Is it hard to learn Italian?
Whether it be for an upcoming vacation in Rome or a business trip to Milan, you want to be fluent in Italian as fast as possible. You want more than basic sentences for travelers. However, our personal and professional life leave little time to learn a language.
So, how long will it take to learn Italian?
This is one of the first questions anyone interested in language learning asks, and unfortunately, there’s no easy way to answer it. Learning a language is a complex process that is different for each individual based on several different factors.
- Have you studied a foreign language before?
- Is Italian easy to learn?
- How much time can you dedicate to learning Italian?
- What’s your motivation to learn Italian?
Let’s take a look at how they impact how fast you learn Italian:
It’s not that you have to be “good at languages”, or that it’s particularly hard to learn Italian. But like a lot of things, if you’ve never done anything similar before, there’s a steeper learning curve. So, if you’ve already successfully learned to speak another foreign language, well Italian should be easy and quick!
If you already speak a foreign language or were raised bilingual, you may save yourself some time as you learn Italian. Bilinguals find it easier to learn a third language, as several linguistic studies have proven. This is because they are naturally more accustomed to being exposed to different languages. Fluency and skills in one language aid fluency and skills in another.
Luckily, there’s no shortage of materials and courses out there. Clocking in at number four on the list of most studied languages in the world, there’s a huge demand for Italian, and therefore you can find a ton of learning resources.
Want more good news? Italian is reportedly also one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. Italian contains a lot of words that have similar counterparts in English (we’ll look at this more later), and while Italian can have some pesky grammar rules, it’s generally less complicated than some others like Polish or German.
Learning a language that is similar to your native language can save you time when learning the alphabet, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.
As a general rule, languages that have similar roots are easier and take less time to learn. If your native language is English, that means that any language with Latin roots will be easier for you to learn, and that includes Italian.
Actually, you already know some Italian words even before you even start studying it. These words, known as cognates, make learning Italian much easier for people who speak a language with similar roots (like English, French and Spanish). Words like “errore,” “minuto,” and “impossibile,” for example, are your friends and can make your language learning much easier and faster.
Naturally, how long it takes you to learn Italian also depends on how much time you plan to dedicate to language learning daily, weekly, or monthly. Those who are willing to dedicate an hour a day to language learning learn significantly faster than those who just attend a weekly class.
Realistically, if you have a full-time job and a family, that’s likely to be a brake on your progress. Whereas if you’re young, or on a sabbatical, you’ll have plenty of time to do your homework.
Your attitude plays a huge role in how fast you learn Italian. If you approach language learning with a positive attitude and see it as a fun and fascinating opportunity to broaden your horizons, you’ll be more open to learning. The entire process will be more enjoyable and, consequently, faster.
Staying motivated is the key to learning a new language. There have been so many studies proving the importance of motivation in language learning. Staying motivated is the number one reason why many people have language success, and also the number one reason why some fail.
Reminding yourself why you want to learn Italian, how it will improve your life, and everything good that can come from learning it can help you to stay motivated and, therefore, speed up the time necessary to learn it.
In your normal life you are competent at lots of stuff (your job, driving a car, using a computer, etc.), so probably not used to feeling like you know nothing at all. But when you start learning a foreign language, you’ll encounter lots of difficulties, which can be psychologically hard: you literally have to start at the beginning. If you are a relaxed, happy-go-lucky person, you should be fine with that. If you’re a control freak who hates looking stupid, well this might not be for you.
To keep a good attitude, remember that:
- As an adult, you can still learn faster or better than children.
- You don’t need to go to an expensive school.
- It’s not necessary to live in the country where the language is spoken necessarily speeds things up. Lots of people in Italy have lived there for years but don’t speak Italian.
- Some people will learn faster than others. It’s just a fact we have to live with.
To help you learn Italian faster, make sure you’re not distracted when you dedicate time to studying Italian, as that could also slow you down. Turn off your cell phone and social media when you study Italian to ensure that you can concentrate free of distractions.
The complex interaction between all of these factors determines how long it takes you to learn Italian.
There are six “levels” and you’ll need between 80 and 120 hours of lessons (plus homework, etc.) to pass from one to the next.
On a typical “full-time” Italian course, you’ll study for 4 hours each morning, so that’s 20 hours a week. Which means you’d need between four and six weeks to complete a level.
To get residence in Italy these days an A2 level is required, which would mean 8-12 weeks of study if you started as a complete beginner.
To get a job, say in an office where you’d need to write in Italian, you’d need to be very good. You can expect to need about 24 and 36 weeks of lessons to get that far.
So, that’s six to eight months to learn Italian from zero to working-in-an-office level. If you have the time and motivation.
However, you don’t necessarily need to be fluent to be able to speak a foreign language and to be comfortable interacting in that language. A low intermediate level can get you pretty far in the language world.
If you just want to able to have a reasonable conversation and understand what most people say to you, that will be achievable in much less time. Even a couple of weeks can give you a great feeling of progress, and a month or two will really transform your ability to communicate in Italian.
I would recommend studying at least 30 minutes a day, up to an hour. Being regular is a key factor and it helps you seeing the daily improvements without struggling with too much information, whilst juggling work and personal life.
This time frame is based on a daily learning schedule of 30 minutes per day, with additional classroom time (2 hours per week when possible) to practice conversation and writing.
