Why study Italian?
Spoken: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and the Vatican
Speakers: Italian is mainly
spoken in Italy, with 58 million native speakers. Other countries
where it is an official language include San Marino and the Vatican, two
tiny enclaves within Italy, and Ticino, a Swiss canton with a population
of 840,000. Italian is also spoken in some areas of Croatia and
abroad make up for an additional 5 million speakers.
Economic importance: Italy has
one of the world's top ten economies - way bigger than Russia's for
instance. If you work in the furniture, design or
construction industries, Italian will be an important asset for your
Buying and especially
selling from the Italians necessitates a lot of personal contacts. Many
Italian businessmen, even those who deal with clients outside Italy, do
not speak anything but Italian. Italian companies often have someone in
charge of exports who speaks some English, but remember that the great
majority of Italian companies are small to medium family companies with
up to a few hundred people. If you speak Italian you can normally
directly deal with the owner or his children and get better terms.
Travel: Traveling to Italy is
intensely pleasurable, with about everything you can dream of : the
richest archeological sites in Europe, entire Roman towns miraculously
preserved for you to visit, cathedrals, roman circuses, monasteries,
paintings, sculptures, lovely historical towns, immaculate beaches and
But Italy is not only
about the past. Italian gastronomy is one of the most
attractive in the world, with hundreds of varieties of cheeses, breads
and wines. Hundreds of highly creative Italian cooks create new dishes
with traditional inspiration in artfully decorated restaurants.
A knowledge of
Italian will tremendously increase your travel experience by
offering you the opportunity to converse with people. Especially in
Southern Italy, most people you will meet will be glad to have a
chiacchierata (informal conversation) with you. After many years I
still remember some conversations with people on the street, at kiosks,
restaurants, bakeries, museums, bookshops, and so on. The memories you
will bring back will be not only made of stone monument but also of
The main problem when
traveling in Italy seems to be that you have to go back.
Outside of Italy, the
small but beautiful Swiss canton of Ticino is well worth a visit. The
Italian spoken there lacks the manly rolled R so enjoyable in
Italian, but the place is beautiful.
Variations: Many regional
dialects are spoken in Italy. The country was unified only in the 19th
century, and regional differences in culture and economic development
are still strong.
The standard Italian
(the one you can learn) is originally from Tuscany. Tuscans like to poke
fun at regional accents, and especially that of Rome, with the saying
Lingua toscana in bocca romana ("Tuscan language in a Roman
Everybody in Italy
speaks standard Italian, so you should not worry about those
dialects. Unless you plan to live in a village for 20 years, or
marry into a Sicilian family, there is no reason why you should need to
learn one of those dialects.
culture is dominant in many areas and there are many ways to enjoy it
from the comfort of your home:
of modern furniture and every day items are famous all over the world. If you are
interested in design, a knowledge of Italian will give you direct access
to this world, through trade shows, trade publications and numerous
books about contemporary creations.
is sold the world over, and Italian fashion houses such as Armani,
Versace or Gucci have become household names in most
countries. This is an expensive pursuit but fashion victims should dream
about coming to Milan and ransack the shops on Via Montenapoleone
while not attending fashion shows.
can be enjoyed at a much higher level if you speak Italian. When
visiting Italy, there are numerous markets you can visit, such as the
one of Piazza Campo dei Fiori in Rome. On these open air, weekly
markets, small merchants would come from the country to pitch their
local cheeses, prosciutto (hams), zucchini flowers and other vegetables,
homemade pastries, olive oils and other delicacies. Most of these come
from small producers and if you speak Italian, you can spend hours
tasting and discussing the relative merits of each prosciutto or asking
exactly where the tartufi bianchi (white truffles) came from and how
good they are this year. Back home, you can enjoy many fine Italian
recipe books and books about specific products, all in Italian. Only a
small fraction of these books are translated, so the knowledge of the
language not only increases your experience, but lets you access more
- anybody serious about it must learn Italian. Ask anyone who studies
Art History at University. Many academic books on the topic are
available only in Italian, and when visiting Italy, most museums have
notices only in Italian.
ancient and mordern, is serious topics in Italy. There is a two thousand
year old continuous tradition of designing beautiful buildings in Italy.
Consequently, there is a wealth of architectural books and magazines
available only in Italian - all very enjoyable.
Opera buffs will
not need convincing but for the rest of us, let's not forget that the
majority of popular operas are in Italian. Sure, the Italian in La
Traviata or Don Giovanni is slightly different from the one
spoken now, but if you want to get a full enjoyment of these works,
understanding the libretto is a must. And you will be able to sing your
favorite airs, with every single world distinctly pronounced, while
cooking or under the shower. This is one of the nicest way I have found
to practice the language!
music is no opera, but there are great songs of hit parade
grade. My own preferences are all time disco hits, such as Ti amo
by Umberto Tozzi, L'Italiano (Lasciatemi cantare) by Toto
Cutugno or Felecità (Al Bano e Romina Power). Top Italian pop
songs are world class, easy to learn and let you practice the language
in a highly recreative way.
Roman History -
Italians are the closest heirs to the ancient Romans, and if
you want to study Roman History, Italian is just as useful as Latin.
There are thousands of books in Italian about the Romans, both academic
and for the general public. They make an amazing reading. For instance,
I have a book about the food in ancient Rome and a very detailed study
about the use of concrete (yes, concrete) in Roman buildings, with
studies of dozens of samples taken from various monuments.
church, although universal in its vocation, is more present in
Italy than anywhere else. You see priests and nuns all over the place,
and bishops and cardinals in Rome. If you stay long enough you can
probably catch the pope at a religious function if you feel like it. No
matter your religious belief, this is a fun aspect of Italy and
newspapers and TV are filled with reports of the church, interviews of
priests, news about the latest canonizations. A street in Rome is
entirely dedicated to selling clothes for priests, equipment to say Mass
in the field and of course hundreds of crucifixes.
newspapers are now easily accessible through the Internet.
Among the most famous are the serious Milan daily
Il Corriere della Sera, Torino based
La Stampa or the Roman
La Reppublica. I also use a lot
Google News Italia.
- for those who can receive it - is better than its reputation. People
like to poke fun at the many silly games and talk shows on Italian TV,
but my own experience is that there are many gems out there. When you
turn on the news in the evening, an electric Italian blond anchorwomen
tells you in the finest Italian about the news of the day. Some local
Italian news is quite baroque, and you get to see interview of people on
the street from all over Italy. On talk shows you can see colorful
Italian politicians in heated discussions about societal issues with
bearded cardinals. On Sundays a helicopter flies over some of the most
spectacular historical towns in Italy, stopping at pre-arranged spots
where huge italian matronas prepared endless tables covered with local
food specialties, then historians explain the history of the local
monuments, etc... This is so captivating you can barely turn the TV off.
were once famous all over the world. The movie industry is now in
decline, but if you don't mind looking at older movies, there are many
treasures out there. And you can get them on DVD with subtitles - this
1. Why do
you think Mozart composed most
of his operas in Italian rather than in German ?
2. Many people rate Italian as
the most beautiful spoken language in
3. Italian has the highest
number of words for describing food
- they love it so much.
4. No need of subtitles to see
Fellini's, Visconti's and Pasolini's
5. Italy has more than half of
Europe's Unesco-protected monument.
6. Italians are wonderful
people, very talkative and eager to show you their country but they only
do it in Italian.
7. The Italian language is the
closest to Latin, the common ancestor of all romance languages.
8. If you like arts, design,
opera, food, this is the reference language.
9. You'll finally be able to
sing Verdi dans le texte.
10. Formulate Your Own Reason (s)