If you’re looking for the best way to learn Italian, it might be useful to start with Italian’s relationship to English. In the olden and not-so-olden days, these two languages influence each other by mean of a cultural exchange.
Let’s start saying that Latin was the language of a higher civilization, a civilization from which the Anglo-Saxons had much to learn. Commercial and military contact with Roman civilization (and later religious and intellectual) extended over many centuries and was constantly renewed. Running alongside education, roads, under-floor heating, wine, and the fresh water system, the Romans gave English speaking world a set of words and phrases of Latin origin.
More recently, the Italian culture has a deep influence on the English language, also thanks to Italian-American citizens, and English vocabulary contains many Italian loans words. These words encompass many aspects of the society like food, music, architecture, literature and art, the military, commerce and banking.
Understanding how Italian is similar to English is the best way to learn Italian – for English speakers, at least! Even if English is a relatively new language, having developed in the Middle Ages, it inherited lot of Italian forms and the two languages have lot of similarities.
Such as many terms, the basic sentence structure and many suffixes and prefixes correspondences. The basic Italian sentence structure is pretty straightforward and similar to the English one.
Many English verbs have the same roots as Italian ones, because they are of Latin origin. These usually bear similar suffixes and prefixes. These English verbal suffixes and prefixes have their Italian counterparts. Just few examples: for a repeated action English use the re prefix (as in reconstruct) that correspond to Italian ri (ricostruire). The English suffix –ify corresponds to Italian –ificare (Modify-Modificare).
It’s just a question to understand how to use these similarities without run into false friend and false cognate traps. At the same time, the best way to learn Italian is to also understand the differences between Italian and English.
One main difference between Italian and English is due to the fact that Italian is a fluid and flexible language, this means that, although the basic sentence structure is so simple and similar to English, Italians can change the words order and elide subjects.
English has a strict word order, while in Italian it is less important, because verbs are conjugated.
A tip to understand this confusing use of Italian is to understand and learn how the Italian verb bear the subject. Other main differences are in preposition and pronouns use.
Prepositions are used in a variety of different ways in Italian, definite article fuses with preposition forming one word, and prepositional phrases are very common – meaning that certain phrases with prepositions come set in stone and paired with specific verbs.
Pronouns use is very different from English for position and use, even pronoun form one word.
Another notably difference from English to Italian is the gender use. The noun has a gender and gender and number of a noun change the almost the whole sentence. Gasp! No, it’s easier than you could imagine.