Is learning Italian difficult? 3 reasons why Italian is easier than you think

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I have lost the count of how many times I was asked if learning Italian was too difficult. People seem to have this impression and, up to a certain extent, I can’t argue with that but the real answer to the question is: it is and it isn’t! In my previous articles I wrote about my top 5 reasons why you should learn Italian and the 7 things you should know when you approach the language for the first time. I’ll now try to argue that Italian is actually not that difficult to learn. 

So, is Italian difficult to learn? Well, the first thing I feel like saying is that IT DEPENDS! It depends on a number of factors. For example, it may depend on your first language. If your first language is a Romance Language (e.g. Spanish, Romanian, French, Portuguese etc.) then it will be slightly easier to learn Italian. If, more specifically, your first language is Spanish, the Italian  language will make even much more sense to you (though you should note that although arguably similar, Spanish and Italian are two separate languages with differences and many false friends). However, if your first language is Mandarin or Japanese, it gets a bit more complicated because you would be in front of a completely new alphabet and way to do things. Mood and tense, what is that? Yeah, I know. I have had several students whose first language was either Mandarin or Japanese and the concept of tense was not an easy one to grasp. 

Nevertheless, this is only in theory because there other factors that come into play when learning a new language, namely: motivation, attitude and aptitude. If you know anything about second language acquisition then you’ll have heard about these three little concepts. 

MOTIVATION: this concerns your goals, desires and aspirations; the reasons why you decide to pursue a particular action; how long you are willing to  sustain such activity and how hard you work to achieve your goal. 

ATTITUDE: this concerns your emotional involvement; your feelings towards learning and the way you think and feel about your goal. 

APTITUDE: also very important, this concerns your innate, natural ability to do something. There is a specific talent to learn new languages and this talent may be different from learner to learner. 

I may talk about these factors more in depth in another post but this should show you that the extent to which a language can be considered diffcult varies from person to person and it depends on several personal circumstances. Your aptitude, attitude and/or motivation may make the difference in your language acquisition journey. 

Therefore, is Italian a difficult language to learn? It’s relative. Yes and no. It may or may not be as for any other language. But let’s have a look at my 3 reasons why Italian is easier than you think

1) Musicality

Italian is considered by many to be a rather musical language. Not only did we contribute greatly to music in general (have you heard of terms such as ‘allegro‘, ‘andante‘, ‘vivace‘ etc.) but the language itself sounds very melodic to foreigners’ ears. This is of course something that may well depend on personal taste and sensitivity but can also be proven true if we look at the phonological structure of the language. In fact, our syllabic structure ensures a fluid prosody. Have you noticed how 99% of the Italian words end with a vowel? This gives a certain rythm to the spoken language. 

Also, other phenomena like elision (deletion of the final vowel of a word when the next word starts with a vowel: senz’altro, pover’uomo, d’ora in poi etc.), phonosyntactic gemination (prouncing a single consonant as if it was two: andiamo a casa, detto fra le righe etc.), final stressed syllables (cit-tà, pa-pà, pe-rò etc.), they all contribute in making the language somewhat musical and therefore easy to replicate. 

2) Pronunciation

This was already dealt with more in details here, but I will tell you again, Italian is a phonetic language: it is read as it is written. Every letter has its own sound and this never changes  from word to word (linguistically speaking there may be differentiations but they’re very subtle and don’t compromise the pronunciation of the word). If you consider that a language like English has around 17 vocalic sounds, the 7 Italian vocalic sounds won’t be as intimidating! 

For example, have you ever struggled with the pronunciation of ‘though‘, ‘through‘, ‘tough‘ and ‘thorough‘? And why ‘book’ is pronounced [ˈbʊk] but ‘blood’ is pronounced [ˈblʌd]? In Italian you will never have such issues. If a letter has that sound, then that will remain constant in all words that present that specific sound (of course you should note that we have an open è and ò and a closed é and ó and other minor differences for consonants like /s/ and /z/).

3) Vocabulary

If your first language is within the Romance group then the vocabulary should be one of the easiest features to learn when studying Italian. In fact, most of it comes from Latin and it’s very similar from language to language. Let’s take the word ‘important’ as an example: Italian-importante; Spanish-importante; French-important; Portuguese-importante; Romanian-important…I guess it won’t be that difficult to learn! But have you noticed how the English version is also very similar? Well, a very important Italian linguist, Tullio De Mauro, once defined Latin as the most latinised language of the non-latinised world (that is, amongst the non-Romance languages, English is the most similar to Latin). Therefore, if your first or second languge is English, you shouldn’t face that many issues in learning Italian vocabulary, even if you don’t speak another Romance language.  

A little challenge for you. Try to read this text in Italian and see how many words can recognise even without knowing the language that well: 

L’Italia è un paese ricco di storia, di arte, di città antiche e di monumenti importanti, ma è famosa anche per il cinema, la moda, la cucina, la mafia, il calcio e per la politica. 

Lo stato italiano è una repubblica democratica: la capitale è Roma, in una regione che si chiama Lazio. 

In Italia ci sono sempre molti turisti stranieri perché è un paese interessante e vario. 

Ma l’Italia non è solo un grande museo o un paese per turisti: è anche una nazione moderna con importanti attività economiche e industriali.

These are my 3 reasons why Italian may be an easier language than you think. Do you have more? Do you think Italian is an easy or difficult language? Do you think your first language may play a part in your judgement? I would love to know your opinion and experience! 

A presto, 

Giorgia

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