Italian Language Guide
Did you know that Italy is the place in the world with the most UNESCO sites? You can visit 55, including The Amalfi coast, the city of Verona, Pompei, Venice, and many others! And the best way to enhance your trips and enjoy them to the fullest is by learning Italian. If you master the Italian language, you’ll be able to communicate with the 85 million people who also speak this beautiful language. Further, Italian can bring about professional benefits if you wish to relocate to Italy or if you are planning to apply for a job at a local Italian-speaking company.
Being fluent in a Romance language will also give you a head start when learning Italian. Spanish, Romanian, French, and Portuguese, for example, have very similar vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar systems, so your language journey will be a breeze. And if you don’t speak any other language but English you’ll soon realize you know a lot more Italian than you thought: words like lava, influenza, or finale are Italian terms!
Start your journey towards Italian proficiency and broaden your horizons, explore a new and exciting culture, and expand your global family! Find below an Italian language guide to acquire the language in the most interactive way!
How Many People Speak Italian and Where Is it Spoken?
Italian is spoken by over 85 million people worldwide. While obviously most of these speakers live in Italy (60 million), Italian is popular in other countries in Europe, such as San Marino, or Switzerland and some areas in Croatia that also made Italian one of its official languages. Furthermore, you’ll find fluent Italian speakers in Albania, Belgium, Bosnia, Malta, and almost any other European country! This means that learning Italian for tourism is a brilliant idea.
Yet, learning Italian offers many benefits beyond just being able to communicate as a tourist. For instance, if you are looking to broaden your professional horizons, Italian can give you the competitive edge you need. The USA and Italy have a strong trade relationship, with the United States being Italy's third-largest destination for exports in 2019. This means that learning Italian can enhance your resumé and help you get the job you always wanted either abroad or at one of the many companies in the US that use Italian as their working language.
Now, what Italian should you learn? You may know that the language has many dialects and varieties, with the standard being the Tuscan accent that was born in Florence in the 14th century. Italian dialects are classified into three groups depending on their geographical occurrence:
- Northern: Lombard, Piedmontese, Ladin, Cimbrian, Veneto.
- Central: Tuscan, Umbrian, Sabino, Castelli Romani.
- Southern: Sardinian, Tabarchino, Sicilian, Salento.
To accurately decide which one is better for you, you should always consider your needs and objectives when learning the language. For instance, if you are planning to move to Venice, it may be wise to learn the Veneto accent so you can communicate with your neighbors. But if you want to learn Italian for tourism, instead, the Tuscan accent would be better so you can travel around the country and be understood by most locals.
Learn Italian Grammar
If you've decided to give Italian a try and you are eager to learn its fascinating grammar system, here you can find the most essential rules and a few tips to learn Italian fast and optimize your efforts. Let’s go!
Italian Nouns and Adjectives
Similar to English, Italian nouns can be proper (nomi propi) or common (nomi comuni). The main difference lies in the capitalization of nouns. While in English the days of the week, months, and seasons are capitalized, in Italian they are not.
A marzo andavo a scuola e tornavo ogni lunedì.
Now, the main difference between the English and Italian noun systems is grammatical gender. In Italian, these words can be masculine or feminine (with the gender being completely arbitrary). Let’s take a look at the following examples:
- “The chair” in Italian is feminine: La sedia.
- “The sea” in Italian is masculine: Il mare.
- "The road” in Italian is feminine: La strada.
|Rule||Singular form||Plural form||English translation|
|Masculine nouns that end in -o take an -I||Appartamento||Appartamenti||Apartment|
|Feminine nouns that end in -a take an -e||Casa||Case||House|
|Nouns that end in -e (masculine or feminine) that take an -I in the plural form||Chiave||Chiavi||Key|
Of course, there are also irregular nouns such as man (uomo) and men (uomini) which you will soon discover. It’s only a matter of practice!
Similarly, adjectives agree with the noun in gender and number and their plurals are formed in the same way (-o to -I and -a to -e). Usually, the adjectives go after the noun, especially when they indicate color or nationality. However, in most cases, the adjective can go before or after without changing the meaning of the sentence:
The new toy.
