Learning Italian: What Can I Expect?

We put a question to an Italian teacher of the language about whether having experience of Spanish will help…


I currently speak good Spanish but would like to learn Italian properly. Firstly, I?d like to know if my knowledge of Spanish will help at all, and secondly what can I expect from a language course abroad?

A. It is a real challenge for a native English speaker to learn Italian. The phonetic differences and above all the complex grammar of Italian can demoralise even the most dedicated student. A good knowledge of Spanish certainly helps, as long as you remember that Italian and Spanish are two distinct languages. A knowledge of Spanish can help you understand the conjugation of Italian verbs and the use of tenses, as well as memorise vocabulary. However, it is important not to become confused. There are, in fact, a number of ?false friends? (words which, although similar in the two languages, have completely different meanings: for example, the word burro, which in Italian means butter, means donkey in Spanish).

Prepositions of place are also a problem, as they are used very differently. For example, in Spanish the preposition ?in? indicates a position in a defined place, while the preposition ?a? expresses movement towards a certain destination. In Italian, on the other hand, the two prepositions express both concepts and vary, sometimes according to well-defined rules but more often in an entirely idiomatic fashion.

A further difficulty is that of distinguishing between direct and indirect pronouns: in Spanish, the preposition ?a? is always put before the direct personal pronoun, while in Italian the same pronoun preceded by the preposition ?a? becomes indirect. If this seems complex, don?t worry ? rules like this, when put into practise, will soon become clear.

When you decide to attend an Italian language course in Italy, you should know that the classes will be composed of students from all over the world and, therefore, English will not necessarily be used during the lessons. As frustrating as this may be at times, it actually constitutes a great learning opportunity: you will need to abandon the useless habit of trying to translate every word.

The best advice is to trust your teachers and follow their instructions, start to listen to the sound of the language without believing you have to understand everything, try to repeat and above all listen to what your classmates say.

Listen to the other students, even when they make mistakes. This is very useful because it helps you to memorise vocabulary. Mentally correcting your classmates? mistakes or imagining a different way to express something is in fact an excellent strategy to consolidate the skills you have acquired. Finally, you should bear in mind that learning a language requires time and commitment, and that the abilities you acquire are never permanent. Unfortunately, if you don?t practice, your linguistic skills tend to wane.

Our experts are here to help with all your questions about Italy. Whatever you want to know, email your questions to italia@anthem-publishing.com, or write to our usual address ? Italia! magazine, Suite 6, Piccadilly House, London Road, Bath. BA1 6PL.