We study Italian because we want to, not because we need to. Because the music of the language moves us to learn it, to engage in this “impracticality”, to throw some of our precious time to the wind and do something simple for the pleasure of being able to pronounce words like piacere.
When I first began studying Italian five years ago, I did so in secret. My husband and kids knew, but outside of the fortress of my family, I kept the studying to myself.
Why would I do this? I was proud of my Italian heritage, and excited about a long-awaited trip to Italy that was finally on the books. But being a mom of three younger kids at the time, learning Italian felt so…unnecessary. Quirky. Indulgent.
“But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? …to learn how to speak a language for no higher purpose than that it pleases your ear to hear it?” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
Our family trip to Italy arrived about ten months into my language learning journey. I expected my interest in Italian to quiet upon our return, particularly since my Italian was embryonic at best.
But, safely tucked back home in the states without a pressing reason to continue my studies, my ears ached for la bella lingua. My heart yearned for una chiacchiere (a chat) in Italian. My brain craved the rhythmic dance of verb conjugations.
Clearly, I had fallen in love with Italian. And in recognizing this, suddenly I wasn’t afraid to shout to the world my love for the language.
If learning Italian is on your bucket list, you are not alone.
Italian ranks as the 19th most commonly spoken language in the world but is the fourth most studied language after English, Spanish and French.
What’s the appeal? This lyrical language is captivating for many reasons, some rooted in science, others in the soul.
1. Language learning boosts your brain
“The bilingual brain contains a higher density of grey matter, which contains most of the brain’s neurons and synapses,” states Medical Daily Pulse. “Engaging in a second language also leads to more activity in certain brain regions, giving it a mental workout while also helping delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia by as much as five years.”
Stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia? Sì, per favore!
The brain benefits of language learning seems to apply to brains of all ages. Language learning can also boost creativity, improve your memory, increase test-taking and problem-solving skills. (For more on this, check out this post by Fluent in 3 Months).
2. English speakers can more readily learn Italian
Being a romance language like English, Italian is easier to learn for English speakers than, say, Cantonese. The Foreign Service Institute ranks Italian in the top 10 languages as most closely related to English, thus making it a bit easier to learn.
Italian offers a gift to language learners: its pronunciation is very consistent. Once you know the rules for letter sounds, you can pronounce new words with confidence (you just might need help with which syllable to stress).
While verb conjugations tend to trip up my English-speaking brain, have patience in this area. Choosing tenses and mentally switching verb endings becomes more second-nature with practice and repetition.
Bonus: Second language learning can improve your first language. “When learning a new language, many people find they have a greater understanding of their first language,” says Omniglot. “Learning a second language focuses your attention on the grammatical rules constructions of that language. This experience gives people a new insight into their own language and ultimately leads to them improving their mother tongue, which will improve their everyday lives.”
3. Italian is considered one of the most beautiful languages on the planet
Rooted in Latin, rhythmic Italian is the language of 14th century poet Dante. In 1320 with the completion of his epic La Divina Commedia, Dante put into writing the dialect of the Tuscan people and from that, Italian as we know it today, developed.
Historically, the language of a certain area was standardized by the most dominant commerce center. But in Italy, really just a conglomeration of city-states at the time — each with its own dialect — the language became unified by writers and poets.
Spoken Italian has a particular, mesmerizing cadence. Most Italian words end in vowels, with articles, nouns and adjectives ending in the same letter, a formula which makes the language so sing-songy.
Example: La ragazza va alla scuola. Such a beautiful way to say something as simple as “the girl goes to school.”
4. Italian is the language of art, culture, music, food
Think Dante, da Vinci, Pavarotti, Galileo, Michelangelo. (Or even simply spaghetti and polpette (meatballs). Pop over here for a good collection of famous Italians in history.
5. Learning Italian is a great reason to visit Italy
Have you been wanting to visit one of the 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in Italy?
There is no better way to boost your language learning than to immerse yourself in the language, so why not go straight to the source?
As a whole, Italians are warm and welcoming to language newbies. Between their patience, encouragement and proficiency in speaking through hand gestures, you can get through a conversation — or at least get your point across — even if you’re just a beginner in Italian.
Plus, speaking the language, even just a tiny bit, makes your travel experience much deeper and richer.
6. Italian allows you to step into a different version of yourself
“Learning another language is like becoming another person.” –Haruki Murakami
Stacy di Anna, or simply Anna to my classmates, is my superfun alter ego. That girl is fun. And enthusiastic. She takes chances, is adventurous, and is not terribly afraid of making mistakes. Not at all like Stacy Pollard (who is still a good-hearted person but much more straight-laced.)
“The question “Are you another person when you speak another language?” has been answered in various ways by neurophysiologists, psycho- and sociolinguists and by cognitive scientists. They show how cognition and emotion go hand in hand, how the acquisition of a second language can give you a different sense of self, how bilinguals have different bodily rhythms, coordinate words and gestures differently, think different thoughts in one or the other of their languages.
For [language learners] it seems that learning another language reveals them to themselves in unexpected ways. Unknown emotions, existential questions, pieces of an unfinished puzzle that were not captured by their native tongue.”
7. Italian can nourish your soul
No science for me to quote here — this one is personal.
Learning Italian is a beautiful diversion from my everyday worries, both big and small. Immersing myself in the task of something outside of my regular routine gives me a break from a huge range of burdens, from the mundane to-dos of dishes and laundry, or larger troubles that plague us all. Every day, I give myself the opportunity to lay these worries aside, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
I started studying Italian quite by accident. It snuck up on me while I was getting over the loss of my dad, and became a distraction from grieving. I continue studying Italian because, even though it’s not terribly practical, it makes me feel happy.
I believe I’m not alone in studying Italian because of the joy it brings me. I’m guessing many others choose Italian for the same reasons.
And if I wasn’t convinced of the merits of knowing Italian before, a conversation with the owner of a language school in Rome this summer really tipped the scales for me.
“In this Italian school, we used to also share the space with an English school. Our two sets of students were completely different. The English ones, well, they didn’t want to come to class, they walked around with their heads down, all grey, you know,” he shrugged.
“But the ones who were studying Italian,” his eyes lit up and his voice took on a breathy quality.
“Sarah, the ones who were studying Italian were just more…” he waved his hand casually as he searched for the word. It didn’t take him long before he plucked it out of the Roman sunshine and gave it to me through a slow smile.
–From “Why Study Italian?” On Not Just Another Dolce Vita
Even though I was raised in an Italian-American family, I never planned to learn Italian, and I certainly didn’t expect to fall in love with it. But, quite innocently, I did.
And forse, maybe, you will too.
The post 7 Reasons to Love Italian first appeared on Prayers and Piazzas in January 2016.