry, civil service, translation and international aid. In many of these areas, linguistic competence is a highly desirable skill. Every year a number of our students move to work abroad.

Faculty Information for Undergraduates

Please click here to view the Faculty's webpage for prospective Undergraduate students for information on Open Days, course costs, what it's like at Cambridge and much more!


*Currently being updated*

Latest News

Professor Helena Sanson publishes new book: Women and Translation in the Italian Tradition (Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2022, 449 pp.)

27 October 2022

The Italian Section is delighted to announce the publication of a new edited volume by Professor Helena Sanson, Women and Translation in the Italian Tradition (Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2022, 449 pp.).

Interview with Dacia Maraini

18 October 2022

To celebrate the 22nd 'Week of the Italian Language in the World' (17-23 October) - focusing this year on 'Italian and the Youth' - the Italian Section in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics at Cambridge is delighted to share the undergraduate students' video interview with celebrated writer Dacia Maraini.

PhD grant (Italian Section, MMLL and the British School at Rome) - Postwar Rome 1944-1951: Transnational flows and the culture of occupation and reconstruction

3 October 2022

The Italian Section is pleased to invite applications for a collaborative PhD award (CDA) between Cambridge and the British School at Rome, starting in October 2023. The PhD project will be on the topic: Postwar Rome 1944-1951: Transnational flows and the culture of occupation and reconstruction . Candidates will be...

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