Plans are afoot for an Italian language school in the capital.
Italy's move to UAE flags new culture of sharing
ABU DHABI // The Italian government will this year open its first language school in the region as the first step in major cultural-exchange plans with the UAE.
"We are hoping to open the school this autumn, launching it during the visit of the prime minister, Mario Monte," said Giorgio Starace, Italy's ambassador to the UAE.
Mr Monte is expected to make his first official visit in November.
Foundations for the school planned for the capital were laid by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in his January visit to Italy, said Dr Alessandra Priante, the Italian cultural attache for the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.
"Sheikh Abdullah and foreign minister [Giulio] Terzi have both agreed that there is a need to set a concrete base for cultural co-operation," Dr Priante said.
The school is for adults and will instruct in English.
For those who graduate, "a European-standard language certification will be issued that is endorsed by the UAE authorities", Dr Priante said.
"Depending on the effort that is placed by the student, a person within eight weeks of learning can travel to Italy and get around without the use of a translator.
"There is a big demand for Italian language courses and we have a very active Italian club at Zayed University, where we conducted a crash course in Italian and there was a huge reception."
The language school will prepare students to various levels, including university standards.
"The course's certification system will allow you to be on par to enter most Italian universities," Dr Priante said.
The school plans to eventually grow into a full-fledged Italian institute of culture, which may also include a children's school.
Tourism between the UAE and Italy has been growing over the past few years, said Mr Starace.
"We issue around 30,000 visas from the UAE every year to Italy, while we have had 150,000 Italian tourists and businessmen visit the [UAE] last year alone," he said.
The European Commission's Eurobarometer report on languages shows 85 million people speak Italian, compared with more than 500 million Spanish and 500 million French speakers.
Dr Priante said Italy had suffered from not planning to expand the reach of its language.
"A school like this will have a lasting legacy and it is important because the goal is to leave something for the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multilingual Emirati society," she said.
The school's location has yet to be decided but the embassy is working with the Abu Dhabi Education Council, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Starace said an idea being discussed in Italy was to establish a cultural centre or museum in Abu Dhabi like the Louvre and Guggenheim projects.
"There is a growing demand in Italy for a cultural exchange with the UAE and there is a growing interest," he said.
"Palazzo Italia is an idea stemming from the Italian authorities' desire to contribute to this visionary idea of Saadiyat Island."
The plan, which has not been formalised, is to introduce a museum and art centre that is "everything Italian", from historical artefacts to fashion shows.