Falling in love with Italian is almost instantaneous, and so is the idea of learning it. You think, hey, I like this language and its culture, and boom!, one second later you feel a strong desire to actually speak this language.
However, what does not happen immediately is the learning process itself. You know that there’s no instant gratification in language learning and you end up asking yourself, how long does it take to learn Italian? You can’t just let a Babel fish slip into your ear (Hitchhiker’s Guide, anyone?).
So, how much time do you actually need to study Italian? That’s what we’ll try to cover in this article. Let’s get started!
How long does it take to learn Italian?
The most disappointing but honest answer to the question of how long it takes to learn Italian is: it depends. It depends on what you mean when you say you want to “learn Italian”, and it also depends on the language(s) you already speak.
Do you want to describe the weather in Italian? Do you want to read Italian books? Or do you want to be able to discuss current world issues such as climate change and human rights?
Do you speak a language other than English? How comfortable are you with grammar concepts such as direct/indirect objects, verb inflection, adjective-noun agreement?
And what about your free time? Are you so overwhelmed with deadlines and homework that you barely have time to make a sandwich? Are you willing to dedicate some time every day to learning Italian, or can you only study on weekends?
These and other variables will affect the time it takes for you to learn Italian. But let’s take a closer look at why.
Are you a beginner or a seasoned polyglot?
How long does it take to learn Italian for a beginner? And for a polyglot? Even without any other information, I am sure that the polyglot will have an easier time learning the language.
If you’ve never studied a foreign language before and are ready to start, the first step is to identify your learning style. Are you a visual or auditory learner? You can only find out by trying to learn new vocabulary with pictures and audio. And finding your own style takes time.
A polyglot, on the other hand, can jump right into studying Italian without having to fumble around for the best learning strategy. A polyglot already knows his weaknesses and strengths. They’ll know that pictures are much more effective for them than, say, listening to a recording.
Don’t know where to start? Read our best strategies to learn Italian on your own.
Do you speak any other Romance languages?
Italian is part of the Romance languages branch, those that evolved from Latin. Other widely spoken languages in this group are Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Romanian.
English is not a Romance language. It’s a Germanic language, in the same group as German, Dutch, and the Scandinavian languages.
Languages in the same group have many more similarities than languages in different branches. For example, English and Italian have more differences than Italian and Spanish. For this reason, you can learn Italian with a head start (and save time) if you already know another Romance language. Knowing Spanish is particularly useful here, as it shares many grammatical features with Italian.
However, this is not to say that you can’t learn Italian if you only speak English! In fact, both Italian and English belong to the wider Indo-European language family and still have similarities.
For example, they share the basic sentence structure: SVO, Subject Verb Object, and you’ll find that they also share quite a bit of vocabulary. Many Italian words and their English translations originate from Latin, such as:
- immaginazione (imagination, from Latin imaginatio)
- documento (document, from Latin documentum)
- terribile (terrible, from Latin terribilis)
- decidere (to decide, from latin decidere)
- pronuncia (pronunciation, from Latin pronuntiatio)
- animale (animal, from Latin animal)
Are you consistent?
Learning Italian takes time and consistency. I’d say consistency is even more important than time, because half an hour a day will get you much further than 5 hours crammed on a Sunday afternoon.
After all, your brain is a muscle. There’s no point in hitting the gym once a week to build biceps, so why should learning a language be any different? You can certainly learn Italian at your own pace (every minute spent studying is always better than a minute spent scrolling through social media!), but keep in mind that it takes much more time to learn Italian with intermittent bursts than with consistent practice.
I’m also aware that few people have the luxury of hours of free time every day, so we have to make compromises. If you can’t find the time to study, use resources to learn Italian passively, such as listening to the radio or watching Italian movies while you prepare dinner.
Passive learning requires no effort on your part, so you have no excuses! 😉
Are you aiming for A1 or C2?
Language proficiency is divided into 6 levels: A1 and A2 (beginner), B1 and B2 (intermediate), and C1 and C2 (advanced).
If you are at level A1 in Italian, that means you know how to introduce yourself, the four seasons, the months, the days of the week. Very basic stuff. However, if you are at level C2, you speak Italian effortlessly like a native, can talk about pretty much any topic, and can carry on a conversation for a long time.
