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Is the Italian language difficult for English speakers to learn?

by Valeria Biancalani

A single and universal reply to this question doesn't really exist, because the level of difficulty that people can encounter when learning foreign languages may vary considerably for a variety of reasons, such as motivation, language immersion, time dedicated to its study, etc. Anyway, after many years teaching Italian to foreign students we have noticed that there are some aspects of the Italian language that are particularly tricky for English speakers.

1. Pronunciation

Unlike English, Italian is a phonetic language. This means there is a direct and predictable correlation between sounds and spelling. As a result, you can look at a written word and know exactly how to pronounce it. But there is one problem that can't be solved through spelling alone: the accent position, as is also the case with learning English. In Italian very few words are spelt with accented letters such as "caffè". Normally the stress falls on the penultimate syllable, but there are many exceptions to this rule. So the best way to know how to pronounce a word is by just listening to native Italian speakers and paying careful attention to the correct position of the stress.

Many students also have difficulty when pronouncing the two consonants "c" and "g", which have a different sound depending on the vowels that follow them.

The two consonants "c" ang "g" have a hard sound with the vowels "i" and "e" but only when we insert an "h":

Last but not least, are the double consonants. The English language has many words with double consonants, but they are pronounced differently in Italian with the vowel preceding them being extended. Pronouncing double consonants in the correct way is extremely important in Italian because the single or double consonant can make a difference to the meaning, for example:

2. Noun gender

All nouns in Italian, not only those referring to people but also to things or abstract ideas, have a gender: they are either masculine or feminine. Normally, nouns ending in "o" are masculine, in "a" feminine and those ending in "e" can be masculine or feminine. Gender is very important in the Italian language because it affects the choice of the article, the adjective terminations, etc. The problem is to know that there are many exceptions, so a word ending in "o" is not always masculine and vice versa, for example:

3. Verbs

Italian verbs are one of the main obstacles for English students. They can be divided into three conjugations (verbs ending in -are, -ere and -ire) and they change depending on mood, person, tense, number and sometimes gender. In addition to this, Italian has a very high number of irregular and semi-irregular verbs.

In spite of these differences, Italian and English share the same alphabet and have many lexical similarities, so don't be scared! Learning Italian, as well as learning any foreign language, requires time and hard work but with a good dose of motivation and perseverance, anything is possible.

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