Language barriers in Italy

Hello,

Learning a new language is a part of the expat process. Let's find out how crucial it is to know the language in Italy.

What is the official language in Italy, and what are the other popular spoken languages?

Is it possible to live in Italy and get by without speaking the language?

How do you manage to communicate with the locals if you don't speak the native/official language fluently?

What are some popular and useful phrases that expats absolutely need to know?

Can you share some tips about how to survive in Italy on a daily basis without speaking the language?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Priscilla

Priscilla :

Hello,

Learning a new language is a part of the expat process. Let's find out how crucial it is to know the language in Italy.

What is the official language in Italy, and what are the other popular spoken languages?

Is it possible to live in Italy and get by without speaking the language?

How do you manage to communicate with the locals if you don't speak the native/official language fluently?

What are some popular and useful phrases that expats absolutely need to know?

Can you share some tips about how to survive in Italy on a daily basis without speaking the language?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Priscilla

Hi Priscilla,

Italian official language is Italian but there are many regional dialects and some of them are very different from it (to the point of being different languages altogether). However everyone in Italy can speak Italian and the language is used for documents, street signs, shops, schools, public offices, etc. TV and radio are broadcasted in Italian, movies are dubbed, and popular apps (facebook, google, whatsapp, amazon, linkedin, twitter, wechat etc.) have a local version in Italian.

As for other languages, English is studied in school since the '80s and French was the common foreign language to study before then. Spanish is also easily understood and spoken as the similarities with Italian make it an accessible language to learn. Foreign languages proficiency do vary greatly from place to place with bigger cities like Rome or Milan having a higher percentage of English speakers and touristic places being more English-friendly (like anywhere in the world).

To answer your question, if you live in a big city you can get by for a while without speaking Italian, public transportation, hospitals and public offices do have communication in English and, nowadays they must have some english speaking staff. If you have kids there are international schools in all the large cities.

However your day to day life will certainly be more difficult as the default communication language remains Italian. My suggestion is to approach younger people as they are more likely to speak English, University students and employees of multinational companies are very likely to speak English. Google translate is ok for daily necessities as translation English to Italian of common sentences is quite good.

If you intend to settle in Italy for a long time do consider learning Italian as it will make your life easier.

Priscilla,

I am also struggling with the language but to be honest the only way is to learn Italian

Google translate and any other translation app.
That's a good start. To learn Italian, there are language courses, some for free and some for a fee.

Enjoy.

hi Priscilla,

I live in a small town  (~20K inhabitants).  Although I had some Italian as 4th language at high school, and lived in Italy for 1 year in the past, I still find the language barriers hard to tackle.

To begin with, while Italians are much more accepting of foreigners than e,g, the French, and even though nominally they had English at school, I find that 99% of shopkeepers, laborers and technicians are unable to communicate in English.  Even PhD graduates in STEM subjects offer only limited communication.  Even my dentist, who lived in the USA several years and had been married to an American,  lapses back into Italian after 2 sentences o basic English.

Then, it depends who you deal with: many taxi drivers have a smattering of English,  I imagine travel agents have some English.  Carabinieri and police officers usually have almost no English.

Moreover, Italians now speak considerably faster than they did 50 years ago, when I was here in the past.   This undoubtedly isa consequence of TV programs.  The only people who speak clearly on TV are the Politicians, demonstrating that the fault is not in my ears, but in speaking habits.  Add to that the poor quality of audio on the Italian telephone system, so when you call an office, and encounter an automated menu, it is difficult to comprehend.   

By and large Italians are very tolerant of people speaking broken Italian, but often are stymied when encountering foreigners who have limited knowledge of Italian:  some3 months ago I went to an office of the National Health Service; I was asked about my "redito" -- a word that was not used 50 years ago, several officials tried to explain the meaning, but even in Italian all they could do was to repeat "redito" over and over.   -- and this in a country with some 30 heavyweight daily newspapers --  many more than we have in the US at that quality level!

Hi Priscilla,

Italian is the official and widely spoken language. Depending on what region you are in, other languages are used as well. I live in Rome where there's a plethora of expats, foreigners, tourists hence dozens of languages are heard everywhere.

I am a student in Rome in a university with students from over 120 nations. This being the case, the official language in the school is Italian. Per forza, I had to learn the language since it is also the medium of instruction; very few courses are taught in English (in a 2 year span, i was lucky to have 5 subjects in English). Besides, an entrance exam in Italian language is needed to be able to get into this university. For work reasons? Some companies are also requiring certification that one attended Italian courses and passed.

Can one survive? Yes, but with a lot of difficulty, I'd say. Not a lot of Italians speak nor understand English. Being with friends who speak the language helps me a lot as I was learning. I guess this is also a good when if one is to survive without a proper grasp of Italian

Hi Priscilla,

if you live in a big city, like Rome or Milan, you don't really need to learn the language; but if you plan to stay here for quite a while, known Italian would help!
Looking for new Italian friends is already a way to get close to the language.

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