Italian Brave Heart

Why moving to Italy doesn’t mean that you will speak the language…ever!

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Why moving to Italy doesn’t mean that you will speak the language…ever!


Although it’s a well-known fact that total immersion is the best way to learn Italian, just by moving to Italy from the UK, the US or any other English- speaking country doesn’t for one minute guarantee that you will become bilingual! Don’t presume that as soon as you step off the plane that the beginnings of your linguistic journey commences nor expect italiano to start flowing forth from your lips.  In fact, it an equally well-known fact that many expats learn little if no Italian during their stay in il Bel Paese.


Why am I not learning Italian?


Good question. It’s not the most difficult language on the world and thanks to their food and musical terms you probably know a good 100 words before you even start. But this can be down to a number of reasons:



tvThe main one is probably plain ‘laziness’. For many expats on arriving in a new country there is the feeling that there is always so much to do and to see and as learning Italian is not seen as a priority (particularly at the outset) or is too ‘hard’,it falls further and further down the list until before you know it you are celebrating your 10 year anniversary in Italy with as many Italian words.


‘Everyone speaks English’


The presumption that ‘everyone speaks English!’ is a very popular misconception. Granted Italians probably understand and speak more English than they let on but still a good number of Brits and Americans get a bad reputation for not making an effort to learn their language. For many expats they land lucky (or maybe its a cunning plan!) by choosing to move to one of the more tourist areas of Italy such as Florence, Rome or to Tuscany where there is a larger expat community than most other Italian areas, thus nullifying the need to learn the language in their eyes.




‘ I’m too shy’ or ‘lacking in confidence’ is something that I frequently hear. Bear in mind that we are all in the same boat. Nobody wants to sound like a 5 year old when talking in a foreign tongue but Italians in my experience are more forgiving than many other nations and the fact that you are making an effort means that they don’t have to! It doesn’t matter how little Italian you speak or how badly, they are very complimentary and you will often hear ‘tu parli bene italiano’  (you speak Italian well).


Later… (the Spanish call it ‘mañana mañana’)


Presuming that you can’ put off till tomorrow’ is not always a sensible approach. Thinking that once pisolinoschools are chosen and the kids are settled and a house is bought (and don’t forget, furnished!) and the vines are sprayed and the olive trees trimmed and…. ultimately, the Italian language bit never happens. If you keep putting this time WILL catch up with you and you’ll soon realise that you have been living in Italy for 5  or 10 years and have little Italian language skills to show for it.


Furbo (the sly Italian)


On some rare occasions you may befriend Italians who understand the huge advantages to speaking a 2nd language and so take full advantage of the fact that you speak English to further their education.  Not only can this leave you feeling used and empty but there is only one winner in this situation.  You came here to learn their language and they end up speaking yours!


What can I do about this?

Firstly, start early!  When I knew that we were moving to Italy from the UK we put a couple of things in place.


    1. Label the house – every object had a sticker with the Italian word on it.  It is amazing now that I don’t have to think twice about the word for a table, chair or window. After a while you don’t realise that they are there but its amazing how many words you retain. This was particularly helpful for the kids (and our family and friends loved it!)


    1. Enroll in an Italian language course – we were fortunate that a nearby  college had evening adult education classes in Italian for all levels.  This gave us a good grounding.  A couple of hours once a week had us reading, writing and speaking Italian; albeit at a very basic level, but two years in (by the time we arrived in Italy)  we had a pretty good repertoire.


    1. Buy an online language course, both paid for and free – this allowed us to concentrate on certain areas that the evening language courses overlooked.  It was a great aid.  Some of these included, Rocket Italian, Rosetta Stone and Michele Thomas (for a good review of these see


    1. Buy some dual language reading books – for my mind this is better than trying to read an Italian book with your dictionary at your side, it can get very frustrating when you have not finished the book three months later (believe you me I tried this!).  Some good books are  that I’ve read and enjoyed include First Italian ReaderItalian Short Stories: Racconti ItalianoUn Viaggetto a Firenze : A Little Trip to Florence. There are many more available on Amazon for  all levels.