The new house.
Italian Verbs The Italian verb system is daunting and somewhat difficult to learn for English speakers. In addition to having 6 different conjugations within each tense, there are 21 tenses divided into simple and compound. This means you’ll need a lot of practice and patience to meaningfully remember all the conjugations and variations!
One great helpful aspect is that, as in other Latin languages, regular verbs are divided into 3 conjugation patterns:
This makes it much easier to memorize the past, present, and future conjugations in each mood. Below you can find a clear example in the present simple:
|Mangiare (eat)||Amaro (love)|
Learn Italian Pronunciation
Now, what about pronunciation? While the system is not so different in terms of sounds, the tones, rhythm, and general way of speaking are not similar to English. But don’t worry, with this guide you’ll soon master the Italian sounds like a native!
Pronunciation of Letter C in Italian
Letter C can have 2 pronunciations:
- One of them is soft (pronounced “ch” as in church) when followed by “e” or “i”. Some examples are in ciao (hello) or ciambella (a type of cake).
- The pronunciation turns hard (pronounced “k” as in cruel) when followed by letters “a”, “o”, or “u”. Some examples are casa (house) and cultura.
Pronunciation of Cluster SC
The combination of letters s and c is quite common in Italian and has two main pronunciations, too:
- Hard (s plus k, as in skirt) when sc is followed by “a”, “o”, or “u” as in scarpa (shoe) or scalzo (barefoot).
- Soft (sh as in she) when followed by “e” or “i”, as in sciare (ski) or abolisce (to abolish)
Pronunciation of R
Italian is a language with the dreaded rolled R, which is very different from the English sound. This “strong” R occurs at the beginning of words such as respiro (breath) or ruscello (stream).
To perfect your Italian R, you should put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and make it vibrate quickly! You can check out this video on how to pronounce the Italian R.
Pronunciation of GN
The cluster GN sounds like the Spanish “ñ”, so if you are already familiar with this language, it will be very easy for you. But if you don’t, think about it as the sound you would make to pronounce “ny” in English.
Some examples include:
Pronunciation of Double Consonants
Italian has another unique feature: the pronunciation of double consonants. While in English they exist, they are not pronounced in different ways.
A double n, for example, sounds very different (harder, longer) from a simple n (plus, using two consonants can change the meaning of the word completely). Some examples include:
Pala (shovel) vs palla (ball)
Nona (ninth) vs nonna (grandmother)
Do you need more help? Take a look at our short video on how to pronounce Italian double consonants!Help me perfect my Italian Pronunciation
Learn Italian Accents and Diacritics
Another important feature of Italian pronunciation lies in accents and diacritics. These marks show where the stress lies within a word:
- The grave accent (`) can go on any vowel but only occurs if it’s the last letter of a word. When the term has a grave accent, it sounds closed and abrupt, such as libertà (freedom) or caffè (coffee).
- The acute accent (´) only goes on the letter “e” and makes the syllable sound stronger. Some examples are perché (why) and benché (despite).
With this short guide to Italian pronunciation and the help of one of our experienced tutors, we are sure you’ll soon master the language like a native speaker!
How to Learn Italian With Music
You have probably heard that Italian is the language of music. So, why not take advantage of this amazing resource to take your Italian skills to the next level? Music is great for acquiring not only vocabulary but also to be exposed to a great variety of grammar structures, phrasal verbs, colloquial phrases, and verb conjugations. Opera, in particular, can help you learn Italian in a short time. Discover how to learn Italian with opera by reading our article!
Also, songs are great to remember the pronunciation of different words and phrases and to practice them by imitation. You just need to choose songs in a music genre you find interesting and enjoyable. If you’d like to study Italian with music but you are not sure where to start, check out our Spotify playlist with contemporary Italian music! We have opera songs by outstanding singers like Andrea Bocelli, lively pop music by Rita Pavone or Lucio Dalla, romantic pieces by Eros Ramazzotti and Tiziano Ferro, and much more!
