Italian is the linguistic key to thousands of years of fashion, food and art. From the roots of the Renaissance to the majesty of the Roman Empire, Italian is the language that will take you there.
The Romance Languages
This expression refers to the triumvirate of three Latin based languages; French, Spanish and Italian. All three have similar grammar rules and vocabulary. Italian is considered to be the most complex grammatically. The Italian nation as we know it has only existed for two centuries, and the version of Italian that is considered the vernacular is only one of many dialects that are still spoken on the peninsula. Dante's Inferno is still available in the Tuscan dialect in which it was written. The Calabrese still claim their dialect resembles the language of the Greek colonists that originally populated Sicily, Calabria and Puglia.
The depth, breadth and excellence of Italy's past and current artists and designers is pretty much a given today, and this sophistication is reflected in the complexity of their language. The nation that gave birth to the Renaissance can expect no less. Sometimes only a matter of proportion or color, material or cut, Italian elegance is apparent to all but the eyes and ears of barbarians. Those that seek to learn the Italian language often do so not only out of linguistic interest but also to learn the vocabulary of literature, art, fashion and food.
Italian has the most complex grammatical structure of the Romance Language triumvirate. Learners should not despair, however, as the rules are fixed and easy to follow once learned, unlike English, which is such a mix of languages that it has guidelines as opposed to hard and fast rules. Spelling is also relatively easy, as Italian is spelled how it sounds (like Spanish) and uses fewer accents than French. English speakers might find gender rules awkward, as this includes dropping pronouns and making adjectives and other non-specific pronouns (like "this" and "that") agree with male, female or plural nouns. Verb conjugations can also be confusing; especially since many of the most commonly used verbs are irregular.
Learning Italian; Where and How?
Of course, the best way to learn Italian is to actually be in the country. If you have the means, there are many venues that are at your disposal, as people have been coming to the peninsula to learn Italian for hundreds of years. Other than the private language schools that are present in virtually every Italian city and town, The Universita de Stranieri operates schools in Siena and Perugia. Perhaps you're lucky enough to be one of the thousands of North Americans with family in Italy that you can stay with. If you can't reach the peninsula, finding a way to learn and practice your Italian is still easy (if not quite as exciting). Virtually any community college or university will offer Italian courses. If you live in a bigger city, inquire at the Italian embassy or Italian Cultural Center about courses or conversation exchange. If you have internet access there are a number of online courses and materials at your disposal. If you have a headset, online lessons that include speaking and listening are also available.
Art and Cuisine
The artistic talent of Italy is evident today as it was in antiquity. Italian designers of premium fast and loud cars are world renowned and for good reason. Or maybe your eye was drawn to the works of a master artist like Corrado Feroci, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, whose work has inspired tens of thousands of artists and admirers through the ages. You just want to appreciate their art in the language they used while crafting their master-works.
Italian cuisine is as varied from region to region as its famous dialects. Succa de pomodori. Gelato. Ti piace la pasta al dente? What exactly is marinara sauce? How does one pronounce the word gnocchi? For spicy dishes covered in tomato based sauce with chewy chorizo sausage, look to the south. For crisp vegetable dishes and unusual regional dishes like deep fried pumpkin blossoms, look to central Itlay's green heart. For rich cream sauces and recipes with more European influences, consider the north, where different geography means different cuisine.
One Language, Many Interests
Learning Italian is about so much more than understanding another language. It is about immersing yourself in the history and culture of a country that was, and remains, an integral part of Western civilization. Whether it is linguistics, music, food, fashion or art that drew you to the exquisite tongue of the Romans and Etruscans, your journey will be vast and enriching. Buon viaggio, e viva Italia!
- Temple of Segesta: By Josep Renalias (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Dante Luca: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dante_Luca.jpg
- Pantheon : By Alessio Nastro Siniscalchi (own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-it (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/it/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Italian Language, History of the Italian Language: http://www.italianlanguageguide.com/italian/facts/history/
- The Ferreri 458: By Anthony Joh from Bangkok, Thailand (Ferrari 458 Italia) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Author's Own Experience
- The Baptism of Christ: Andrea del Verrocchio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
la grammatica italiana: http://www.uvm.edu/~cmazzoni/3grammatica/grammatica/