Italian job

October 11, 1996

Among the most reliable of running stories with which the "fings ain't wot they used to be" section of the national press is wont to regale us on slow news days is the proposition - probably first floated around the time of Merton College's 1264 intake - that undergraduates are no longer capable of writing decent English.

Reassurance for those who fear that this is a peculiarly British phenomenon comes with the news that students at Venice's Ca' Foscari University are being offered a course in basic Italian after it was discovered that many make fundamental errors in grammar, syntax and punctuation, and generally have little facility in using their own language.

Paolo Costa, Ca' Foscari's rector, said: "Our students are only used to talking; the only writing they do is to take notes during lectures. So in written essays we find everything.

"The other day I found that a student trying to write 'ad hoc' had written 'a d.o.c"'. The letters d.o.c. stand for denominazine di origine controllata and are used by Italian wine producers to indicate provenance and quality.

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