- Elementary proficiency. This is the most important stage as you are building the basis to further develop your language skills. If you are practicing 30 minutes a day to reach this stage, it should take you up 3 to 6 months.
- Limited working proficiency. Things are starting to get harder and you will come across many more grammar rules. If you’re highly motivated to learn and practice around an hour a day, you can get there in a year or two.
- Minimum professional proficiency. You can speak the language with sufficient accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most conversations. Usually, you arrive at this point after three years of constant practice, where you start researching topics of your interest and you master most of the grammar rules.
- Full professional proficiency. You’ll be able to master most conversations and express yourself and your ideas with confidence. If you practiced constantly, you should be at this level after four years.
- Native or bilingual proficiency. This is hardly achievable as an adult and probably you don’t need to, anyway. You will probably need to spend years in Italy and practice the language full immersed in the cultural and linguistic context.
Study regularly at least for the first three months to give yourself a solid boost. Once you are an intermediate Italian speaker and slow down, you will likely forget a word here and there, but at least you won’t forget how to hold a conversation.
How hard is it to learn Italian?
The U.S. Foreign Service Institute examined a group of native English speakers to calculate how long it took students to reach “General professional proficiency” or higher.
They divided their findings into language categories based on the languages’ similarity to English, which determined how long it took learners to reach general professional proficiency or higher.
Fortunately for Italian learners, this language can be found within the first language group, “languages closely related to English”, together with French, Portuguese, and Spanish, among others.
They estimated that the training required is 23-24 Weeks (575-600 Hours).
This might sound intimidating, but compared it with languages in Group 5 (like Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic) that can take up to an estimated 88 weeks to learn and you’ll feel relieved.
It’s important to note the conditions of the study, however. The students’ schedule called for 25 hours of class per week plus 3 hours of daily independent study, and their classes were generally small, with no more than 6 students. In other words, these were almost ideal language-learning conditions.
Keep in mind, however, that the quality of your study is more important than the quantity, and immersion experiences or daily practice can significantly limit how long it takes for you to learn a language.
There are many ways to learn; some are faster and others are slower. Which is best for you? Well, that depends on a variety of factors including time, money and ability.
The Common European Framework for Reference for Languages uses the “Guided Learning Hours” framework to measure the amount of classroom time total needed to reach a B2 (high intermediate) level. It assumes that for every one hour of classroom time, learners will spend two hours of independent study time. In the end, this equates to a total of between 1,000 and 1,200 hours.
This calculation neglects so many factors, however, and still is an overestimate of how long it could take you to learn Italian.
Here are some of the most popular methods for learning Italian and how long they take. Let’s take a look at this in several different scenarios to have an intermediate level of Italian.
- Total Immersion. The most intense option for learning Italian with the best and quickest results. Total immersion typically means moving to Italy; you can even take part in an immersion language learning program with roughly four hours of study each day. It’s not easy or cheap, but if you work hard, you’re guaranteed to learn Italian fast. Total, active immersion (8 hours per day). Approximately 3 months to have an intermediate level of Italian.
- Intensive group course at Home. Taking an intensive group course at home is the next best thing to immersion. It forces you to make Italian a part of your everyday life, which is the essential factor in learning Italian quickly. You’ll also be working with trained educators who can help you quickly notice and overcome language obstacles. One year of Italian language learning in school (4 hours per week + 2 hours of homework + 2 hours of independent practice X 12 weeks X 2 semesters).
- Standard Group Course at Home. Taking a non-intensive group course is one of the more affordable and least time-consuming ways to study Italian seriously. This type, of course, includes about three hours in the classroom plus homework each week. This is an ideal option for working people but takes more time. One 3-hour Italian course per week for 8 weeks, plus a weekly homework assignment (1 hour), plus independent practice of any type (2 hours). You will need between 25-30 courses. At 3 courses per year, it may take you between 4-8 years to reach an intermediate level.
- 1-on-1 Lessons. You could learn much faster with individual lessons, but it depends on how many hours you do each week. With three 60-minute lessons per week, you could likely learn Italian in 1-2 years. This method is more expensive but great for people with busy schedules.
- Self-study. Many people succeed at learning Italian through self-study methods, but how long that takes depends completely on you. This is usually the cheapest way to learn, but without support and motivation from a teacher or classmates, it can be challenging. If you choose this method, remember to stay positive and use lots of high-quality resources! Dedicated independent study (1 hour per day). Approximately 2 years to achieve an intermediate level of Italian.
How long does it take to learn Italian?
That’s a common question about learning Italian. However, it’s not the real question.
It’s rather, how to learn Italian fast?
Your learning methods play an important role in how fast you learn Italian. If your language learning is limited to a classroom setting, then it will take you a little longer to learn.
If, however, you also are exposed to Italian outside of classes, then you can cut down the time needed to learn it. Reading, listening to the radio or eBooks, writing, speaking, watching movies, and traveling to an Italian-speaking country can all help to speed up your learning process.
There’s no right way to learn a foreign language, but there are lots of wrong ways. When studying anything it’s easy to waste time and get nowhere fast, and with something as complex as a foreign language, the probability that you’ll study in a less than optimum way is quite high, unless you have had plenty of experience with other foreign languages.