A language is more than a bunch of words and rules for how to put those words together; it is another world. Speaking Italian gives you access to the world of over 64 million native speakers from Rome to Milan to Sicily to San Marino.
Italian is considered one of the easiest languages for a native English speaker to learn. The grammar and sentence structure are different from English, but simpler. Because both languages have Latin roots, they also share thousands of cognates – words that sound the same and have the same meanings.
Consider this sentence in Italian – made up almost entirely of Italian-English cognates: Il ristorante antico si trova vicino al museo d’arte. The cognates for “restaurant”, “museum” and “art” are almost unchanged. Stretch your brain a bit and you might notice that “antico” looks a lot like “antique” and “vicino” looks like “vicinity”; put more simply, you get the words “old” and “near”. Put it all together and you have: The old restaurant is near the art museum.
Not only is Italian relatively easy to pick up and start speaking, understanding it gives you a huge head-start to understanding other Romance languages like French, Spanish and Portuguese.
With Babbel, you can learn Italian without going to classes, hiring a tutor or investing in expensive software. For an affordable monthly subscription, you have access to hundreds of hours of interactive courses that get you speaking right from the first lesson. Babbel’s integrated speech recognition can even help you improve your pronunciation.
We add new courses on a regular basis, so the opportunities to learn and improve are always growing. And if you own an iPhone, Android, or Windows 8 phone the key to speaking Italian is already in your pocket.
Having a little Italian in your conversational repertoire will open up the world to you on multiple levels:
For Business – being bilingual isn’t just good for your resumé, it can change your career. Italy has the fourth-largest economy in Europe and is a major exporter of luxury goods. Knowing some Italian can be extremely advantageous for anyone involved in wine import/export, clothing and fashion, transportation, manufacturing or banking.
Traveling – From the Alps to the Mediterranean, Italy is full of truly enchanting travel destinations, but if you can actually speak Italian you are guaranteed a much richer experience. While monolinguals can easily get stuck in pre-packaged tourist situations, speaking even a little Italian gives you more autonomy when traveling. Get to know Italians in their own language, but get to explore the country on your terms.
Living Abroad – When you speak Italian well enough to travel without a phrasebook in hand the idea of staying longer in the country can become tempting. Whether you’re a professional looking for an exciting change, a student looking to study abroad, or a retiree attracted to warm climates and the finer things in life – Italy has a lot to offer.
Brain Training – Even if you decide to only learn Italian as a hobby, knowing multiple languages will keep your brain healthy and nimble, even in old age. This is because knowing another language creates another network of connections among your neurons. The higher your neural interconnectivity, the better your memory and problem-solving skills.
Italian Culture, Unfiltered – Italy is responsible for gorgeous (and delicious) art and culture. Whether you want to understand the lyrics to opera classics, explore the vineyards of Tuscany, discover Rome and its 2700+ years of history or learn how to really cook parmigiana, speaking the language will let you participate more directly. Knowing Italian will also give you unfiltered access to the films of Federico Fellini and Vittorio de Sica; and the literature of Italo Calvino, Grazia Verasani, Umberto Eco and Dante Alighieri. And if you are among the 17 million Americans with Italian ancestry, learning the language can get you closer to your roots.
Ways to Learn Italian
About 21 million people around the world speak Italian as a second language, which brings the total number of Italian speakers to 85 million. Although 17 million Americans claim Italian ancestry, only about 1 million Italian-Americans speak Italian fluently. With so many Americans interested in their ancestry, it’s no surprise that Italian is the fourth most studied foreign language in colleges and universities – and enrollment is increasing faster than for French or German. There are many ways to study the language:
In The Classroom
Classroom instruction with a teacher and other students is the most traditional approach to learning a language. Many Americans have already learned a language this way in high school, although often not with the best results. Many people who are motivated to become fluent find that classes offer a good balance between language instruction and chance to listen and speak.
