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Is Italian hard to learn? (spoiler alert….no, it’s not!)
So you’ve finally decided to go ahead and study a new language, and your first option is Italian (a great choice, by the way).
Now that you’ve gotten your foot in the doorway, you’re wondering if Italian is hard to learn.
The short answer is “No!” Anyone can learn the Italian language.
And here’s my first bit of advice: whatever your purpose is, learning a new language is a journey, so enjoy it!
Of course, there are some factors that will influence how easily or quickly you learn Italian, but the good news is that you will get there—and have a fantastic time doing it.
To begin, let’s take a quick look at the primary elements that influence how a person learns and understands a new language:
- Predisposition: we all know that some people find it simpler to learn a language than others. They have that something, like a good ear for melody or a good sense of direction. But don’t worry, even if that gives them a head start, there are a variety of other factors that contribute to a person’s perception of the difficulty of a language.
- Motivation: whether or not you were born with a natural talent for languages, being highly motivated can help you learn quickly and easily. Upcoming transfers to Italy, the chance of a career abroad, or the prospect of an Italian boyfriend/girlfriend have always been wonderful motivators!
- How close Italian is to your native language: Italian is a romance language, which means its roots come from Latin. Depending on your native language, learning Italian could be extremely easy, or slightly more challenging.
But, it is still much simpler than learning many other complex foreign languages.
If you are a native speaker of French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Romanian, or are fluent in one of these, learning Italian will be extremely easy.
These languages share a lot of vocabulary, structures, and grammar rules.
If you speak the English language or other Germanic languages, don’t despair!
Italian is actually quite close to those too, and, although learning it might require a little extra time and effort, you will be surprised at how easy it can be if you use the right tools.
What are the most difficult and easiest aspects of learning Italian?
So, is it difficult for English speakers to learn Italian?
We have wonderful news: according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Italian is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
In fact, they suggest that basic fluency can be gained in as little as twenty-four weeks (or 600 hours).
So, after that length of time, you should be able to hold a simple conversation and function in a variety of Italian language situations.
In the end, they are simply numbers, and everyone learns at a different speed and has different needs.
But, with that said, let’s go over exactly what the easiest and most difficult parts of learning Italian are—and what approaches you can use to overcome any difficulties you may experience.
Let’s begin with the encouraging news.
This is why it’s easy to learn Italian!
Here are a few features of the Italian language that will cheer you up as a new learner.
Italian pronunciation is easy!
There are many reasons why Italian is easy to learn, and one of those is the pronunciation!
Unlike in English or French, which seem to have some random pronunciation, once you learn the Italian alphabet and a couple of pronunciation rules, you will be able to read a word you do not know and pronounce it correctly!
If you practice listening, speaking, and reading, you will be able to say your first words and sentences in no time.
Simple ways for easily guessing the Italian word
As mentioned before, Italian, like all Romance languages, is evolved from Latin. It is, in fact, the one language that is most similar to Latin.
Since the Middle Ages, English has taken many words from Latin and absorbed them into common terms. You may not realize it, but many of the English words you use every day are derived from Latin.
As a result, these words are remarkably similar to their Italian counterparts.
This means you can reverse the process and guess the Italian word from a Latin-derived English word.
And this process is quite straightforward because there are simple ways for translating suffixes (the final portion of a word that we attach to it to slightly change its meaning) and finding the correct Italian vocabulary all the time.
Do you speak any other Romance languages?
If you’ve already learned another Romance language, such as Spanish, French, or Portuguese, learning Italian will be a breeze. Consider the following factors:
- The alphabet is the same (and, by the way, it is the same as the English alphabet);
- The vocabulary is very comparable;
- The use of some tenses is similar;
- The principle that something has a gender stays unchanged;
- The concept of agreement is also preserved.
This is why Italian is a bit hard to learn!
Of course, there are also some trickier aspects of learning Italian, like in any other foreign language.
The fundamental thing to keep in mind is not to become overwhelmed; with a little study and practice, everything will become a lot easier for you.
Having said that, here are some of the elements that make Italian difficult to learn for some people and need a little extra effort during your language learning process.
There is a gender for everything
This may annoy an English speaker, yet it is extremely frequent in many languages (not just Romance languages). In Italian grammar, everything has a gender, either masculine or feminine.
We may all agree that the criteria for gender assignment are confusing.
Why is la sedia (the chair) feminine and il tavolo (the table) masculine? And, if I pantaloni (“the pants”) is masculine and la gonna to (“the skirt”) is feminine, could someone kindly explain why il vestito (“the dress”) is masculine but la giacca (“the jacket”) is feminine?