Another option is to use apps like LyricsTraining, which help you learn Italian vocabulary in the most interactive way. You can download it for free and look for songs you like. When you play them, you’ll see some gaps and you need to choose the correct option according to what you hear, which is great not only to learn new words but also to train your ear to the Italian rhythm and pronunciation!
How to Learn Italian for Free
Are you ready to take your Italian skills to the next level but you are not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we have compiled some of the best sites and apps to spice up your Italian studies so you learn in the most interactive, interesting way. Take a look at these Italian resources below!
- If you love cinema, you should explore these 5 great films to learn Italian from the comfort of your home. And if you have kids (or if you love cartoons yourself), read this article to read about 5 great cartoons to help you learn Italian today.
- If you prefer to read the news, instead, you’ll be happy to know there are many options online for you to read the news in Italian. Read our article with our top picks for Italian newspapers!
- Looking to improve your listening skills in the most engaging manner? You should start watching TV series, be it on Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime or any other platform that offers Italian productions in their original language (with or without subtitles, depending on your level). Whether you're a beginner looking to get familiar with the rhythm of the language or would like to improve your listening skills, watching TV series works! Have a look at 5 incredible Netflix shows in Italian here.
- Social media is a great way to entertain yourself and to learn a language! If you only have a few spare minutes per day to dedicate to studying Italian, why not use Instagram to put your skills into use? You’ll be surprised at how much vocabulary and informal phrases you’ll learn! Discover 5 Instagram accounts to follow to learn Italian in our blog.
- Take the first step towards Italian proficiency and check your Italian level with our FREE Italian level test! It’s easy to take and you’ll get your results immediately on the screen and via email.
If you would like to visit Italy soon but you have never uttered a word in Italian before, the following phrases will surely be of use to you! Find in the table below some expressions that will really help you get by in Italy (or at least be polite!).
|Excusing yourself||Mi scusi||Excuse me|
|Mi dispiace di questo||I’m sorry about this|
|Saying thank you||Grazie||Thank you|
|Molte grazie||Thank you very much|
|Grazie di tutto||Thanks for everything|
|Saying hello||Buongiorno||Good morning|
|Buona sera||Good evening|
|Buon pomeriggio||Good afternoon|
|Saying goodbye||Alla prossima||Until the next time|
|Arrivederci||Until we see each other again|
|Ci vediamo||See you!|
And if you need even more phrases, we are sure the following articles will be helpful:
- Top 10 Italian survival phrases,
- The most popular Italian idioms and expressions,
- 10 Italian slang terms you should know.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Italian?
As you probably know already, learning a language such as Italian is a long-term investment that can be very fulfilling. But how long does it take to learn Italian? How many months or years do you have to spend studying before achieving fluency? Unfortunately, there’s no easy or definite answer. Studying a second language is a complex process that depends on a wide variety of factors that go from motivation to how many hours per day or week you dedicate to learning Italian. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that affect language acquisition below!
- Your native language and what other languages you have learned (if any). For instance, if you know any other Romance language, Italian will be a breeze for you!
- Whether you are learning alone or with an experienced teacher who can guide you through the experience and point out your strengths and weaknesses.
- How many hours you dedicate to learning Italian and whether you are constant or not. It’s not the same to study one hour per day on a daily basis as studying 5 hours one day and not practicing again until the following week.
- Your attitude and motivation towards the language. Motivated, engaged students will make a lot more progress than bored, unmotivated learners.
So, what are you waiting for to start your Italian journey? You’ll not only enjoy your trips to Italy to the fullest but you’ll increase your chances of making international friends while enhancing your CV. Plus, Italian can be the first step toward becoming multilingual, due to its similarity with other Romance languages such as Spanish, French, or Portuguese. Contact us today and we will arrange a personalized Italian course just for you! Meanwhile, you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram andcheck out our blog, which we update bi-weekly. We hope to hear from you soon!Sign up for an Italian course with us today!
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