    1. Listen to the radio – we used to tune into RDS or RTL. At first it does sound like a bit of a babble but it is amazing what happens as time goes on.  Another advantage is that when you arrive in Italy you are not a total novice and are at least familiar with some of the artists and songs.


    1. Watch movies and TV programmes – I have touched on this in a previous post, what I advocate is that the best way to watch Italian movies is  watch the movie in English first so you get the gist of the story line and then watch it again with Italian subtitles this time and then move onto watching it in Italian but this time use Italian subtitles. Do this repeatedly until you have a good understanding of what is being said or until you are sick of looking at it! The last step is to watch it in Italian without the subtitles.


  1. Attend Italian cultural events – going to Italian clubs, markets or even going to church gives you the opportunity to hear the language spoken and give you the opportunity to practice your Italian language skills as well as learning more about the Italian culture.


Get speaking!


Although there are many aspects to learning Italian…reading, writing or speaking. In order to communicate effectively in Italian it’s all about mastering all of them together.  The one that most of us expats are weakest at (and its the  one that catapults us to great heights) is spoken Italian.  There is no doubt that just opening your mouth and saying whatever Italian words come to mind is the quickest way to learn a language (so long as they are all related words).  You might make a bit of an arse of yourself initially but as the confidence grows so does the vocabulary and as Julia Roberts says in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – “attraversiamo” …’let’s cross over’ and before you know it you are speaking Italian!

So if you don’t want to be one of the statistics that go to Italy and don’t speak Italian, get speaking now!

Are you preparing to move to Italy from the UK or the US or some other English speaking country?  Are you scared about what to expect or how little you think you know?  Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below



17 Comments so far:

  1. Imad says:

    Hi, there.

    This is an interesting article. I like this kind of subjects, language is always a delicate matter to talk about. Personally, I don’t know any word in Italian. Not that I’m not willing to learn it, but it’s just that opportunity never presented itself.

    On the other hand, I didn’t know that Italian speak more English than they let on. I learned many things by reading the article, and I have to admit that buying an online language course is the option I could go with.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Usman says:

    Great informative website here.

    I liked how you explained the main reasons people fail to learn a new language and I believe most of it is true because I have felt the same when I went to Brazil for a few months.

    Anyways, I really liked the tips you gave to help us adopt new ways to learn new languages and smalls steps do eventually help you get there.

    Overall a very useful website, will be sharing around, well done!

    • Brendan says:

      Thanks Usman,

      Yeah, its really important that there is some end goal in place. I’ve met very few people who ahve succedded without this is place.

  3. Kevin says:

    Great tips! I began studying different languages when I was in high school. The tips that you have suggested above really do help a great deal! For example, when I studied French, I began watching movies in French, labeling the furniture, and listening to audio tapes. I will admit, the software programs are the best way to learn a different language. You can work at your own pace and the lessons are very simplistic and easy to understand!

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Unfortunately not all the courses were great, so we had to shop around a bit till we found those that worked for us. These do offer some discipline and focus and you can track your progress.

  4. Nature's Nurture says:

    Hello BraveHeart!

    Wow, must have been an incredible journey to take to move to Italy – the thought has crossed my mind to move back to my homeland many times. I think your site looks like you’ve done one before! I love the feel of it and it’s easy to get around. At the beginning I didn’t know where to go however (other than scroll) so I thought if I was to suggest any changes would be to keep the menu at the top showing instead of having to click those little lines (not everyone will know to do that and you may just loose clients)….Just my two cents but a website shouldn’t have to be a guessing game. Also, I can see that you have a lot of content (writing on each page). You may want to consider trying to shorten it a bit or use the other story for another post (make the 1 page into 2 or 3 if you can). This way it would spread things out, make it easier for your reader to follow, keep them interested but also gives you more chances to get a higher click rate by being able to have more links (more pages = more links). I think you have a fun niche and I can see you have a true passion for everything Italian. Keep up the “primo” work! Is that Italian? Duh.

