Around 3 million people worldwide speak Italian as a second language; in the US only, more than 700,000 Americans speak la bella lingua. But what are the most common challenges/mistakes when learning Italian?
- Double consonants: for English speakers, pronouncing le doppie – and how much to stress them – is usually tricky. No panic though: despite the many examples of words that change their meaning with a single versus double consonant, the context will help you out in most real-life conversations. Plus, in several regional variations of Italian, double consonants are hardly pronounced, so you’re in good company.
- Prepositions: a unanimous, unavoidable nightmare. Prepositions are pesky in almost every language, English included, and not having a set of fixed rules is daunting. Di or da? In or a? It depends. But there are in fact some rules (in + country; a + city: abito in Italia, a Roma), and you will use some prepositions so often that practice will truly make (almost) perfect.
- False friends, like argomento (topic, while argument is litigio); educazione (good manners, being instead istruzione the equivalent of education); parenti (relatives, while genitori translates parents). Some terms are not falsi amici, but they are often misused by learners: to express “favorite”, use preferito, not favorito, which is hardly used by native speakers; its most common meaning is, indeed, “likely winner.”
- The relevance of gestures. True, Italians gesticulate a lot, often without even realizing it. But they use gestures to reinforce what is being said, not to convey a meaning. So, trying to have a conversation without uttering a word would sound odd even to the major gesture fans.
- Expressions with the verb avere: the English equivalents of these common expressions use to be (not to have). To state I’m cold, you might be tempted to say sono freddo (which means, my body is cold) instead of ho freddo. Same rule applies to state your age (ho x anni) or that you are hungry (ho fame), and many other daily expressions.
- Gender: all nouns in Italian have a gender, masculine or feminine. There are rules, but with every rule comes an exception. And so, as soon as you feel safe knowing that nouns ending in -a are generally feminine, that “generally” shows its limits. Il panorama, il problema, il tema, il teorema, il pigiama, il pirata, il fantasma: they end in -a but, as you can tell from the articles, they are masculine. There are examples the other way around, and to make things even more interesting, nouns that change gender from singular to plural (l’uovo, le uova; many body parts: il braccio, le braccia), or change meaning when changing gender, like i muri (walls) versus le mura (city walls).
By Claudia Quesito
Also read: Italian Expressions Of Love