Italian bandiera pic

Perché si studia l’italiano?

Why study Italian?

Many years ago when I began my Italian education, an entrepreneur in San Francisco asked if I could have chosen a less practical language. I could see his point. Only four countries other than Italy—Switzerland, Croatia, San Marino, and Slovenia—recognize Italian as an official language. No scientific society, multinational trade association, or global enterprise, even if based in Italy, requires Italian as its lingua franca. And certainly tourists in Italy can get by with a smile and a ciao in a country that has been serving, seducing, and satisfying foreigners for centuries.

With only an estimated 60 million native speakers (compared to a whopping 1.8 billion who claim at least a little English), Italian barely eclipses Urdu, Pakistan’s official language, for nineteenth place as a spoken tongue. Yet Italian ranks fourth among the world’s most studied languages—after English, Spanish, and French.

Why do so many people want to learn Italian? Recently Riccardo Cristiani, founder of the online school Dante-Learning, posed this question to his Internet followers. Here are some of the answers:

*“L’italiano è la lingua dei miei parenti.” Italian is the language of my relatives.

*"Perché voglio vivere in Italia” Because I want to live in Italy.

*"Perché l’italiano è la lingua più romantica nel mondo.” Because Italian is the most romantic language in the world.

*"Perché posso.” Because I can.  

*"Perché sono pazza.. Chi studia italiano è un po’ pazzo perché la grammatica italiana fa impazzire!” Because I’m crazy. Those who study Italian are a little crazy because Italian grammar makes you crazy.

In her blog “not just another dolce vita” Sarah Mastroianni  eloquently captured the real reason so many of us learn Italian:

“We don’t study Italian because we need to, like everyone who studies English does … Our jobs, (well, most of them), our livelihoods, our families don’t depend on our knowledge of la bella lingua. But maybe that’s just it, the beautiful part of it all. 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.”

She also describe a conversation she had last summer with the owner of a language school in Rome:

“‘Sarah,’ he said, cigarette in hand, leaning casually on the railing of one of the school’s small balconies. ‘In this Italian school, we used to share 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 gray, you know.

'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.

'Beautiful!’”

Sono d’accordo. (I agree.) La bella lingua makes a soul bella too.

Why do you want to learn Italian? I’d love to hear from you, either with a comment here or on the LA BELLA LINGUA Facebook page.  Viva l'italiano!

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

Click below to listen to a lovely tribute to la lingua italiana and here for the lyrics: