Throughout working with various levels of primary school classes in Florence and encountering people throughout Italy and in my travels, I cease to be amazed at the amount of English I hear. Recently, on a trip to London, a man from Brazil working at a market asked us if we spoke Italian since we were studying in Italy. We commented that we were learning it but we're definitely no experts. As English being his second language, he noted how lucky we are to speak English because there are so many places now that put an emphasis on learning and being able to speak English.
I feel I can get by most places in Italy with my Italian, but the truth is, in a bind there is almost always someone who speaks English that is able to understand and help me. If Italians study in America, England, Ireland, as many do, and can not speak and understand English conversationally, they can not simply walk into a store and have someone assist them in Italian. I realize why it is so important to my CT to have us as "English natives" to talk in English with and to the students, starting from first grade! It is her job to prepare these students to be able to speak English, quite a big task considering she only sees the upper primary classes at most two or three hours a week! She aspires for them to be able to travel and have the opportunities to study elsewhere. This begins with studying English in first grade to fifth grade when the students are taken on a trip to Ireland where they are expected to converse in English and see the practicality of the work they have been doing in class.
The difference was apparent when I was working with the third graders on -ing verbs. We were going over how when you use an -ing verb it must be paired with a to be verb, mostly am, is, and are. I.e.: The children are playing. She is eating. I am singing. After a basic explanation of these verbs, a boy realizes and exclaims, "Ohh, il gerundio!" I laughed to myself thinking on how I had a quiz later that day in my Italian class on "il gerundio." It seemed almost comical to me that I am living in their country and learning the level of grammar in Italian that they learn of English in primary school. Also, it helped me realize how much this "teaching English" experience has been a "learning Italian" experience as well.