Italian language sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? How cool would it be if you could learn Italian easily and speak this charming language fluently?
But how hard is it to learn Italian?
I recently set a challenge for myself which was to learn Italian for two months, just to see how far I could get. This time I didn’t go on an adventurous trip to Italy or anything; I decided to learn Italian online, at home.
In this post, I will not only share with you my experiences and the results, we’re also going to break down the language for you and show you how easy it is to learn Italian.
I have studied other Romance languages like Spanish, French and Portuguese in the past so hopefully, this is going to give you an interesting perspective.
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In this post we’re going to find if it’s easy to learn Italian.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
– The difficulty of learning Italian when compared to other languages
– Some of the most common problems learners face with Italian
– How you can learn Italian quickly and effectively
Why Italian is easier than you think
Let’s assume that you’re a native English speaker or that you speak English very well. What does it actually take to become fluent in Italian? How hard it is to learn Italian for English speakers?
Let’s take a look at the facts.
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has created a list to indicate the approximate time required to learn a specific language as an English speaker:
As you can see in the image above, they’ve categorized Italian as a language that is closely related to English and therefore it should be easy to learn Italian.
If you already speak one of the other Romance languages – like Spanish, French or Portuguese – then learning Italian will be even easier for you. For now, let’s assume that’s not the case. How to learn Italian language easily?
Take a look at these examples of common vocabulary in English and Italian:
- Concerto – Concert
- Poeta – Poet
- Problema – Problem
- Futuro – Future
- Senso – Sense
- Finale – Final
- Impossibile – Impossible
- Eloquente – Eloquent
- Melodia – Melody
Could you guess all the meanings?
Italian vocabulary is even more similar to the other Romance languages. Let’s take a look at a verb –to sing.
Some Italian words are very different, but there are certainly enough similarities which will make learning Italian easier for you if you already speak one of the other Romance languages.
You can often guess the Italian word for words such as:
English: to function (to work)
Some words are also very different in Italian, for example, the word for ‘’to ask’’ is:
What about pronunciation?
Another reason why Italian is easy to learn is the pronunciation. Unlike the pronunciation in French, for example, where you pronounce certain syllables in different ways, Italian pronunciation is quite logical.
There are certain rules you will need to learn, but these are very straightforward.
Here are a few examples:
- c + a, o, u, he, hi [k] amico (ah-mee-koh) – friend
- c + ia, io, iu, e, i [ch] cinema (chee-neh-mah) – cinema
- g + a, o, u, he, hi [g] gusto (goo-stoh) – taste
- g + ia, io, iu, e, i [dj] gelato (djeh-lah-toh) – ice cream
- sc + a, o, u, he, hi [sk] scuola (skoo-oh-la) – school
- sc + ia, io, iu, e, i [sh] sciarpa (shar-pah) – scarf
Don’t you like studying these kinds of tables?
No problem, just look at the words, listen to the pronunciation and very soon you will be able to guess how a certain word is pronounced.
So why do people say that Italian is difficult?
Well, every language has its difficulties, Italian too.
We just said that the pronunciation is easy but in order to sound like a real Italian, there are two things that you need to get right.
The problem with the rolling ‘r’…
One thing that makes Italian pronunciation tricky is the melody of the language.
As mentioned before, the pronunciation is pretty easy, but Italian has a certain melody which makes the language more difficult.
In order to sound like an Italian, you not only need to make sure to pronounce the words correctly, you also need to speak with a certain melody. Even Italians often don’t speak using the right melodies and the way people speak varies on the regions so speaking with the right intonation is certainly no easy skill.
Just like in Spanish, the Italians roll their r’s. Even though there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube on how to roll your ‘r’, it remains tricky.