Learning one-on-one with a tutor allows for a completely tailored learning experience and more opportunities to practice speaking. Compared to a classroom where the teacher has to split attention among dozens of pupils, private tutoring usually yields quicker results. However, private tutoring doesn’t come cheap and you’ll need to be prepared to pay a high hourly rate for an experienced tutor.
Audio Courses and CD-roms
For people with money to burn on learning a language, but not enough time to commit to traditional methods, multimedia courses are a good alternative – whether you practice listening and speaking with CDs in the car, or use interactive courses on your home PC in your free time. The main drawback to these methods is high up-front cost and material that can quickly become outdated.
Online Italian Courses
Online learning has made immense progress in the past several years and has become a viable alternative to more traditional forms of instruction. It’s becoming the norm for people with very little time or money to spare who still want to make progress with their learning. Compared to the above method, subscription-based online programs are always updating, improving and adding courses that don’t require buying a new module.
To Pay Or Not To Pay?
What do the methods mentioned above have in common? They all cost money. For thrifty folks who have a little more patience and motivation than the average learner, there ways to learn Italian for free:
Tandem learning is a technique where two people who want to learn each other’s languages take turns as teacher and as student. For example: if you meet for two hours, you can speak in Italian for one hour and then switch to English for the next hour so that you both get some practice. But be aware, just because someone is a native speaker does not mean they are a good teacher. This can still be a good option once you already know some Italian and just want to practice, but you must be prepared to teach your counterpart English. Tandems are free for both parties, but a significant time commitment.
OK, so it’s only free if you don’t count the airfare or room and board, but nothing helps you become fluent like living in Italy. But immersion is no magic bullet. If you haven’t arrived with at least some knowledge of Italian vocabulary and grammar, passive listening will not be easy and will not make you fluent without further study. Before taking the big plunge, you can simulate immersion by streaming Italian radio and TV online, and renting Italian films (note: most classic Italian films were shot without sound and overdubbed later so, even in the original language, they aren’t ideal for seeing the language being spoken).
If you are a real self-starter then you don’t need more than a Italian grammar book, dictionary and some vocab books to get started with Italian. Books could get you reading Italian after lots of studying, but won’t help with listening comprehension or speaking.
Free Online Courses and Mobile Apps
There are hundreds of ways to learn Italian for free on the web. From Italian grammar wikis to online courses, there’s no shortage of information out there, but it’s often presented in a cluttered and inconsistent way that’s harder to read than a grammar book.
Some websites offer free interactive learning material, like Duolingo and Memrise, but programs like these focus on writing and reading at the expense of listening and speaking. They also rely heavily on user-generated content, which means the quality is inconsistent and the accuracy of the information goes unverified. It’s possible to learn Italian online for free, but be prepared to deal with language lessons that are dull, inflexible, too basic, poorly designed, or else littered with ads.
Learning Italian with Babbel
Learning with Babbel costs you less per month than your morning coffee, is ad-free and has been made by a team of language experts, educators and designers – so you are guaranteed a top-quality learning experience for the best value.
Here at Babbel we believe that the key to effectively learning Italian, or any language, is having fun. Commitment and discipline will always be important factors, but real engagement is what helps you to retain information and maximize your learning potential. Here’s what you can expect from Babbel’s online Italian program:
Covers all four aspects of language acquisition – listening, reading, writing and speaking – with fully interactive multimedia lessons. The speech recognition feature even helps you improve your pronunciation.
iOS and Android apps are fully integrated with the web application. Your progress is saved in the cloud and synced across all devices – so you can learn anytime, anywhere.
Set your own pace and learn what’s relevant to you with courses organized by topic and theme.
Regular course updates and new lessons so you always have access to the freshest, most up-to-date material.
The Babbel Community lets you connect with other users so you can practice your Italian with native speakers or other learners.
All the material you cover is stored in your Review Manager, where you can continue to practice and improve on what you’ve learned, even if you decide not continue with a paid subscription.
Don’t like the service? We offer a 20 day money-back guarantee – no questions asked.
Try a free Italian lesson with Babbel and see for yourself just how enjoyable learning can be.