The good news, as you may have guessed, is that it’s not too difficult to determine the gender of a word because the conclusion usually gives it away.
- It’s masculine if it finishes with -o.
- It’s feminine if it ends with -a.
Everything must agree
Once you’ve mastered the word gender, you should pay attention to all the other elements of the sentence that must agree with it: articles, adjectives, and so on.
It may appear to be a lot of work at first, but it becomes rather automatic after a while. You just have to remember that the majority of the ending vowels must be the same (unless it’s one of those names or adjectives that finish in -e):
La mia bella casa è grande e colorata (ma carissima).
My beautiful house is big and colorful (but very expensive).
It’s usually tough for a non-Italian speaker to tell the difference between a single and double consonant. They are fairly common in the Italian language, and omitting the double can occasionally modify the meaning of a word.
- cane (“dog”) vs. canne (“canes”)
- copia (“copy”) vs. coppia (“couples”)
- pane (“bread”) vs. panne (“breakdown”)
Even if it looks that only Italians can hear the difference and can tell if it’s one or the other, this is just a tiny mistake.
Many Italian students consider the subjunctive as a true bestia nera (meaning “black beast,” alluding to something terrifying that everyone fears).
This is primarily because it is almost non-existent in English. Furthermore, the rule on how to apply it isn’t always explicit.
The subjunctive is used to indicate subjectivity, uncertainty, doubt, will, desire, and so on. The conjunction che (“that”) is frequently used to introduce the subjunctive.
Learn more about it here.
The rolled R
Why haven’t I mentioned the rolled R as one of the most difficult components of Italian?
Even while it may be stressful for certain kids, this is not a major issue.
Even some Italians have trouble rolling their R (it’s known as erre moscia). And don’t worry, whether you roll it like a native Italian speaker or just use the basic anglophone R, everyone will understand you.
Learning Italian: where should you start?
So, now that we’ve got the difficult aspects of learning Italian out of the way, it’s time to give you some basic approaches for learning Italian quickly, easily, and in a funny way.
Learn the fundamental structure
You can begin by taking an Italian course, reading a textbook, or using a wide range of free online resources, but you should pay attention to and practice the basic patterns of the Italian language from the beginning.
Start with the basics and gradually add more and more features as you progress. This way, you can progress from simple sentences to more complicated ones.
Memorize the top 100 essential words.
Memorizing some basic vocabulary in Italian is one approach to quickly learn the language. This can help you construct simple phrases and start a conversation, as well as understand what you’re reading and hearing.
The best approach to learn words is to break them into categories that are relevant to your immediate surroundings.
Learn them here.
Learn basic conjugations
Because the verb is the glue that holds the sentence together, you should work on them straight away.
It’s true that for a native English speaker (who doesn’t have to deal with conjugations in his or her native language), Italian conjugation may appear to be a lot of work. However, you might begin gradually, focusing on what is most important.
Check out this post about Italian verb conjugation.
Don’t be shy and have fun with it
To learn a language, you need to practice, and to practice, you should talk.
So, once you’ve mastered the fundamental structure, memorized 100 words, and are comfortable with auxiliaries and modal verbs, it’s time to dive in.
So what if you start out using the wrong verb or mispronouncing a word? That is simply a part of the language journey! So, let go of your inhibitions and engage in a conversation with the first Italian you find.
Also, learning a new language is similar to putting together a puzzle: it is a highly enjoyable mental workout. And the most fun part is that you can “play” with a great variety of tools and media.
You should try to read and listen to authentic content as much as possible from the start: being exposed to the language is the greatest way to memorize vocabulary and structures.
The best part is that you’re not even aware you’re learning!
And don’t be worried if you only understand approximately 10% of what you’re reading or listening to at first.
Focus on keywords, pay attention to articles, look at verbs and how they conjugate, check for words that seem close to English, and finally, listen or watch for basic phrases you’ve lately learned.
It’s similar to building with Legos: you keep adding different small bricks until you achieve the desired outcome.
Of course, there are also some trickier aspects of learning Italian, like in any other foreign language.
Articles and prepositions can be complicated to remember and combine correctly, and sometimes even Italians make mistakes with the use of the subjunctive…
However, learning Italian is not harder than learning Spanish or French.
So, if you feel like you would like to learn this beautiful language, do not get scared.
Make sure you find the best resources and language courses, online and offline, and get started…
Learning Italian is easy!
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