There are many reasons to learn Italian. You can open your world up to its over 60 million speakers, develop your understanding of Romance languages, and improve your job prospects. Or maybe you simply want to know how to learn Italian grammar so you can enjoy the benefits of being fluent in another language. But if you’re a native English speaker, you probably want to know how challenging Italian will be for you before you sign up for one of the best foreign language learning programs. This is what you need to know about the difficulties in learning Italian for native English speakers.
There are many misconceptions about which languages are more or less difficult for English Speakers to learn. On the surface, it’s easy to look at Russian or Chinese and argue that because they’re so different, they’re obviously more challenging. Learning Italian may seem as easy as picking up a few language learning CDs and drilling over grammar until you finally get the language, but it’s not so simple.
While certain languages may have constructs that make them easier to remember for some people than others, a language’s difficulty is subjective. Some people may argue that French or German is much easier than Italian, especially if they struggle with Italian pronunciation. Others may find apparently complex languages like Chinese more interesting and therefore much easier to learn. And some people might be moving to the country that speaks their target language and need to learn it, so they have the motivation to focus and rapidly succeed.
The truth is that native English speakers will have some familiarity with the basic components of Italian and therefore they may find it easier to learn. Still, learning a foreign language is challenging. And if you’re a native English speaker trying to learn Italian, then you may struggle with these six aspects.
Pronunciation can be both a challenging aspect of Italian and a more approachable one depending on certain elements. Italian is a phonetic language, unlike languages like English and French. This means that it has a very straightforward spelling system with very few exceptions. You can pronounce the words exactly as they’re spelled, making speaking much easier.
There are two areas that English speakers do struggle with regarding pronouncing Italian correctly. The first is with words that have double consonants. In Italian, several similar words differ only by an additional consonant. Take “casa” meaning house and “cassa” meaning box for example. English speakers who leave out the extra “s” can mistakenly use the wrong word when communicating.
The next problem English speakers have with pronouncing Italian is with the rolled “r.” Some people have a great deal of difficulty rolling the “r” when they speak. Don’t fall into the common misconception that some people simply aren’t able to roll the “r” or that there’s a genetic component to it. You can master its use; it’s just a matter of practice.
Realize that not being able to roll the “r” doesn’t make your Italian incomprehensible. Instead, it’ll only make you stand out as a foreigner. And there’s always the option of using the French pronunciation of “r” instead of as that language has had its impact on some of the Italian dialects in the north.
It’s can also help to know which syllables to stress when speaking Italian. Many Italian words stress the second to the last syllable. You can have fun with this and adapt an Italian personae that reflects an exaggerated accent to help you remember which syllables to stress.
Italy is known for a variety of “dialects” throughout the country. The term “dialect” is a misnomer, however. It’s more accurate to call them regional languages with distinct differences than a slight variation of the Standardized Italian. This could become an issue for visiting language learners eager to engage locals in conversations who then suddenly figure out they can’t understand people.
Knowing that Italian is quite diverse will help travelers prepare when they experience difficulties speaking to the locals. Remember that just because you’re struggling to communicate in one area of the country, doesn’t mean your Italian is lacking, it could just be the local dialect.
Gender is always a tricky one for English speakers. English doesn’t use gender, but all of the Romance languages do with Italian using both masculine and feminine genders. Unlike French, you can put in a little guesswork and figure out a word’s gender based on the spelling. Typically, masculine genders end in “o” and feminine ones end in “a.” Keep in mind that there are exceptions, so you’re better off learning the gender with the word to prevent any confusion when communicating.
Verbs are tricky in Italian. But keep in mind that verbs and conjugations tend to be a pain at first in most languages until you get the hang of it. However, Italian does add a few curveballs concerning how verbs change. The three conjugations of verbs change based on mood, number, person, tense, and sometimes even gender. You also need to be aware of irregular verbs that can trip you up when you thought you were getting into a rhythm. The key component to remember here is that grammar is always tricky to get your head around. With enough practice and exposure, the rules eventually stick.
Italian pronouns can cause a lot of confusion for native English speakers. For starters, Italian has a lot of pronouns, more than English. You can also place pronouns in various parts of the sentence. A bizarre component for those studying Italian is that sometimes the pronoun gets added to the end of a verb. Knowing where to use which pronoun and what it means will take time.
False cognates can trip up any language learner. A false cognate is when a word looks similar to a word in your native tongue, but they have very different meanings. A few examples of this in Italian would be “pretendere” which means to expect a child, not to pretend and “grossa” which doesn’t mean disgusting, but large. Keep in mind that they’re not going to cause too much embarrassment, except maybe using the word “preserves” which can be confused for the Italian word for “condom.” That’s one you’ll want to avoid.
With all these challenges standing before you on your way to learn Italian, you may want to find out how to learn Italian grammar for beginners. Resources are a great way to support your journey to fluency. The more experience you have with the language, the easier grammar and other difficult components will begin to make sense.
With enough patient and practice, you’ll begin to grow familiar with how words should be spelled and pronounced. And over time, you’ll even know how to flawlessly use them when communicating with native speakers. Italian fluency may not be “a breeze,” but with the right resources, mindset, and a little patience, you can be on your way to rapid fluency.