Do I need to learn Italian to live in Italy?

Main church of Milan

Well, do you really need to do anything in life except drink water, eat, and pay taxes? Probably not, but doing other things can certainly help you make more friends, get a better job, and live a fuller life, and learning Italian is one of those things. I have met many people along my journey here in Italy who don’t speak a lick of Italian and they have survived okay, but I have also met people who are wonderfully fluent in Italian. Of course their experiences have been vastly different and it’s up to you if you would like to put in the effort, time, and money (probably a lot) to learn the local language. In this article I’ll explore a few of the pros and cons.

Pros

  • You can more easily make friends with Italians

If your goal is to integrate into Italian society, then learning the language is critical. I have learned so many great things from my Italian roommates such as how to cook pasta properly and avoid il colpo d’aria.

  • You can be a better English teacher

“False Friends,” as they’re called, are abundant in Italian and English. For example, pulito sounds like polite but it actually means “clean.” Having a general knowledge of Italian will help you understand common errors that are made in English. A common one being “I have … years” instead of saying “I am … years old.”

  • You can have better job opportunities in Italy and when you return home

Learning a language and living abroad can give you valuable skills that will look good on any résumé. Cross-cultural communication, awareness, and competency are all buzzwords that will spice up your CV in Italy and in your home country. Coming home fluent in another language is also a plus.

Cons

  • It can be really expensive to pay for an Italian course, somewhere around $5,500 for a year

Learning a language can be somewhat of a luxury and could potentially be more expensive than an Italian university degree. You certainly can learn the basics by using websites like Duolingo, but the most efficient way to learn a language is by speaking it, especially with native speakers. Unless you have a really close Italian friend, you may find yourself paying around $20 for private lessons.

  • It takes a lot of time and effort, and you will embarrass yourself a lot

As I previously mentioned, you have to speak the language in order to learn it. Of course you will make mistakes and the cliché answer is that it’s an important part of learning. For people from certain cultures or people with type A personalities like me, making mistakes in front of others can be incredibly distressing.

  • It’s not technically necessary for living in a foreign country
Fortunately, this menu has English translations. A moment of silence for those who have unknowingly eaten horse meat.

Living in Bologna, I have found that a lot of people speak a basic amount of English. It is certainly possible to survive in Italy without learning Italian, but you’ll need to find a close Italian friend. Many government workers, who you will need to interact with quite frequently, might not speak English or at least say they don’t. However, outside of government offices, you can get by pointing at things or speaking English more slowly and clearly.

My Opinion

Generally, I think you should make all the effort you can to learn the language of the country you’re in. Speaking English abroad as a native speaker is like a security blanket. You don’t have to worry about making mistakes and you don’t really need to step outside of your comfort zone to have a conversation. I understand that learning a language is not always feasible, especially languages that are traditionally known for being difficult to learn, such as Chinese, Hungarian, or Arabic. Luckily, there are hundreds, if not thousands of words, in common between English and Italian. Here’s a list to help you get started: English words of Italian origin.

If you have the time and money to learn the language of the country you’re in, then you should definitely do it. It will open up a lot more doors for you regarding friendships, jobs, and general social opportunities. You’ll learn more about the country, the people, and certainly a lot about yourself.

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