Living in Italy Requires Speaking Italian

Living in Italy Requires Certification of Speaking Italian at the A2 Level

If you are contemplating living in Italy, or if you’ve already arrived, be prepared to demonstrate proficiency in speaking Italian as part of the residency process.

I’ve just received my official certificate stating that I passed the level A2 proficiency of speaking Italian. When the results were first available online, I held my breath and, after seeing I had passed with a 90% score, I muttered “Grazie Dio” (Thank God). Woohoo!

You might be asking “What’s the big deal?” Let me explain…

Living in Italy requires getting your permesso di soggiorno (stay permit) and residency (if you want to be able to do things like buy a car, and be part of the national healthcare plan). As part of this process, you will be required to prove you can speak Italian at an A2 level. Thankfully, this isn’t required of you when you apply for your first permesso di soggiorno. BUT, as part of the process of being interviewed, fingerprinted, etc. at the questura (your local immigration police), you’ll be given a document called an “Integration Agreement”. You’re obliged to sign this in order to keep the process going. Basically, by signing this document you are agreeing to take important steps in assimilating into the Italian culture. I’ll be writing a separate post that covers more of the details and requirements of the integration agreement. The agreement is based on a point system, and you are given two to three years to make the points add up to a required number (with your third year being an “extension” of sorts to complete this prior to your fourth permesso application). While you can reach the point total with other items on the agreement, you still are obliged to prove A2 proficiency in speaking Italian.

Don’t freak. A2 is an advanced beginner level, and with proper dedication and study, passing the test isn’t a daunting task.  But, don’t assume this means you can get by learning only greetings, telling time, and counting in Italian. A2 is based on having a command of the language that enables you to function well in the daily necessities of life in Italy. By reaching A2 proficiency you are demonstrating to the immigration authorities that you take living in Italy seriously.

As part of your strategy for planning on living in Italy, I strongly urge you to get a head start on learning Italian.

Before making the move to Italy, I completed the first two levels of Rosetta Stone, which helped immensely. In retrospect, I would have turned my studies up a couple of notches and taken a formal class, or employed a tutor, to ground me in the basics of the grammar. If you can do this, you’ll thank yourself later.

After living in Italy for more than a year, I signed up to study at the Torre di Babele in Rome, an excellent school, with wonderfully engaging teachers. There, you can choose your pace of learning. I opted for a month-long intensive that ended at a B2 level, which is an advanced intermediate level. In fact, when I signed up to take the Università per Stranieri di Siena exam (recognized as the top certification program – and administered twice yearly), the staff at Torre di Babele encouraged me to test at a higher level. Call me chicken, but I knew the speaking and comprehension requirement was A2, and I didn’t want to stress myself out preparing for an exam at a higher level. The nine-month studying and preparation process for taking the Italian driver’s license exam (administered only in Italian) had left me exhausted.

The A2 Italian language exam is composed of several parts – reading comprehension, listening comprehension, vocabulary, writing/grammar, and conversation. The structure really does make sense, and asks you to read and understand basic contracts, notices and important news, and to make yourself understood when seeking out public services. I would encourage you to check out the resources/books/cds that specifically are targeted at people preparing to take the A2 certification exam. I don’t know what is available through book stores and online resources in the U.S., but here in Italy I found several helpful manuals, most of which included sample tests. These were invaluable in preparing me for what to expect when exam day came.

Tomorrow I will send a copy of my certification to the immigration office in Perugia. I was told this is my last outstanding requirement, and after they receive the certificate, I can consider myself “done” with my obligations for the integration agreement. This will also set me up for applying for the long-term permesso after I have lived in Italy for five years.

I write all of this at the risk of suggesting that this whole process is completely black and white. It isn’t. I’ve talked to other American expats who have lived here longer than me, and who haven’t been contacted or advised to produce A2 certification yet (which I understand, also can be tested through the immigration office). In other words, like many rules and procedures, they can be administered inconsistently, depending on who you are dealing with, and where you live. The integration agreement, and its requirements, is only a few years old, so perhaps Italy is still in the process of normalizing and regulating it.

My advice to you is to plan on mastering Italian at the A2 level sooner than later – not just to satisfy the integration agreement, but to help you become part of the Italian culture, and to build friendships within the Italian community. Look upon this essential requirement of living in Italy as something to open up the your possibilities, and to keep your mind sharp. And, as I mentioned above, if you get cracking on this before you formally “land” in Italy, you’ll find yourself in a much better position to navigate the initial steps and stages of becoming an Italian resident.

As for me, I’ve been basking in the euphoria of having accomplished this important requirement, but I also know I’ve been slacking off with my diligence in moving towards being a truly competent and fluent speaker of the Italian language. Time to re-dedicate myself and learn REAL proficiency!

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