Italian Language: Complete Guide

Updated: 14. Aug, 2022

Italian is a language with Latin roots. The number of people speaking Italian as their first language exceeds 65 million. While most of them reside in Italy, there are also few Italian speakers in Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For many people, learning Italian seems impossible, so they never even give it a go. However, a natural English speaker can pick up the Italian language quickly.

You should not be overwhelmed by the speed and complexity of the Italian language at first. The sounds of any new language take some getting used to, and Italian is no exception.

It is critical to immerse yourself in the language during the first few months of your Italian studies by listening to recordings of native speakers. With practice, the cacophony of sounds gradually breaks down into words, phrases, and sentences.

Learning Italian is not that tough as long as you are willing to put in the effort. As you progress in this language, we have outlined the important things you will need to focus on.

Italian Alphabet Letters

Italy’s Latin alphabet has 21 letters, which is identical to that of the English alphabet. The letters j, k, w, x, and y are not in the Italian alphabet. However, you can find them in words borrowed from other languages.

The Italian script uses two diacritical accent marks, mostly on vowel sounds. An improper or missing accent mark is a spelling error, just as an inaccurate or missing letter would be. 

Cognates

Italian and English have several terms in common. They are called Cognates.

Due to their shared Latin etymology, several terms are interchangeable or comparable.

As you learn the language, you will soon notice that certain English and Italian words are cognates. This allows you to make informed guesses about how to speak particular terms in Italian.

For instance, Italian words with -ale endings often have the same meaning as terms in English with -al endings. E.g., Finale (Final).

In Italian, words with the -bile ending are often the same as those with the -ble ending in English. For example, Possibile (Possible).

Typically, words that end in -y in English end in -ia in Italian. For example, Democrazia (Democracy).

Several additional Italian words are identical to English terms but have extra vowels at the end. This is so because words ending in consonants are uncommon in Italian. 

Dialect

Due to how distinct and variable Italian dialects are, a speaker using a particular dialect cannot understand another speaker using a different dialect. When this happens, they have to use Standard Italian.

The dialects do vary on some levels. First, you can hear the difference in pronunciation. Still, it is also simple to pick up on several other variances in vocabulary and grammar.

Dialects greatly influence Italian regional variants, which act as a linguistic bridge between dialect and standard language. They are also spoken in many different Italian areas.

Different age groups still use dialects in various Italian regions and towns today but to variable degrees. For instance, in the northern areas, dialects are often exclusively spoken by older people who have been doing so their whole lives. On the other hand, younger dialect speakers, who predominantly use it in casual settings, are more common in the Central and Southern areas.

Some of the various dialects include:

1. Neapolitan

Much of southern Italy is home to these language or its variants’ speakers.

2. Sicilian

On the island of Sicily, people speak numerous dialects of this. In addition, Southern Calabria has its version.

3. Friulian

It is spoken in the Friuli area of northeastern Italy.

4. Catalan

Alghero (Sardinia), previously a part of the Catalan realm, still uses this Barcelona language.

5. Venetian

Several dialects in the north of Italy might be difficult to comprehend, and Venetian is undoubtedly one of them. If you pay close attention, you will hear that vowels are often omitted. For example, “Cane” changed to “can,” and “pane” changed to “pan.”

6. Sardinian

Most of southern and central Sardinia speak this dialect.

Gender

The gender of every noun exists in Italian, just as it does in French, Spanish, or German. Male or female pronouns are both acceptable for nouns.

Thus, it would help if you learned the gender of each new word in Italian as you learn it. This comes easily when discussing others.

Feminine nouns mostly end with the letter a. Also, For masculine nouns, they usually end with an o.

Also, nouns with “-ore” are typically masculine, whereas those with “-ione” are feminine.

There are many rules to obtain the plural of Italian nouns; but, generally, it is derived according to some rules.

Regular male nouns with -o endings take on -i endings in the plural form. Similar to how feminine nouns with -a endings get -e ends in plural form. Some nouns with -e plural endings will change to -i plurals (regardless of whether these nouns are masculine or feminine).

As a special case, some words end in co, ca, go, and ga. These nouns and adjectives add an h to their plural form. However, the masculine plural often loses the h and becomes -ci or -gi when the vowel preceding co or go is I (i.e., ico, -igo).

In the plural form, nouns that finish in an accented vowel or a consonant (such as terms of foreign origins) remain the same. 

Verbs

Italian verbs often incorporate a “Mood” component to express how the speaker or writer is feeling while describing the activity.

Italian has four different moods. They are Imperative, Subjunctive, Indicative, and Conditional. There are three additional moods in Italian that are not speaker-specific. They are Infinitive, Participle, and Gerund.

One or more tenses may be used to categorize each mood. These tenses are Present, Future, and Past. 

Pronunciation

Italian is entirely phonetic. The first rule of Italian pronunciation is pronouncing each letter correctly. It is not like English or French, where there are silent letters to confuse you.

In spelling, the letter e may stand in for both [e] and [ɛ], whereas the letter o can stand in for both [o] and [ɔ]. The vowel is usually pronounced with a closed [e] and [o] if stressed. It is always open [ɛ] and [ɔ] if the vowel is not stressed. This might vary depending on the regional dialects in Italy, but this is the general norm.

Italian semi-vowels are usually written as ua, ue, uo, ui for [w] and ia, ie, io, iu for [j].

“Ai,” “ei,” “oi,” “au,” and “eu” are examples of diphthongs since they have another vowel before the “u” or “i.” A triphthong is made when an “iu” sound is combined with another vowel.