Intermediate levels are a combination of the two: you can’t yet talk comfortably about advanced topics and you need to think from time to time when building sentences in your head, but you can talk about your favorite hobbies and if you get lost in the Italian countryside, you can ask for help with ease.
Of course, it takes much longer to reach the C2 level than the A1 level, so the answer to “how long does it take to learn Italian?” depends on the level of proficiency you want to achieve! You can aim for A1 in 2 months (1 month if you’re diligent), but it can take years to get to C1/2.
Ok, but… How long does it take to learn Italian, really?
An entire article to answer the question “how long does it take to learn Italian?” and I still haven’t come up with any real numbers. Well, I did, in the very last paragraph, but I guess that is not enough to satisfy your inquisitive mind. So let’s talk about numbers now.
It’s estimated that you need 50-60 hours of study to reach the A1 level in Italian, and approximately 100-120 hours to reach A2. If you study one hour a day, you can comfortably reach A1 within two months (provided you already have a study plan, otherwise it will take a little longer).
At this point, you will be expected to know concepts such as:
- the Italian alphabet
- definite and indefinite articles
- gender and number of nouns (masculine, feminine, plural)
- noun and adjective agreement
- subject and object pronouns
- some common adjectives
- demonstrative and possessive adjectives
- cardinal numbers from 1 to 20 and some ordinal numbers
- common adverbs
- simple prepositions
- articulated prepositions formed with di, a, da, su
- common conjugations of essere, avere and modal verbs
- present, present perfect, future and imperfect tenses
- some irregular verbs
This is also the level where you will struggle the most as a beginner.
For example, if English is the only language you speak, you may need to focus more on pronunciation, since Italian vowels have “pure” sounds and are not pronounced as diphthongs. Other tricky aspects of the language include its noun-adjective agreement (adjectives must agree in gender and number with the noun) and the use of articles before possessive adjectives (il mio zaino = “the my backpack”).
The Italian verb system is also quite challenging for a native English speaker because of its many verb endings (think of the final -s in the third-person singular present tense, but for all subjects). It will leave you scratching your head! But we have you covered with our tips for effective Italian conjugation practice.
You can’t really do much with levels A1-2 other than use some limited vocabulary, make small talk, and say what you’d like to eat (very useful, don’t get me wrong, especially in a food lover’s paradise like Italy, but it’s still not enough to actually do something with the language…!). Instead, I suggest you reach at least a B1 level, conversational Italian.
How long does it take to learn Italian on a conversational level?
To reach B1, you will need between 240 and 300 hours of quality time. If you study an hour a day, you’ll get there in less than a year.
At the B1 level, you can be expected to know, among other things:
- comparative and superlative adjectives
- articulated prepositions
- indefinite adjectives and pronouns
- common qualifying adverbs of time, quantity, and place
- imperative and present conditional tenses
- simple and complex sentences
- tonic and atonal pronoun forms, reflexive pronouns
B1 is the perfect level to aim for because at this point you will be able to study and work in Italy. And if you ever want to become an Italian citizen, you will need to prove your skills by taking a B1 Italian language exam.
Estimated study time for more advanced levels is 320-400 hours for level B2, 450-500 hours for level C1, and 600-650 hours for level C2. This will take years of your time, but your efforts will be greatly rewarded. You will sound like a native speaker and will be able to hold all kinds of conversations, watch all kinds of movies, and read books with ease. Imagine reading Pinocchio or Cuore in the exact words chosen by their authors!
I recommend that you take a look at our best resources for learning Italian to see which ones best suit your learning style.
How long does it take to learn Italian: Conclusion
Because of the many variables involved, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to answer a question like “how long does it take to learn Italian?”. You can make an educated guess based on what you’ve read in this article, but ultimately we’re all unique learners and there’s really no timetable set in stone for learning a language.
So don’t worry if you’re going slower than your peers or feel like you’re not making enough progress. I believe that learning a language should be fun – use colors, games (Clozemaster, with its contextual learning, is a great platform to practice Italian), and everything at your disposal to make learning a pleasant experience. The last thing you want is to associate learning Italian with boredom.
Have fun, learn something every day, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes! 🙂