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Is Italian Hard to Learn? Let’s Clear Things Up!

New friends to make, Rome and Venice and Florence to visit, Fellini’s movies to immerse yourself in. There’s so much you can do when you learn Italian. If you decided to learn this language, you may also have been drawn to its vowel-rich sound and delicious carbonara pasta.

But something is keeping you from taking the first step. That’s why you’re here: you’re wondering, “Is Italian hard to learn?” because what if you find out you’re not up to the challenge? What if that nightmarish verb system you heard about is true?

In this article, you will learn why Italian is not hard to learn and how you can learn it faster. Let’s get down to business!

Is Italian hard to learn?

No, Italian is NOT hard to learn. In fact, according to the Foreign Service Institute, it’s one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn. And for many reasons.

Italian pronunciation is straightforward

First of all, Italian is a highly phonetic language. This means that its written form is the same as its spoken form, with a few easy-to-remember exceptions. Every letter is pronounced. Learning how to roll your R’s might be a challenge, but you won’t have to worry about pronouncing words you’ve never heard spoken. No such thing as “choir” being pronounced… “kwaiuh”, really?!

(Don’t get me wrong, I love the English language! But you have to admit that its pronunciation rules are all over the place).

It shares many cognates with English

Many words in Italian and English also have a common origin, with many words coming from Latin. These words have a similar spelling and meaning and are called cognates. Think of lettera, direttore, alieno, matematica, dentista, documentario. Yes, you know exactly what they all mean.

You already know many more Italian words than you realize. Think of bravo, opera, cappuccino, pasta, gelato, graffiti, ballerina.

It has an SVO syntax

Italian is an Indo-European language and its syntax is closely related to that of English: SVO, subject verb object. You would say Io ho mangiato una mela, “I have eaten an apple,” with una mela, the object, coming last in the sentence, just like in English. Now compare this with a language that allows SOV syntax, like German, where you would say “I have an apple eaten“. Which is easier?

We talk fast, but listening is easy

Is Italian hard to learn in terms of developing listening skills? Not at all.

Stress is very important in Italian. The reason this language is so melodic is because of its flowy stress pattern. We don’t usually mince words when we speak, so you’ll find it easy to distinguish word boundaries. In a sentence like:

  • Ieri sono andato dal medico perché ho mal di pancia.
    Yesterday I went to the doctor because I have a stomach ache.

There are many places where words are equally stressed: Ieri sono andato dal medico perché ho mal di pancia. Every vowel is pronounced clearly. This is very different from English, where most vowels that aren’t stressed are reduced and pronounced with a schwa /ə/ sound.

The secret to having a great Italian pronunciation is really making sure your stress pattern is on point. I find that many foreigners who try to speak Italian have a “wave pattern” that sounds off, with sharp peaks. Instead, go for a softer stress pattern that flows like a circle. Here is a YouTube video that illustrates this stress intonation (this guy absolutely nailed the accent).

It just takes practice

Its grammar is notoriously difficult to learn, but this is really due to Italian’s large number of tenses, conjugations, and irregular verbs, since Italian has no case system. But you don’t need to sweat over old-fashioned, boring grammar books or overwhelming declension tables. Practice alone will lead to mastery. Practice Italian verbs with our tips.

There are tons of free resources

I really like Icelandic. It’s quite harder to learn than English, and what contributes to this difficulty is that it’s not widely spoken and there aren’t a lot of resources, either online or offline, to learn it from. When resources are scarce, it’s hard to find something that you like or that works for you.

But you won’t have that problem when you learn Italian. In fact, you’ll be spoilt for choice: there are so many resources out there, it can be hard to know where to start! But we’ve got you covered with our list of the best resources for learning Italian.

When is Italian easier to learn?

We have tried to debunk the widespread misconception that makes you wonder, “Is Italian hard to learn?”. Now let’s look at even more reasons why Italian is an easy language.

If you already know any other Romance language

If you understand Spanish, French or another Romance language such as Portuguese or Romanian, you’ll have an advantage in learning Italian. Romance languages share much of the same vocabulary and grammar rules, so you’ll have a head start in learning Italian.

For example, forming sentences will be easier because you won’t have to waste time learning new concepts like gender differences or object pronouns. You’ll already know what a past participle is and won’t have to Google it again.

If you have a clear goal in mind

Italian will also be easier to learn if you are motivated. Want to watch Italian movies? Read Italian books? Chat with the locals? Whatever your goal, keep it in mind to get you through the tough times and keep you engaged.

If you have access to native speakers

If you can talk to native speakers of Italian, it will be even easier to learn this language. Active listening and speaking is very effective for learning new words and grammar rules. You can even practice with a language partner if there are no natives around.

