Italian is one of the most popular languages to learn in the world. Many people love Italy and its language because of the rich history, art, food, and music. However, that doesn’t mean that learning the language is completely problem-free. As with every language, Italian has a few features which you might struggle with. If you have decided to learn Italian or you simply want to start discovering this language, it will be helpful for you to know some of these features, so that you can adjust your approach and focus. Obviously, depending on your own native language and others you might know, you can already be more or less familiar with these characteristics.
More exceptions than rules
As is the case in all languages, Italian has many grammar rules, which govern the proper use of the language. In Italian, however, you’ll often find so many exceptions that the rules become almost meaningless! You will find exceptions for the conjugation of verbs, forming plurals, or definite articles. The rules are often as useful as the “i before e, except after c” nonsense.
What can help you memorize the words that do not follow the general rules? Read a lot and out loud, for a start. Additionally, try to memorize entire sentences, rather than single words. This will help you get used to the general structure of the language and you’ll be able to remember it quicker, you’ll also see how words that don’t follow the rules behave in context, rather than having to learn the vocabulary and exceptions separately.
A feature that is common among the languages descending from Latin (among them Italian, is the use of grammatical genders for even inanimate objects. For speakers of languages without this feature, it can be tough to remember. However, gender is a very important characteristic for nouns because all the words related to it (articles, adjectives, and sometimes verbs) need to be modified according to the specific gender.
As with most gendered languages, there is very little logic behind assigning the noun classes. So, don’t try to understand a reason why something is masculine or feminine. Some things can even be masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural (or vice versa). For example, the word “uovo”(egg) is masculine in the singular form but becomes feminine in the plural – “uova”.
To make things easier for yourself, try to always learn new vocabulary with the corresponding gender. Luckily, the gender system in Italian is actually less complex than that of German, for example. You only have two – masculine and feminine. And in most cases, you’ll find that words that end with -o in singular and -i in plural are masculine, while -a in singular and -e in plural signify the feminine gender. Of course, there are exceptions but keeping this in mind will help you rightly determine the gender in most cases.
The good news about Italian is that there are no exceptions to the rules for pronunciation. (Apart for when talking about a foreign word.) However, there are still a few peculiarities for you to get used to.
For instance, in most languages, the two letters ch together will produce an affricate sound (like the English chips) but in Italian, the sound is a k. Other particular sounds are the gn, gl, gn, and sc.
A tip for learning spell and recognise these combinations: rather than asking your teacher to spell a new word, ask them to repeat it slowly, or listen to a recording and try to write down what you hear, then check the transcript of the recording. Doing these exercises will help you become more familiar with the Italian pronunciation and spelling.
If your mother tongue does not use articles, like Russian or Turkish, you may need to put a little bit more of effort into learning them in Italian. But even if your language does use articles (for example English with a, an, and the), there are exceptions to what role they fill in the language. In Italian, there are different articles which may change according to the gender, singular or plural nouns, or even the first letter of a words. So you need to learn to use them correctly.
Conjugation of verbs
For English-speakers, conjugating verbs is almost new territory since English has a very limited conjugation system of its own (it just involves adding an “s” in the third person singular). In Italian, things are not nearly as simple.
Here, you have three different types of conjugations of verbs and, as you can maybe guess, a wide range of exceptions. You can try to memorise the most common irregular verbs to help you with this process. It’s also a good idea to make an effort to learn the modal verbs, such as essere, avere, dovere, since they’re used in the language very often. But if you don’t fancy learning long lists of verbs, the other option is to just expose yourself to Italian so much that you simply remember the correct uses for verbs.
Congiuntivo is another feature many foreigners struggle with. It is the Italian subjunctive “mood” which is used to describe something not sure, something thought or believed.
It is definitely one of the tenses that require more time to learn in Italian.
If you are struggling with the use of this tense don’t feel upset because even Italians find it difficult! You can find a lot of funny articles and videos on the web about Italian people making mistakes in using this tense. To learn congiuntivo, it is important to speak good Italian since it’s a very advanced feature. It can take years to master, so don’t worry about it too much. Sometimes the use is even optional and, in any case, it only produces a very small differences in what you’re trying to say.
So try to master the other features that make Italian challenging before trying to tackle the congiuntivo.
Conclusion – Italian has challenges but with enough practice you will succeed
Learning a new language is always a challenge, but it also comes with great rewards. Italian is a beautiful language with a rich history and even though it has some features you might struggle with, it is well worth the time. Becoming familiar with the challenging parts of Italian will help you adjust your focus at the right time and you will find them easier to overcome. Just remember to keep practicing and get your teacher to help you master all aspects of Italian.
This article was written by Davide M – our Italian teacher in Istanbul. Sign up for lessons with him below: