It’s September and school is about to start again, here in Italy.
The air is getting chillier and everybody is getting ready for a new school season, you can really feel it in the air even if you have no kids. It’s that time of the year when you wish your only thought was to go to the nearest stationery store and buy all you need for the new year.
Unfortunately, most of us have to work and take care of all our daily responsibilities but I thought that this time of the year and its back-to-school feeling could be a very good inspiration to learn some Italian school vocabulary. You might not be in school anymore, but you may need to talk about it sometimes, won’t you?
This is why this blog post is all about Italian words and phrases that are related to school. Moreover, as I always do with this kind of posts, I have created a pdf file containing all the Italian vocabulary mentioned in the post, so that you can download it and keep it for future reference.
As usual, you will find the file inside Your Italian Toolbox, the private page on my site where I upload all Italian language study material. You can get access to the page by subscribing to my newsletter, which by the way is full of more stuff about Italy and Italian culture – and language, of course!
But it’s time to focus on some Italian school vocabulary now!
September has arrived and it’s time to go back to school (ritornare a scuola). Here in Italy, school begins again sometime in September but the exact date changes every year and is different from region to region. I have just checked the school calendar (calendario scolastico) for Liguria, my region, and it says that school this year will begin on September 16th to end on June 10th.
After school begins, students (studenti) have to wait until Christmas to have some proper holidays (vacanze di Natale). Usually, kids are at home from school from the 23rd of December until the 7th of January. Then, the next holidays are at Easter, when the kids usually get a week off or so. Something that kids really look forward to is the annual school trip (gita scolastica), which can be just a day trip or can last longer and which usually takes place in spring.
Each school has the opportunity to choose some more holidays during the school year (anno scolastico). Some schools close for a week after the end of the first term (it is usually called quadrimestre, as it lasts four months) for what is called fermo didattico. Some others organize what is called a settimana didattica alternativa, which is a week during which students attend some types of courses that are different from their usual ones.
In Italy, kids begin school when they are 6 years old. They go to elementary school (scuola elementare, now called scuola primaria), which lasts five years. In that school, they have three different teachers (maestro) who rotate in the classroom (classe), which has usually around 20 pupils (allievi or scolari).
Before going to elementary school, kids may attend kindergarten or preschool. In Italy, the official way of calling it is scuola dell’infanzia, but it is most commonly referred to as scuola materna or asilo. Those schools can be public or private and parents (genitori) can choose the ones they prefer. In very busy areas, popular schools may have a waiting list (lista d’attesa) for new pupils.
After elementary school, kids go to middle school (officially called scuola secondaria inferiore but commonly referred to as scuola media). Middle school lasts three years. Each student belongs to a classroom, which he or she shares with other 25 students or so. Those students will be his schoolmates (compagni di scuola) for all three years of school. He or she might lose schoolmates if someone must repeat a year (ripetere l’anno or essere bocciato) or get new ones if someone has failed the year before (ripetente).
As I said, in middle school the students go daily to the same classroom, where they spend five hours every morning. Actually, we used to go to school five hours daily from Monday to Saturday, but I think that nowadays students attend lessons in the afternoon and don’t go to school on Saturday anymore. The bell rings (la campanella suona) at 8.20 every morning, lessons (lezioni) last 50 minutes each and after three hours there is a break (intervallo). Kids who stay for the afternoon might go and eat in the school canteen (mensa scolastica) or go back home for lunch (tornare a casa per pranzo).
Students in middle school have more or less 10 different professors (professori), who rotate in the classroom to teach kids standard subjects (materie) like Italian, Maths (matematica), History (storia), a foreign language (lingua straniera), Geography (geografia), Sciences (scienze), Music (musica), Arts (arte), Physical Education (educazione fisica) and Tecnology (tecnologia).
In Italy, school is mandatory (obbligatoria) until 16 years old, so kids must attend (frequentare) two more years of school after middle school. After middle school, students go to high school (officially scuola secondaria superiore, usually just called scuola superiore) and they have a wide choice of schools. In general, there are two big types of school: liceo and istituto tecnico. Usually, liceo is for those kids who want to go to university afterward, while istituto tecnico is for those who just want to get a diploma and look for a job. Both of them last for five years. In addition, there is a wide variety of istituti professionali, where they teach you a specific job or profession.
Liceo is not just one, you have quite a few of them: liceo classico, liceo scientifico, liceo artistico, liceo linguistico, liceo musicale, just to name a few, each of which has a focus on a specific set of subjects. Similarly, there is not just one istituto tecnico but many of them, each one focused on a specific profession or set of subjects. For example, ragioneria is a type of istituto tecnico where they teach you how to become an accountant.
As I said, high school lasts five years and ends with the scariest moment for all Italian students: la maturità. This is the final exam students have to take at the end of their career at school and it is a very scary exam. Tests last more or less a month, with an Italian composition (tema d’italiano) as the first test, a math test (prova di matematica) and a final oral exam (esame orale) covering all subjects of the final year. It is very important because the final mark is vital to be accepted in certain university courses or for certain types of public sector jobs.
But it’s only September now and it’s too early to be scared. September is the time for the nicest activities, which are getting school books (libri di scuola) and choosing all stationery supplies for the new year. The most important choice is the school diary (diario di scuola), the planner you need at school to write down all tasks and important notes, which usually turns into a visual diary of all the things you like and enjoy, with collages, scrapbooks, and notes from your friends.
Other things you need to buy are a pencil case (astuccio), a notebook (quaderno), a ring binder (quaderno ad anelli), pencils (matite), pens (penne), markers (pennarelli) an eraser (gomma da cancellare), a pencil sharpener (temperino), a ruler (righello) and at least an highlighter (evidenziatore). These are all the most important things you need, I think, plus a schoolbag (cartella) or a backpack (zaino).
When I was a kid, in elementary school you needed a smock (grembiule) which was pink for girls and light blue for boys. Even earlier, it used to be black for all pupils with only a pink bow for girls and a blue one for boys. However, I don’t think they are needed anymore nor are uniforms in any case.
But no matter if you go to elementary school or high school, when you come home your parents will always ask you: “Cosa avete fatto a scuola?” or “Com’è andata la scuola?” when you are only willing to forget about it.
But now tell me: is Italian education similar to the one in your country? I’d love to know!
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