9 Myths About Learning Italian

Italy - Liguria
Don't let rolled Rs prevent you from figuring out what this sign says about food. Tancredi J. Bavosi / Getty Images

It's easy to listen to popular opinions about how difficult it is to learn a language. 

But just like any other self-improvement activity or skill (dieting, working out, and sticking to a budget come to mind), you can convince yourself with a multitude of excuses why you can't pronounce Italian words or conjugate Italian verbs or you can use that time and energy to learn la bella lingua.

To help you get over that as quickly as possible, here are ten of the most common myths about learning Italian.

Italian is More Difficult to Learn Than English

Reality: Research shows that Italian is easier to learn Italian. Beyond the scientific reasons, though, as a child, no one knows any better when learning to speak their native tongue. One way around the frustration when learning Italian is to remember that everyone was a beginner at one time. Children laugh and enjoy speaking and singing nonsense words for the sheer joy of hearing themselves. As the Italian proverb says, "Sbagliando s'impara"—by making mistakes one learns. 

I Won't Be Able to Roll My Rs

Reality: The fact is, some Italians cannot roll their Rs either. It's called "la erre moscia" (soft r), it's oftentimes a result of a regional accent or dialect and also traditionally associated with upper-class speech. Italians from the north of Italy, especially in the northwest region of Piedmont (close to the French border), are famous for this speech variation—which shouldn't be a surprise, given the influence of the French language on the local dialect. In fact, the linguistic phenomenon is also called "la erre alla francese."

For those who do want learn to roll their Rs, try placing your tongue against the roof of your mouth (near the front) and trill your tongue. If all else fails, pretend you're revving up a motorcycle or repeat the following English terms a few times: ladder, pot o' tea, or butter

There Aren't Any Schools Near My Home

Reality: School? Who needs a school? You can study Italian online, listen to a podcast, listen to Italian audio, or find an Italian pen pal to practice writing. In short, the Internet is a multimedia platform where you can utilize all the elements necessary to learn Italian.

I'll Never Use Italian

Reality: No matter your motivation for learning Italian, new opportunities can present themselves in ways you cannot imagine initially. You'll make friends when you visit, find a TV show you love, or perhaps, even fall in love yourself. Who knows?

I'm Too Old to Learn Italian

Reality: People of all ages can learn Italian. To a certain extent, it's a question of determination and dedication. So stop procrastinating and start practicing!

No One I Know Speaks Italian So There's No Opportunity to Practice

Reality: Contact the Italian department at your local college or an Italian American organization since they frequently sponsor wine tastings or other events where participants can meet and mingle to practice Italian. Or join your local Italian Language Meetup group. Organized by Meetup.com, the Italian Language Meetup is a free gathering at a local venue for anyone interested in learning, practicing, or teaching Italian.

Native Italians Won't Understand Me

Reality: If you make an effort, chances are they'll parse out what you're saying. Try Italian hand gestures, too. And if you strike up a conversation, you'll be practicing Italian. An important part of learning to speak Italian is building your self-confidence - so the more you try to express yourself, the quicker you'll learn the language. 

I'm Only Visiting Italy for a Short Time So Why Bother?

Reality: Why bother, indeed? Travelers to Italy will want to learn Italian survival phrases to help them with both the practical (you do want to know where the bathroom is, don't you?) as well as the mundane (i.e., how to decipher an Italian menu). 

I Have to Use a Textbook to Study Italian and I Don't Like Them

Reality: There are many effective ways to study Italian. Whether it's reading an Italian textbook, completing workbook exercises, listening to a tape or CD, or conversing with a native Italian speaker, any method is appropriate.