Update on August 30, 2023
As with the acquisition of any new skill, it is difficult to put an exact figure on how many hours it will take to learn Italian, because there are so many factors which contribute to language acquisition. However, the Italian Language Academy (AIL) and the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI) suggest that it will take between 50 and 650 hours to learn Italian. The higher level of fluency you want to reach, the more hours it will take.
Next to languages such as Dutch and Swedish, Italian is considered to be one of the easiest and fastest languages for native English speakers to pick up. This is largely due to the similarities in the structures of English and Italian.
There are a whole host of variables which will impact how long it takes to learn Italian:
- Level of fluency you want to reach
- Other languages you speak and/or have studied
- Learning Styles
- Perseverance and Regularity
- Ability to learn other languages
- Personal circumstances
What Level Of Fluency Do You Want To Achieve?
Are you wanting to go to your local pizzeria and impress your server? Do you want to navigate your way around Rome as a tourist? Do you want to study fashion in Milan along with natives? Your reason for learning Italian will impact the level of fluency you need, which will (in turn) impact how long it will take to learn Italian.
According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), there are three levels of fluency (A, B, C) containing two sublevels (1 , 2).
Basic User (Level A1 – A2)
At a basic level, a speaker of Italian can talk about topics related to their lives, using basic structures and a small, repetitive range of vocabulary. This level, depending on the topics you study, will allow you to get by as a tourist in Italy.
Reaching A1 level takes around 50 – 60 hours.
Reaching A2 level takes around 100 – 120 hours.
Independent User (Level B1 – B2)
An independent user is able to have a full, complex conversation with a native speaker of Italian in a natural, spontaneous way. Independent users cannot, necessarily, hold conversations on any topics, but they are able to converse on a wide range of subjects.
Reaching B1 level takes around 240-300 hours
Reaching B2 leve take around 320 – 400 hours.
Proficient User (Level C1 – C2)
A proficient user can use Italian like a native, and often has a better theoretical understanding of grammar and vocabulary than a native speaker does.
Reaching C1 level in Italian takes around 450-500 hours.
Reaching C2 level in Italian takes around 600-650 hours.
What Is Your Motivation?
Before you start learning, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a question: Why do I want to learn Italian?
Of course, it’s because Italian is a beautiful language with a rich and fascinating history. But sometimes, that motivation might start waning and you need to re-motivate yourself.
Some common motivations for learning Italian include:
- A love of Italian music
- A love of Italian art
- A plan to work in Italy
- Following the curriculum of a school
- A looming holiday in Italy
- Being able to talk to Italian relatives
- Keeping in touch with Italian friends
All of the research on motivation suggests that the stronger your motivation for learning Italian, the faster you will learn it. So if your job is transferring you to Naples next week, your motivation may be stronger (and thus you will learn faster) than someone who is thinking about taking a gap year.
Do You Already Speak Other Languages?
The more languages you can speak, the easier it is to pick up another.
This is largely because you already have an understanding of the ways in which you can learn and foreign language, and you will have refined the methods that work best for you.
It also gives you ‘hooks’ to hang grammar and vocabulary from. If, for you example, you already know how to conjugate verbs in Latin, it will come as no surprise to you that you need to remove the ending (-are, -ere, -ire) from the infinitive and then add the letter ‘o’ to form the first person singular present tense. In fact, you may not need to practise that at all, because it works the same in Latin. That’s saved you some time.
If you don’t have a foreign language yet, that doesn’t mean that learning Italian is impossible for you. It just means that it will take a little bit longer than it would for people who already have one.
What Is Your Strategy?
Some strategies are more time-efficient than others, and the fastest strategies for you will vary, depending on what type of learner you are.
Some of the most popular strategies for learning Italian involve:
- Hiring an Italian teacher
- Using flashcards to help you remember vocabulary
- Talking often with Italian native speakers
- Immersing yourself in the language
- Practising little and often
Forming positive habits for learning Italian is one of the keys to speaking Italian faster.
What Is Your Personality Like?
Introversion or shyness might make it take longer to learn Italian. An introverted, shy person might need to make more of an emotional effort to start speaking with people and practising the language compared with a more outgoing person.
Similarly, a person who doesn’t mind having their mistakes corrected might make progress faster than someone who shrinks away from feedback, because they will know how to internalise the feedback and correct their mistakes.
Self-esteem is also very important. Anyone can learn a foreign language – there isn’t a certain personality type to which it is exclusive. So it’s important to keep your confidence and remember that you can achieve your goals. This will help you do so faster than if you spend time in negative self-talk.
What Is Your Natural Linguistic Ability?
I firmly believe that everyone can learn a foreign language. Or two. Or three. Or even more! But some people do have an easier time of it that others. However, the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) shows that some people have a better aptitude for learning languages than others. This means there is something innate to those people that gives them the ability to learn languages faster than other people.