Learning how to roll your ‘r’ properly takes a lot of practice for most of us who don’t have such sounds in their own native language
Italian has many articles and prepositions
Italian has more articles than Spanish, for example:
The four definite articles in Spanish are as follows:
– el (masculine singular)
– la (feminine singular)
– los (masculine plural)
– las (feminine plural)
In Italian you have six:
- Il – The (masculine singular)
- Lo – The (masculine singular)
- La – The (feminine singular)
- I – The (masculine plural)
- Gli – The (masculine plural)
- Le – The (feminine plural)
The tricky combinations of articles and prepositions
These articles are usually combined with the prepositions of the verbs which go on to form new words and that’s when things become tricky…
Let’s take a look at the preposition in. First, there are two different ways to use this preposition – in and a. The final form of the preposition is determined by the article of the noun that follows after it. Therefore, the preposition will merge with the article of the noun and create a new word.
A few examples:
- in + il = nel
- in + l’ = nell’
- in + lo = nello
- in + la = nella
- in + i = nei
- in + gli =negli
- in + le = nelle
- a + il = al
- a + lo = allo
- a + l’ = all’
- a + la = alla
- a + i = ai
- a + gli =agli
- a + le = alle
As you can see there are many words for ‘in’ and other prepositions in Italian. Many more than in Spanish or French, so this aspect is definitely more complication than in the other Romance languages.
They use the ‘’Subjunctive’’ a lot!
The subjunctive is a form of a verb which is used in situations of doubt, desire, opinion, etc. In these instances, you can no longer use the indicative form of a verb which is what you learn first in Italian. If you want to learn Italian language, you can’t avoid subjunctive.
Let’s look at this example:
You are right. > Hai ragione (indicative).
I think you’re right. > Credo che tu abbia ragione (subjunctive).
As you can see, the subjunctive is a completely different form of the same verb. The subjunctive is quite tricky for foreigners to grasp, and it’s one of the more difficult aspects when you learn Italian. Also in Spanish, Portuguese and French they use the subjunctive but much less than in Italian.
Want to avoid using the subjunctive?
Instead of ‘’Credo che’’ (I think that), you can simply say ‘’Secondo me’’ or ‘’Per me’’
You are right. > Hai ragione. (indicative)
I think you’re right. > Secondo me, hai ragione.
Problem solved 😉
Here a video I shot with Stefano, who helped me with my Italian, about
3 Mistakes that Foreigners make in ITALIAN (and how to avoid them)
So is learning Italian harder than Spanish, Portuguese and French?
Having had the experience of learning four Romance languages so far, in my opinion, Spanish is the simplest language to learn for an English speaker.
Spanish has lots of similarities in vocabulary to English, and Spanish grammar is not very difficult as it is also quite similar to English. It is also easy to master the pronunciation in this language.
The second easiest for me would be Portuguese. It’s a little more difficult than Spanish because the pronunciation of this language is more challenging, but it is very similar to Spanish in vocabulary and grammar.
As far as French and Italian are concerned, I am not sure which one I would choose to put on the third place in relation to difficulty. French can be tricky because it’s not a phonetic language and the pronunciation of this language is the most difficult among the four mentioned languages.
However, for all the reasons mentioned earlier, which include articles, prepositions, frequent use of the subjunctive and the unique rhythm, Italian might be just as equally hard (or easy) as French.
In this video I talk about my experiences learning Italian after two months
How can you learn Italian quickly and how long does it take?
Well, how much time it takes to leran Italian depends on a few factors:
- Your motivation
- The materials you use
- The languages you can already speak
- How many hours each week you devote to learning the language
Let’s take a look at the level I reached in Italian after two months:
So, how did I do it and how can you make quick progress too? How to learn Italian language easily?
1. Make sure you have the motivation
Make sure that you’ve got the right amount of motivation. Learning any language takes a serious amount of effort.
List the reasons why you want to learn Italian. Imagine yourself speaking Italian and become obsessed with your new challenge.
Without enough motivation, you will eventually give up and that would be a pity.
Do you love traveling? Read what I learned about language learning from traveling to 100 countries
2. Make a serious ‘Game Plan’
Learning Italian becomes more fun when you set goals for yourself and create a plan how you can achieve those goals.
Don’t be too ambitious; ‘speaking fluent Italian by the end of this year’ sounds cool but it’s not very specific.
Better, work with so‐called ‘mini‐goals’; goals that are relatively easy to accomplish within a few months or weeks.
