Hard for who?
Sitting at the reception desk of our Italian language school, I’ll quite often have conversations with Spanish university students, who’ve just arrived in Bologna and need to learn Italian.
Student (speaking Spanish): Hi, I’d like some information about Italian courses.
Me (speaking Italian): Have you studied Italian before?
Student (speaking Spanish): No, never. Don’t know a word.
Me (speaking Italian): Funny. I don’t know any Spanish, but here we are having a conversation!
Next time you meet someone who tells you they speak French, Spanish, Italian, and hey, a little Portuguese, don’t be too impressed. It may not be that they are some incredible polyglot with superhuman abilities.
The similarities between Latin-based languages are strong. Knowing French or Spanish gives you a huge advantage in learning Italian, and vice versa. It’s not so much a question of starting from scratch, as of converting what you already know.
Conclusion? If you did French or Spanish at school, Italian should be a walk in the park for you.
Hard compared to what?
I once spent a fascinating year teaching English to Japanese high school students. One thing that struck me was that, get this, the teenagers I was teaching were STILL LEARNING TO READ THEIR OWN LANGUAGE. At high school!
Spoken Japanese is not so hard. Different, yes. But pretty regular, with a reasonable pronunciation system.
Written Japanese, well that would be another matter. I imagine you’d have to dedicate a good part of your life just to get to the point where you could understand the newspaper.
So, compared to Japanese with its ideograms, or even Russian and Arabic which simply have different alphabets, Italian looks like a piece of cake, doesn’t it?
Climbing Mount Italia
Let’s assume you’re an English speaker who doesn’t already have a good command of another Latin language.
Will you find Italian hard to learn?
At the beginning, yes.
If learning Italian is like climbing a mountain, you’ve got the sheer, icy bit with the lethal showers of falling boulders right there at the bottom where you have to being your ascent.
The fearsome cliff of “grammar”. Not a place for the timid or unprepared alpinist.
To say anything in Latin languages like Italian, you need to be able to conjugate your verbs.
I do, you do, he does, she does, it does, we do, you do, they do
Except it’s a lot more complicated in Italian:
faccio, fai, fa, facciamo, fate, fanno
Then of course there are nouns with gender (the glass is male but the bottle is female), and plurals which vary according to that gender.
A confusing variety of articles complicate things further.
Prepositions are a mess, too.
I could go on.
BUT, survive the treacherous conditions on that initial vertical pitch, and what will you see?
Grassy meadows, gently sloping away up to the distant summit.
Wildflowers, frollicking cowgirls, sunbeams, you get the idea.
Getting up the rest of the mountain will be child’s play.
So, is Italian a hard language to learn then?
If you’re an English speaker who’s never successfully learnt another foreign language, well the answer has to be ‘Yes’.
But if you’ve already summitted other similar peaks, this one is not going to give you much trouble.
And remember, whatever you level of mountaineering experience, once you get past the technical lower cliffs, you’ve got the cowgirls and wildflowers to look forward to!