We have said it before: if you want to start a business in Italy, you should give learning Italian a go. Not only because it makes sense to be able to speak the language of the Country you are settling in, but also because it will allow you to build trust in business relations and to integrate into the local community, as opposed to forcing you to live in an English-speaking bubble and miss out on large parts of the culture that surrounds you. Moreover, living in Italy and not understanding jokes would mean taking half the pleasure out of the whole experience. But exactly how hard is it to learn Italian? And where else can you travel with it? Here are a few tips you might find useful.
1. Where to speak Italian outside of Italy
Italian, not being a colonial language, is not as widely spoken as English, Spanish or French (not to mention Mandarin), but vast Italian communities exist in several parts of the world. Largely forgotten in Eritrea and Libya, which were briefly Italian colonies, Italian has spread mostly through mass emigration in the XIX and early XX Century and it is currently the second most common language in Argentina. You will also find large Italian speaking communities in Malta and in certain parts of France and Slovenia. Italian is also one of the three official languages of Switzerland (specifically in the Ticino canton). It goes without saying that Italian is also the official language of the two micro-states that can be found on the Italian peninsula: San Marino and the Vatican. Of course, depending on where in Italy you decide to travel, you might be surprised to find large non-Italian speaking communities.
When learning Italian for business purposes, you should be aware that there are huge differences between formal and informal communication in Italy. Italy has hundreds of dialects, which are as widely spoken and written as the official language in their relative regions. Moreover, colloquial spoken Italian, which is the form you are most likely to speak and hear in daily interactions, is remarkably different from formal spoken and written Italian, which is the variant you are required to use in professional situations. While the grammar and vocabulary do not necessarily differ between the two alternatives, formal Italian makes large use of expressions that are meant to convey ordinary meanings in what is perceived to be a more elegant or polite way. There are plenty of free online resources to help you with formal letters and applications, but in order to acquaint yourself with formal spoken or business Italian, it is advisable to attend classes and be very careful when learning from tv shows or movies. One of the first obstacles that English speakers have to contend with (and German or French speakers don’t) is the existence of a formal you (lei), which has to be addressed in the third person. This is commonly used between strangers, in business interactions (even basic transactions, such as shopping) or as a token of respect for older or senior people.
3. Is it hard to learn Italian?
There’s no objective answer to that question. Depending on what your native language is and whether or not you are familiar with other languages, you might encounter difficulties at different stages. Italian is particularly easy to learn for speakers of other Romance languages (those languages that evolved from vulgar Latin, such as Spanish, Romanian, French and Portuguese). All of these languages will find the grammar, the vocabulary and the pronunciation to be relatively familiar, while speakers of languages that have Germanic or Anglo-Saxon roots might find it harder to get to grips with the basics of the Italian language. On the positive side, Italian pronunciation is extremely easy, with each letter corresponding to a distinct sound. Italian is also an excellent starting point for those who wish to learn more European languages. Last but not least, if you are trying to learn Italian, you might want to start with the 150 words you already know.