Why learn Italian? Because it’s beautiful!
We all learn eagerly something we like, right?
Then, why should you like Italian?
If I were to pick one reason, it would be because it’s beautiful.
If you ask anyone to name the most beautiful language in the world, quite a few would answer “Italian”.
For hundreds of years, what is now Italy was divided into regional kingdoms and lacked a cohesive government with an official, administrative tongue. As a result, Italian was fashioned by the people who needed it to express themselves creatively. Writers and poets shaped its style and vocabulary over centuries, with beauty and sound as some of their primary considerations.
But each region had its own dialect: Piedmontese, Romanesco, Napoletano, Siciliano, Lombardo, to name a few. But ultimately, it was Tuscan that prevailed.
Perhaps this is no coincidence. Tuscany, with its rolling hills, vineyards and river valleys is one of Italy’s most inspiring regions. It gave birth to the Renaissance and remains an epicenter of language, art, fashion, and tourism.
The peculiarity of the Italian language lies in its musicality, its melodic and gentle being. Throughout the world, Italian is renowned as one of the most loved languages there is.
Several authors in history have celebrated it:
(Italian is) the best composed language in terms of fluency and smoothness — James Howell, historian
I’m really in love with this beautiful language, the most beautiful in the world. I just need to open my mouth and unintentionally become the source of all the harmony of this celestial idolatry. Yes, dear sir, for me there is no doubt that angels in the sky speak Italian. — “Confessions by Felix Krull”, by Thomas Mann, writer
No European language has just as noble ancestries (…) no language was ever more perfectly ordained to express human emotions — “Eat, Pray, Love”, by Elizabeth Gilbert, writer
Pains and pleasures of learning Italian
- Being able to communicate with Italians in his or her language is an incredible gift. Knowing the language makes you a local no matter where you are, opening up your world literally and figuratively. You will be shaped by communities. You will be humbled by the kindness of strangers. You will build lifelong friendships.
- Language skills can be a significant competitive advantage that sets you apart from your monolingual peers. Employers are seeking professionals who can communicate seamlessly with customers in new and expanding overseas markets, as well as serve and sell to a large foreign-born population here at home. Whatever your career aspiration—with language skills added to the mix, you’re ahead of the crowd!
- The many cognitive benefits of learning languages are undeniable. People who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills. If that weren’t enough, as we age, being bilingual or multilingual also helps to stave off mental aging and cognitive decline.
- Language is the most direct connection to other cultures. Being able to communicate in another language exposes us to and fosters an appreciation for the traditions, religions, arts, and history of the people associated with that language. Greater understanding, in turn, promotes greater tolerance, empathy, and acceptance of others.
- Any language learner can attest to making his or her share of mistakes while discovering a new language—often in front of an audience. It’s a necessary part of the learning process! Learning a language means putting yourself out there and moving out of your comfort zone. The upside is the amazing sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when conversing with someone in their native language.
- Studies show that decisions made in your second language are more reason-driven than those made in your native language. Contrary to popular assumptions, when we deliberate in a second or third language, we actually distance ourselves from the emotional responses and biases deeply associated with our mother tongue. The result? Systematic and clear-headed decisions based on just the facts.
Why learn Italian? Travel, work, or…?
- Wanting to travel to Italy is the #1 reason people choose to learn Italian. From the rolling hills of Tuscany, to the canals of Venice, to the astoundingly gorgeous beaches of Cinque Terre, Italy is full of intoxicatingly gorgeous landscapes. It abounds with fascinating history, great museums, delicious food, and so much more.
- Approximately 63 million people around the world speak Italian as their first language. It’s ranked as the 20th most-spoken language in the world. That’s pretty high on the list when you consider that there are around 6,500 different languages spoken in the world today. Italian is not only the official language of Italy – it’s also one of the official languages of Switzerland and parts of Croatia and Slovenia. There are Italian speakers living in almost every corner of the world, from Canada to Venezuela to the Philippines.
- Food! Italians are the masters of pesto, carbonara, ravioli, and risotto. Italy is also home to fabulous desserts like gelato, tiramisu, zeppole, and the cannoli. It’s a country known for its excellent wine and one-of-a-kind coffee tradition. It’s no surprise that many passionate foodies decide to learn Italian. Some of them want to learn to spin pizza dough alongside the best of the best in Naples. Others just want to better understand the etymology behind their favourite dishes.
