Language 101: An introduction to Italian

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Spoken by 65 million people Introduction to the Italian language

A língua da bela Itália

So, you’re going to discover and speak the Italian language. Eccellente! Italian is spoken by more than 65 million people worldwide. It is not only the official language of Italy but also of San Marino and is one of the official languages of Switzerland. Thanks to emigration from Italy in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Italian language is spoken by people in far-flung places including Venezuela, Argentina, Australia and some African countries. Not to mention many proud Italian Americans who have invented their own unique words.

In late medieval times, the Italian language began to replace Latin as the lingua franca- or bridge language - spoken widely across much of Europe. People from different countries would learn Italian in order to communicate with each other and, during the Renaissance, it was expected that most educated Europeans would have visited Italy and have at least some basic Italian language skills.

Italian is part of the Romance group of Indo-European languages. Today, the word ‘romance’ refers to love, or to love stories, but it used to mean the ‘story of a hero’s adventures’. Many of these heroic tales were written in Latin - the language of the Romans. It wasn’t until much later that ‘romance’ came to include love stories as well as adventure stories. The term ‘Romance’ also refers to the languages derived from Latin, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian. Although many people believe they are so named because they are ‘romantic’ to listen to, this is not where the meaning comes from (sorry!).

From regional variations to loanwords The intricacies of Italian

A língua da bela Itália

Although everyone in Italy will understand the Italian you learn in Italian language lessons, there are many regional variations. Standard Italian grew out of the Tuscan dialect of the 12th-century writers from this region, such as Dante. With the Unification of Italy in 1861 and the spread of mass media after World War II, the use of regional variations of Italian is on the decline. However, if you travel to Italy, you might be surprised by the differences between how people in different regions speak, but you will still be understood if you speak standard Italian. Even if you make some of the common mistakes English speakers can make!

Due to the spread of the Italian diaspora across English-speaking countries and the prestige of Italian culture throughout the centuries, there are many Italian words used in English. Many of these loanwords relate to the subjects of art, music and cuisine. Some are well-known and obvious, such as pizza and pasta. Other are less easy to spot. Like bass, concert and biscuit (from the Italian words basso, concerto and biscotto, respectively). This makes learning Italian for beginners a bit easier, as you will already be able to recognise many Italian words. And those “a ha!” moments when you do are always fun!

Your journey begins here Study Italian with Babbel

A língua da bela Itália

There are many good reasons to learn Italian and basic Italian language skills will come in handy on your travels - whether you visit Italy or you meet some Italians in other parts of the world. Also, since it is so closely related to the other Romantic languages, a good understanding of the Italian language would give you a fighting chance of grasping Spanish or French. As Italy has such a large economy, Italian language skills can come in handy in the world of business. It can give you the edge when it comes to looking for a new job, and a second language always looks good on any CV.

If you studied French or Spanish at school, you’ll have an advantage if you decide to learn Italian; many words in these languages are similar as they are derived from the same Latin root. Even if you didn’t, with the right Italian language lessons, learning how to speak Italian and all its fabulous expressions and words doesn’t have to be difficult. Some of the grammar and pronunciation can seem daunting at first. However, like any language, take it step by step, try to be patient and you will be chatting with confidence before you can say bravo!

Just 15 minutes per day Learning with the Babbel Method

Based on real-life cinversations When you learn Italian with Babbel, you’ll learn practical, real-life conversation. Stuff you can use when and as you need it. From ordering at a café to buying tickets, we quickly get you speaking the language with confidence.

Learning topics that matter You choose the topics that matter to you, so it’s arrivederci to boredom! Whether it’s Italian tongue twisters or holiday vocab for your next Italian adventure, you learn what you find interesting and useful. And all course content is crafted and tailored for English speakers by our in-house team of linguists.

15 minutes per day Babbel lessons are only 15 minutes long on average, so it’s easy to find the time to learn. Even one lesson a day will make a difference.