Find your best estimate of how long it will take you to learn Italian.

When is Italian hard to learn?

There might be a kind of legitimate fear when you ask yourself: “Is Italian hard to learn?”. Well, the truth is that this language is not at all hard to learn, but there are some grammar concepts that… might be less easy to learn.

Not that they represent an impossible challenge, but they do require some brain power, especially if you have never dabbled in another Romance language. Let’s see them.

Two genders can be puzzling

We mentioned gender. If you only know English and are not familiar with gendered nouns, reading about masculine and feminine nouns, articles and adjectives will be very confusing at first. How can a wall be masculine (il muro) and a chair be feminine (la sedia)? How can a spoon be masculine (il cucchiaio) and a fork be feminine (la forchetta)?

Is Italian hard to learn because of its genders? No. I assure you, you’ll get through this phase and you’ll be using gendered words like you always have! Guessing the correct gender is easy because almost all masculine nouns in Italian end in -o, while almost all feminine nouns end in -a. There are exceptions, of course, but the rule is pretty straightforward. The same goes for many adjectives. For example:

  • tavolo, libro, cuscino, sasso, campo (masculine in -o)
  • barca, mela, poltrona, borsa, lampada (feminine in -a)
  • calmo/calma, arrabbiato/arrabbiata, strano/strana (masculine/feminine forms of adjectives)

Eventually, guessing the correct gender will become second nature. Just remember this rule of thumb: O for masculine words, A for feminine words.

  • L’albero è alto e largo.
    The tree is tall and wide.
  • La mela è rossa e saporita.
    The apple is red and flavorful.

The biggest exceptions are nouns ending in -e, whose gender you can’t really tell at first glance. You’ll have to memorize their gender. Adjectives can also end in -e, and in this case they have only a singular form, regardless of gender. For example:

  • Il limone non è verde.
    The lemon is not green. (masculine)
  • La tigre è veloce.
    The tiger is fast. (feminine)

There is more than one plural ending

With different singular endings come different plural endings. Is Italian hard to learn because it has so many endings? Again, the answer is no.

Endings are consistent. Masculine nouns ending in -o in the singular take -i in the plural. Feminine nouns ending in -a in the singular take -e in the plural. Like this:

  • Gli alberi sono alti e larghi.
    The trees are tall and wide.
  • Le mele sono rosse e saporite.
    The apples are red and flavorful.

Nouns ending in -e take -i. Adjectives have the same endings:

  • I limoni non sono verdi.
    The lemons are not green. (masculine)
  • Le tigri sono veloci.
    The tigers are fast. (feminine)

Watch out for geminates

Geminates are double consonants. They have a longer sound than a single consonant in Italian. This is different from English, where in a word like “attack” the -t- sound is still pronounced as a single consonant.

There is quite a difference between tono (tune) and tonno (tuna), or copia (copy) and coppia (couple). Make sure your geminates have a longer sound to avoid misunderstandings! Use tools like Forvo or online text-to-speech software to learn the correct pronunciation of words!

Merging prepositions

Sometimes Italian prepositions merge with definite articles to create a more pleasant sound. This may be confusing to you, as there is no such phenomenon in English. For example:

  • Le forbici sono nel cassetto.
    The scissors are in the drawer.
  • Ci sono tre metri dalla cucina al salotto.
    There are three meters from the kitchen to the living room.

Subjunctive… what?

Is Italian hard to learn because of the subjunctive? Well… a little. The subjunctive tense is perhaps the trickiest part of Italian grammar.

But this is NOT something you will get your feet wet with until you have at least an intermediate level of the language, so don’t sweat it! And you will actually share the same pain with many locals 🙂

Remnants of the subjunctive tense can still be found in English in sentences like “Long live the king”. But this tense is much more common in Italian. You use the subjunctive whenever you talk about hopes, dreams, opinions, as in:

  • Penso che questa torta sia deliziosa.
    I think this cake is delicious.

We don’t say Penso che questa torta è deliziosa, but sia deliziosa. I may think this cake is delicious, while you may think it’s not even worthy of dog food, so I use the subjunctive because I’m expressing a personal opinion. We use the present tense to talk about general truths.

The positive thing is that you don’t really need this tense to make yourself understood. There are quite a few natives who completely neglect this tense. It could give an Italian teacher a heart attack, though…

Conclusion: Is Italian hard to learn?

If you’ve made it to the end of this article, where we’ve tried to answer the question “Is Italian hard to learn?”, it means you’re committed to learning Italian. With that kind of commitment, achieving basic knowledge and even fluency will be a breeze.

So, to answer the never-ending question “Is Italian hard to learn?”, we can say a resounding “NO”!

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