So, if you are a person with an innate aptitude for learning a language, you’re going to learn it faster.
Some of the attributes of someone who has a high aptitude for learning foreign languages are:
- The ability to recognise and distinguish between different sounds
- The ability to associate sounds to how they are written
- The ability to identify the roles played by words within a sentence
- The ability to internalise the rules of foreign languages through exposure to the language
Ability is possibly the least important factor on the list. Someone with no innate language ability but who puts a little bit of work in every day will see faster progress than a linguist who studies Italian a ogni morte di papa (once in a blue moon).
What Exposure Can You Get To The Language?
The most widely respected language learning tool is that of immersion.
Immersion involves surrounding yourself in Italian as much as possible, so that you get used to the sounds and rhythms of the language and pick up new words and grammar concepts as frequently as possible.
It used to be that immersion required an extended stay in Italy. But with the modern power of the internet, that is no longer necessary. You can use television, podcasts and music to surround yourself with the beautiful Italian language and picking up new words and phrases even when you aren’t actively studying.
If you’re interested in language immersion, then a subscription to Story Learning might be for you. The website uses stories to immerse you in both the vocabulary and grammar of Italian, allowing you to pick up the language in a natural setting.
In the same way, you can play podcasts in the background of your day-to-day life, which will keep your brain functioning in Italian even when you’re concentrating on other things. Italianpod101 is a great resource for this, as it delivers lessons taught by native speakers of Italian in a mix of Italian and English.
What Are Your Personal Circumstances?
As adults, we know one thing to be true:
Life will always get in the way.
The amount of time your life gets in the way of your Italian learning will have a huge impact on the amount of time it will take to learn the language.
For example, someone who works full time plus overtime, and has three children, one of whom is very sick, will likely have less time to devote to studying than a retired widower (for example.) So when deciding on your Italian learning goals, you should think carefully about your personal circumstances and think realistically about how much time you can devote to your studies.
Also remember that it’s better to underestimate your time and pleasantly surprise yourself when you can study more hours than you’d anticipated than it is to overestimate your time and be angry with yourself for not making progress as quickly as you’d like to.
What Is Your Attitude Towards Italian?
Your attitude towards language learning in general, and to Italian in particular, will have a huge impact on the length of time it will take you to learn Italian.
Many native English speakers, for example, find the concept of gendered nouns difficult. As a linguist, I would say the easiest way to get over this difficulty is just to accept that it happens. A table is masculine (il tavolo) and a school is feminine (la scuola). While you could spend a lot of energy (and, more importantly, time!) worrying about that and questioning it, the gendered nature of nouns is just an aspect of the language and you’re better off accepting it.
Similarly, if you have an attitude of “I’m a learner, so I’m going to make mistakes” rather than of “I must be perfect immediately” you will learn faster because you won’t be so hesitant to try out new concepts.
There we have it. Those are the main factors which will determine how long it takes to learn Italian. Of course, everyone’s circumstances are different and so there is no one answer to this question. The Italian Language Academy (AIL) and the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI) suggest that it will take between 50 and 650 hours to learn Italian, and this is good to use as a guide, but a lot will depend on the circumstances you find yourself in.
In bocca al lupo!! Good luck!!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to get fluent in Italian?
The U.S. Foreign Service Institute suggests it takes 600 study hours to reach fluency in Italian. However, this is a guideline timeframe which doesn’t take into account personal circumstances.
Can I learn Italian in 3 months?
Absolutely! You won’t be able to translate L’Allegria from Italian into English in that amount of time, but you will certainly be able to master the basics if you take your time and keep yourself focussed. If you only have 3 months to learn Italian, start with lists of high frequency words so you can pick up the words you are most likely to encounter in daily life, and learn how to form the present tense so you can have real conversations with people.
Can I learn Italian in 6 months?
In six months (about 24 weeks of study) you can get to a good level of Italian. With enough time and motivation, you could easily learn enough Italian to hold your own in conversations around the distributore di acqua fredda (the water-cooler).
How difficult is it to learn Italian?
The U.S. Foreign Service Institute classifies Italian as a ‘tier one’ language. This tier is for languages that are the easiest for native speakers of English to learn.
Is Italian worth learning?
Yes! Learning any language is worthwhile, as language learning is proven to improve cognitive skills and stave off diseases such as Alzheimer’s. As a language, Italian is incredibly beautiful. It’s the language that contains the phrase La libertà è come l’aria: ci si accorge di quanto vale quando comincia a mancare which is not only beautiful to say, but beautful to understand: “Freedom is like air: You only realise its value when it’s missing.”
Is Italian easier to learn than Spanish?
This is a tough question to answer, because both languages have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to learning. Ultimately, the pronunciation of Italian is easier than Spanish, but Spanish grammar is generally more straightforward. So, as with a lot of the discussions in this article, it’s going to come down to what your motivation for learning Italian is.
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