  5. Gloria says:

    I totally agree with you. If you are going to move to Italy then you should learn how to speak Italian. I can’t imagine living there and not being able to talk to anyone I want or ask a question. And how does one get a job and not speak Italian?

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Gloria,

      Learning the language certainly helps but what I’m trying to get across repeatedly is that this certainly shouldn’t stop you from moving to Italy if that is your dream. What I’m trying to convey through this site is that from my experience it is certainly possible to move to a foreign country without being fluent; thousands have achieved this before you!

  6. carl says:

    Yep, you nailed it!

    I couldn’t agree more. I have used every excuse you have highlighted here in your list, but why are we so bad at this?

    It’s no just because we can ‘GET AWAY’ with it, it’s more and I’ll illustrate what I mean.

    I’m English and spent a summer in Barcelona learning Spanish full time, which meant after a short while and after a lot of tears, I had basic Spanish, but what happened?

    1. The Catalan people didn’t take kindly to anyone speaking Spanish (shame on them!)
    2. I returned to the UK for a few years before moving back to southern Spain and I was surprised at the response I received one day.
    I witnessed rude English man shouting at a Spanish shop girl in English and saw the girl apologise and acquiesce to their rude demands. What did I do?
    I approached the same girl and pulled out some Spanish verbs and did my best to remember my Spanish. To my surprise, this individual did NOT thank me for the effort but sneered at me at walked away. I might add, this was in a well know shop and I was a customer. That didn’t seem right to me :o(

    I would say, yes, on the whole, expats are generally lazy, and when they are not lazy, they will usually get a reply in English…and on a bad day insulted or ignored.

    The point is…..we are not always the guilty party.

    Anyway, that was just food for thought….When in Rome try oh try to speak Italian!!!!

    Hasta luego


    • Brendan says:

      Hi Carlos,

      I’m just making a generalisation here, so there are bound to be exceptions to the rule. I dare say the shop girl, after being verbally abused and realising that you were British, tarnished you with the same brush.
      Anyway, we can’t let a few bad experiences ruin our generally positive experiences. I applaud you, get out there and speak the language!

  7. Andrew says:

    Wow, I wish I’d come across this article a couple of months ago. My daughter recently travelled around Italy for 2 weeks. I think she did pretty well while she was there, but some of your tips would have been extremely helpful.

    Maybe for next time 😉 Thanks for a great article Brendan

    • Brendan says:

      You are very welcome.
      I’m sure she did fine. The youth have less inhibitions, we on the other hand need a few drinks to loosen our tongues!
      I’m delighted that there will be a next time.

  8. John Savage says:

    Putting sticky notes on everything is a genius idea!!!! Never ever would have thought of doing that.

    I totally agree with the laziness. I call it stealth laziness in herds. I spent practically four years living in the middle east. The first thing I did was find the brits.

    My 8 year old daughter on the other hands made friends with arabic kids literally forced to speak the language if she wanted to play in their games.

    Brilliant advice on your blog.

    What a cool passion.

    pack of sticky notes and a pen on the way home for me!

  9. Geerie says:

    Great site! This could actually apply to any language or country. I think if you move anywhere you should first learn the language so you can communicate better. Your methods are some I used in college when learning Japanese- trust me it is a difficult language to conquer. Just like babies we have to hear the word, see the action, and practice the dialect. We have all done it before, but we forgot how we learned our native language. I’ve never been to Italy but learning the language would still be fun. And thanks to you I believe I could accomplish that now!

    • Brendan says:

      You are quite right about it applying to any move to a foreign country with a foreign language. Learning the language certainly helps with the transition and integration. Learning Italian certain is fun, its such a passionate and lyrical language.

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