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Interested in learning Italian?

Aug 25, 2008
Although Italian ranks below Javanese, Telugu and Tamil in terms of the number of people worldwide who speak it as a first language, it scores remarkably highly in terms of popularity as a foreign language. Despite being useful basically only in Italy and part of Switzerland, Italian has very broad appeal and is studied avidly all over the world, particularly by native speakers of English.

The Italian language is beautiful and some people are moved to study it for that reason alone - to understand Italian opera without needing translation and/or to read Dante, Manzoni and other giants of literature in the original. For most, however, it is the lure of Italy itself that prompts them to learn the language.

Italy is a marvellous country with a great deal to offer the foreign visitor: beaches, mountains, music, art, history, architecture, food and wine, as well as vibrant and entertaining people. Italy can be exciting, relaxing, romantic or jolly and, at any time of the year, it is a safe bet for an enjoyable, affordable holiday.

If you can speak at least some of the language, it will enhance your experience no end. A lot of Italians speak English but it's much more fun and, let's face it, much more polite, if we can converse with our hosts in their own tongue. And, if you want to get off the beaten track, you may well find people don't speak English and you'll need some Italian just to get by.

If you have never tried to learn Italian before, you may be surprised at how (relatively) easy it is. Many English words also come straight from Latin and the words that came into English from Greek went into Italian in a similar way. What do you think "possibile" means? Or "secondo", "errore" or "fotografia"? There is so much you can guess.

Then there is another huge group of words that don't immediately appear obvious but which can often be worked out with some lateral thinking. "Amico", for example, is a very different word from "friend" but we look at "amicable" it makes sense. Often, we have two words for the same thing in English, an Anglo-Saxon one and a Latin one. The Latin one tends to be more formal but it will be closer to the Italian. Think "enough" vs "sufficient" (sufficiente); "brotherly" vs "fraternal" (fraterno); "hateful" vs "odious" (odioso).

It is - and has been for a long time - fashionable in Italy to sprinkle Italian with English vocabulary. Words such as "computer" and "film" are just the terms used for these concepts; Italian equivalents don't even exist. Similarly, we use some Italian words in English: "piano[forte]" and "ballerina", for example, which we may not even recognise as Italian; as well as more deliberately Italian expressions such as "cappuccino" and "numero uno".

Knowing some Italian will allow you to penetrate the surface of Italy, get below the tourist layer and experience the real Italian culture. Beyond being able to understand menus and street signs, it's great fun to be able to chat to Italians in Italian, get their jokes, learn what makes them tick and sing along to their pop songs, knowing what the lyrics mean.

Learning a foreign language takes discipline, determination and the right materials. The first few weeks of grappling with basic grammar and vocabulary can be a bit of a grind but then, suddenly, you'll find yourself able to have a little conversation in the new language. The satisfaction of that will spur you on to learn more and more - and it just gets more and more rewarding. Start learning Italian today!
About the Author
To find out more about Italy and the Italian language, visit our website! Learn to speak Italian with the help of our audio guide and downloadable pdf.
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