- Many opera singers and opera aficionados choose to learn Italian. During the Renaissance, Italy was the birthplace of the opera. Italian is a lilting language that lends itself well to musicality. Many of the most well-known operatic works were composed in Italian. Opera lovers are sure to recognize many Italian names, such as Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, and Bellini. Even Mozart, who was Austrian, wrote many of his operas in Italian. If you’re a singer, learning Italian will help you get your pronunciation just right when you perform Nessun Dorma or O Mio Bambino Caro. If you’re more comfortable in the audience, you can listen to the music and understand the stories without using those pesky, distracting subtitles.
- Italian is the best language for art-lovers to learn. It’s invaluable in the modern art world and can also help you in studying art history. Imagine being able to read Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks without the help of a translator. If you learn Italian, you can understand the titles of great paintings like Boticelli’s Primavera (Springtime) as you make your way through museums, without pausing to consult a guide. You can communicate easily when you visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the Borghese Gallery in Rome.
- Literature. Even in the best translations, something can be lost. If you value the power of words and storytelling, you understand how valuable it can be to read a text in its original version. Learning Italian will unlock the doors to many incredible works of literature. You can read classic gems like Dante’s Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy) and modern works like Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities), Umberto Eco’s Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose).
- If you’re interested in working in the fashion industry, Milan is the place to be. Did you know that many people consider it the fashion capital of the world? You’ll find many up-and-coming fashion houses there, as well as classics like Armani, Versace, and Valentino. Whether you want to work as a designer, a buyer, an art director, or even a model, speaking Italian can be hugely beneficial for your career in fashion.
- Are you a history buff? In this case, Italian is right up your street. Whether you’re researching for academic purposes or just for fun, understanding Italian will allow you to understand primary resources from many fascinating eras throughout history. What if you could read the correspondence of the Medici bankers of Florence from the 15th century? With a language as old and storied as Italian, the possibilities for a curious history buff are endless.
Why learn Italian instead of French or Spanish
Italian, French and Spanish are Romance languages. Why learn Italian instead of French or Spanish?
What about audience? If you are concerned with using your new language to reach a greater worldwide audience or market, then by far you will find Spanish wins with more than 400 million native speakers. Italian has more than 60 million native speakers. If you live in Europe, then Italian is more common than Spanish. In the Americas, Spanish is widespread and useful.
So which is easiest language to learn? According to the US Foreign Service, both Spanish and Italian are ‘Category I’ languages. These languages would require about half a year of intensive study (about 25 hours a week) for monolingual English speakers.
If you learn one, it will be easy to learn the other. You’ll find that Italian and Spanish share about 80 percent of the same vocabulary.
The FSI ranks Italian and French in the same difficulty for an English learner. However, French has greater lexical similarity (i.e. more shared words and roots) with English than Italian does. I would also imagine that Italian phonology (i.e. pronunciation) is likely to be easier to learn except there is no real way to quantify it. One last consideration is that French is the 2nd most studied foreign language after English and should have more learning resources and potential speaking partners than Italian.
Don’t study Italian for exams
According to the Ministero degli Esteri (Italian Foreign Affairs), there are four officials Italian certifications approved CLIQ (Certificato di Lingua Italiana di Qualità): CILS, CELI, PLIDA and .IT ROMA TRE.
They could be useful if you learn Italian for further studies in Italy or to work with Italian partners.
So, why learn Italian? For exams? No, please!
Learning Italian should be fun, right?
So, think of passing an exam as a consequence of your progress, not the purpose of your studies.
What are your goals?
Now it’s time to define your goals.
Learning a language is fun per se, but you certainly want to do something with it.
You certainly have a purpose to learn a language! To learn about a specific subject matter? To speak with someone?
It’s time to define your goals! Make them SMART:
- Specific (or Significant)
- Measurable (or Meaningful)
- Attainable (or Action-Oriented)
- Relevant (or Rewarding)
- Time-bound (or Trackable)
For example, instead of having “to speak with locals in Italy” as a goal, it’s more powerful to use the “To be able to have daily conversations with locals during my next trip to Italy in summer 2018.”
- Name at least 3 things that you’ll be able to do if you speak ______ and now you can’t do.
- What are your SMART goals?
- Now you know what you want! Your goals reflect your interests and hint at which areas you should cover during your studies.
- These are your milestones on your way to fluency.
- Draft a study plan based on your level and needs.
Good luck with your studies!