Do I need to learn Italian?

Ciao tutti! Buon giorno! Benvenuti a Italy Project 365. Ho una domanda per te: parli Italiano?

If you’re not quite sure what I just said above and you’re thinking about moving to Italy, then you might be asking yourself, “Do I need to learn Italian first?”.

Buona domanda (good question). I get this question a lot and surprisingly enough it’s not such a simple question to answer because it depends on so many factors.

There are two sides of the coin for me. I think it’s always a good idea to try to learn as much Italian as you can before coming to live in Italy. If you can get the basic vocbulary and key phrases then you’ll have a lot better chance of navigating Italy on your own and entering Italian conversations when you’re here (which will in turn, provide more learning opporunities).

On the other side of the coin, you’re going to probably learn the bulk of your Italian while you’re here in Italy. That’s half the fun, right? When I first moved to Italy, I had some basic Italian under my belt. I had taken 4 years of Italian as a secondary study at college. While I knew a good portion of the grammar and had the basic vocabulary down, my speaking and listening skills (in essence my conversation skills) were m-e-r-d-a  (s-h-i-t).

I remember trying ask a question to an employee at the post office. I was so excited to finally stutter out a poorly pronunced question in Italian, only to be sorely disappointed when he had to ask me to repeat myself 5 times and I had to ask the employee to repeat himself 5 times before we understood the gist of what the other one was saying. How could 4 years of learning Italian at university fail me so miserably? Because they were courses based on grammar, writing, and reading with very little speaking and listening practice. They were interesting and I loved them and I loved my crazy Milano Professor, but they didn’t teach me conversational Italian, at least not enough to speak in Italy.

So when I got to Italy I decided to take an intensive language course and tried to speak as much Italian as I could on the street and with new friends that I had made. Within 1 year, I was speaking rather fluently, a skill that I don’t think I could have acquired studying Italian outside of Italy.

So, let’s recap: “Do I need to learn Italian before moving to Italy?”

Yes, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can but don’t stress. Even if you know little to no Italian before coming, don’t sweat it. You’ll learn a lot on the way.

One thing I should mention is that in order to become fluent in a language, you really need to apply yourself. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t even happen over three or four months. You need two things: time and practice.

While I can’t make time pass any quicker, I can help you with the practice part. Here are a few Italian language resources I highly recommend, some of which I used to help me learn Italian and some of which I still use just to brush up on some  grammar (because being an English teacher made me an absolute grammar nerd – I <3 the congiuntivo!)

The Essentials:

Rocket Italian


Da Capo

Some other fun Italian Language Resources:

Italian 2015 Daily Phrase & Culture Calendar

Italian For Dummies

Talk Dirty Italian: The curses, slang, and street lingo you need to know when you speak italiano

Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture

Movin_to_italy_faqMovin’ to Italy FAQ is weekly blog series. Every Friday, I post common questions from readers about movin’ to Italy. All answers are based on my personal experiences and knowledge.

2 comments on “Do I need to learn Italian?

  1. I have to agree with you in regard to the speaking and listening skills. It is relatively easy engaging in the online language sites, taking random classes and reading various books, but unfortunately once you arrive in Italy all the things you learned back home disappear in an instant.
    I have been studying Italian on an off for about 6 years with various trips to Italy, each time it gets easier to converse in La Bella Lingua. Recently I was lucky enough to spend a month with my friends family in Abruzzo and I was surprised how much better my conversational skills became. But after returning to the US I am now stumbling over my ability to compose a sentence in Italian.
    So as you said it is definitely easier to learn the speaking and listening skills once you are in Italy. After all you really have no choice.

    • Thanks for your input Gina! I found the same thing. It was nice having a little bit of grammar background and I think I needed that to get me started (I’m a visual learner too so seeing the words on paper made it easier). Still, I learned most of my conversational skills here in Italy and I’m still learning new words every day. As you said, you really have no other choice!