When learning Italian, the letter “c,” which functions somewhat differently than it does in English, is one of the most important letters to concentrate on.

A “ch” sound, similar to the one in the English word “cheese,” is produced in Italian when a vowel follows the letter c.

A strong “k” sound is produced when an “h” precedes a “c,” as in the word Chiaro (clear).

The letter e at the end of words is another sound to look for. The sound it produces under these circumstances is “eh.” Lastly, the letter “h” is always silent.

Conjugation

The roots of the majority of Italian verbs differ, although their ends are mostly consistent. Italian verb conjugations fall into three categories.

The three conjugations are:

  • First conjugation: They usually end in -are (e.g., amare-“to love”).
  • Second conjugation: They usually end in -ere (e.g., chiedere-“to ask”).
  • Third conjugation: They usually end in -ire (e.g., offrire-“to offer”).

Italian Articles

The single article in English is “the.” Contrarily, there are many more in Italian.

Like English, Italian features the “the” and “a” articles. Similar to adjectives, articles in Italian must match the noun they pair with in terms of number and gender.

1. Definite articles

Italian uses “il” for the singular form of “the” and “i” for the plural of the definite article. The solitary form of the feminine is la, while the plural form is le.

The singular form of the letter l is used for nouns of either gender that begin with a vowel, such as l’olivo (“the olive”) and l’arancia (“the orange”). Masculine nouns with vowels receive the “gli” prefix in the plural (e.g., gli olive, “the olives”).

2. Indefinite Articles

The indefinite article, “A,” is often written as un in masculine and una in the feminine. However, the masculine becomes “uno” before a “z” or “s” blend, while the feminine becomes “un” before a word starting with a vowel. 

Mistakes to Avoid when Learning Italian

There are several frequent mistakes that Italian language beginners should avoid. If you want to learn Italian effectively and fast, you must take not of the following:

1. Translating

If you are reading or listening in Italian, recite the phrase in English instead of translating it in your brain. Some people believe you can tell you have mastered a language when you begin to dream in it, which is the precise definition of not translating.

The ability to translate is a great one to have once you are competent in a foreign language. However, it will only slow you down and cause confusion while still learning the language. Italian words should be seen as words rather than a language you must master. 

2. Memorizing random words

Trying to remember vocab lists indiscriminately is a waste of time, particularly because they often include lists of terms that have no application to your life.

3. Focusing on the resources, not on the language

The search for the “ideal” material to use during learning is one of the things that new students often waste the most time on.

To study effectively, finding the correct resources is crucial. Still, to advance, you must also concentrate on the language. The largest difference in your ability to speak Italian fluently will come from the time and effort you put into practice, regardless of the Italian study tools you use.

4. Having A Fear Of Making Mistakes

Making errors is a crucial component of learning, and every time you do, you become better. However, many students find it difficult to “let go” and forcefully try yo communicate in Italian. However, if you put off speaking until you can do it flawlessly, you will never do so. 

Resources To Learn Italian

You will need to acquire fundamental vocabulary and grammar while studying Italian. To construct sentences and express yourself, you will need to know how to employ that vocabulary and grammar. The following are ideal resources to utilize:

1. Italian Books

Finding an excellent Italian textbook is one of the best ways to obtain condensed, digestible study material.

Both vocabulary expansion and grammatical clarifications should be included in your book. Locate a textbook that offers tons of comprehension and practice tasks and encourages you to practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

2. Conversing with an Italian

To speak Italian fluently, you must converse with native speakers. You can start by locating the closest Italian eatery and speaking with the workers there in the language. In particular, if they know you want the practice, they will be pleased to chat with you.

If no Italians are nearby, try meeting them online. You may locate instructors and teachers to offer you classes and other learners and native speakers with whom you can practice your Italian.

3. Italian media

You will learn many helpful vocabulary terms and get to practice your listening comprehension abilities from Italian media. Podcasts can help you to reach all Italian proficiency levels. You can listen to a podcast while driving, working out, or even just before you sleep at night. Many people have great success in learning Italian through podcasts. These podcasts complement a more organized course-based learning method.

You can download these podcasts and their transcripts while on the road. The greatest thing is that they cover various topics, from news to cookery to general interest.

Furthermore, you can watch Italian-language YouTube videos. You can find videos on just about any subject that interests you. For a more enhanced viewing experience, aim for videos with subtitles and translations. To help you understand the material better, you can watch videos on various subjects, read translations and transcripts, and even do comprehension activities on some of the films.

4. Online courses

A structured online course is a terrific method to see results fast if studying Italian is something you are passionate about. Most online courses include apps that combine grammar and vocabulary recognition with pronunciation and sound recognition.

5. Italian language schools in Italy

It would be best if you considered enrolling in an immersion-based language program at a school in Italy. This is a quick technique to pick up Italian language proficiency. These schools often provide language instruction in the morning and excursions in the afternoon.

There are hundreds of schools from which to pick from in Tuscany, Rome, Sicily, and other regions of the nation,. What you want to gain from experience will determine which one is best for you. Some schools prioritize language instruction above cultural immersion. Consider the style of accommodations and features since some cater to certain age groups. Before selecting the school that is best for you, make a lot of inquiries and ensure it meets your requirements. 

Conclusion

If you are serious about learning Italian, then you have to focus on learning pronunciation, grammar, spelling, etc. You can also choose to learn with various resources like a podcast, language learning app online, Italian language schools, etc. What matters is that you learn consistently. In time, you’d be able to speak Italian fluently.

Table of contents