Here are some examples of mini-goals that I set for myself for the first month:
- Learn the 300 most important words
- 21 hours of practicing to make sentences with these words
- Hold a basic 10-minute conversation in Italian by the end of the month
For the second month, I would take 2-3 lessons with my friend Stefano on italki and simply practice my speaking skills without any special preparation
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My secret weapon to make fast progress in Italian: Boostcamp Italian
3. It’s time for action!
Now it’s time to get started for real.
If you want to learn Italian and become conversational quickly, you need to find good learning materials that teach you the most important words and phrases first. Learning from books that teach you difficult words and tricky grammar can be overwhelming, frustrating and time-consuming, so don’t do that!
Instead: Learn the first things first!
Learning first things first is the key to quick progress in your new language.
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) basically states that you get 80% of results from 20% of work. This principle can be applicable for language learning as well.
Languages contain hundreds of thousands of words but only a fraction of them are used on a daily basis by native speakers and only a fraction of those are words are needed for your first few conversations.
Your first conversations in a new language will always be the same:
“What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “What do you do here?”, “Do you live here?”, “How long have you studied….. for?”.
To create your first few sentences you need words like; I, you, to like, can, to do, today, to want, to be, expensive, big etc.
You will be surprised by how many things you will be able to say by knowing only 200 words and knowing how to use them. Of course, your speech will be limited, but it’s a great way to start!
Bruce Lee once said; “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Watch the video below to see how we can apply this strategy in language learning.
Learning first things first will allow you to make sentences in Italian from the beginning, even after only 5 days!
4. Speak Italian, even if you think you can’t!
There are a number of reasons you shouldn’t wait too long to start speaking:
- Using the new words you have just learned in your speech will help you to memorize them better
- By speaking, you also find out what important words you are missing and what basic grammar features you need to learn
- Speaking a new language is exciting, adds the human aspect, makes it something ‘real’ and is good for your momentum
Now you might think to yourself “how can I speak a language if I only know 100 words (or less)?”
Two things are important here:
- You need to be creative.
- You need a good teacher or conversation partner who can make you speak with a limited vocabulary.
In the beginning, the main goal of your speaking sessions is to simply interact in your target language with the basic words you know. At this stage, it’s not important what you say, it’s more about trying to say something and keeping the conversation alive.
Making mistakes is 100% allowed!
5. Practice, practice and practice…
Many language learning products claim that learning can be almost effortless.
Unfortunately, it’s not.
The real reason why some people succeed in language learning and others don’t is that some don’t have enough motivation and the willingness to practice the language over a longer period of time. Sometimes it might just all seem to be too difficult, but in fact, it’s only a matter of more practice and exposure to the language.
So, follow your game plan and put in the hours. You will be able to make fast progress, especially in the beginning.
Now that you’re ready to start to learning Italian, you need to start by focusing on what matters the most at the beginning; learning the most important vocabulary.
Jumpstart Italian is ideal for this because it contains hundreds of words and example sentences which will allow you to hold basic conversations from the beginning!
So is Italian hard to learn?
In conclusion – no. Italian is relatively easy to learn but it does take some time and effort.
As Italian is closely related to English, I have to agree with the Foreign Language Institute’s infographic shown at the beginning of this article, that says that Italian belongs to the easiest group of languages to learn for English speakers. Having so much common vocabulary helps a lot!
The tricky parts of the language I have mentioned are not too difficult to master. When you’re driving a car and you want to get to a destination you’ve never been to before, you don’t worry about potential obstacles. Just set your destination in your GPS, anticipate the obstacles and keep driving ‘till you get there.
In other words, set a learning goal, keep correcting yourself and keep practising until you reach your goals.
Make sure that you set a challenging learning goal for yourself, find good materials and a tutor that suits you, enjoy the learning process and put in the time!
It will be worth it!
Now it’s time for YOU to learn Italian FAST!
About the writer of this article:
Jan van der Aa traveled to 100 countries and learned 10 languages before he turned 30. On his website he shares his language learning experience and helps people from all over the world to learn languages faster.
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