“Educazione or Istruzione?” Translated by Alanna Quintyne

In this article, I am going to talk about these two words that often confuse Italian learners. It is easy to understand why this happens: the English term “education” is automatically linked to the Italian word “Educazione”, which is not a good translation.
If you make the same mistakes or if you are just curious to know more about these words keep reading.

The decision to write an article on these two words arose from direct observation of a phenomenon that is particularly manifesting itself these days: the continued confusion by my students between the words educazione and istruzione. I do not know whether an epidemic has broken out, but it is necessary to remedy it, since not only beginners, but also those who now speak and understand Italian perfectly are affected.

Italian and false friends

Let’s begin by pointing out that I fully understand why these two terms are often interchanged or given a meaning that is not quite accurate. This phenomenon is due to the famous false friends that sooner or later everyone who learns a foreign language has to deal with.

The English term education in particular is always traced back to the Italian word educazione, even if the exact translation is not quite that.

And this is not only the case for learners whose native language is English, but also for Spanish, Portuguese, and French, since the translation of education in these languages is very similar to the English term. Nevertheless, remember that in this case Italian is an exception!

Meaning and Use of Istruzione and Educazione

So, let’s examine the two terms educazione and istruzione to get a good understanding of their meaning and usage.

  • Istruzione (Education)

Istruzione indicates the work of teaching put in place to transmit knowledge and skills and is thus the set of notions acquired. For example:

    • La sua istruzione è piuttosto lacunosa. = His education is rather incomplete.
    • Dicono che l’istruzione che si riceve al Politecnico di Milano sia tra le migliori del mondo. = They say that the education you receive at the Milan Polytechnic is among the best in the world.
    • Per favore segui le istruzioni che ti hanno dato al corso. = Please follow the instructions they gave you in the course.

It should be noted that the word istruzioni in the last example also means the set of things that have been explained, and thus notions acquired (though not necessarily in school!).

  •  Educazione (Upbringing)

Educazione refers to the learning of moral values and, in everyday language, means the way an individual behaves within society.

    • I genitori lo hanno educato davvero bene. The parents brought him up really well.
    • L’educazione ricevuta è stata davvero dura ma lo ha reso la persona che è. = The upbringing he received was really hard but it made him the person he is.
    • Alcune persone sono davvero maleducate. (Hanno ricevuto una cattiva educazione). = Some people are really rude. (They had a bad upbringing).



From these examples you can see how in Italian istruzione and educazione both indicate transmitting something but cannot be considered synonyms. In fact, in the first case knowledge is transmitted, in the second case values and rules of behavior are transmitted.

To make the meaning of these two terms better understood I always tell my students that in Italian istruzione is what we learn in school from teachers, while educazione is given to us by our parents from an early age.

I hope this brief explanation will help you better understand the difference between these two terms and enable you to use them well.

And if you want to practice, try writing some sentences using these two terms in the comments. I will be happy to read the sentences you write and provide you with feedback!

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Listen to this audio in Italian. You can find the script here!