I am here to tell you, from personal experience, WHY having at least an intermediate command of Italian is essential.
Speaking Italian isn’t just nailing greetings and knowing how to say yes or no, or how to order in a restaurant. Maybe if you’re in Italy for a short tourist stint, that’s okay. Still I’m surprised and disappointed at how many English speakers decide to live in Italy without making a real effort to learn the language.
You can’t live with an Italian translator glued to your side.
Or maybe you can if you have deep financial resources. Maybe you can have such a person at your disposal whenever the need arises. But not speaking Italian becomes a problem, a hindrance when “situations” pop up, when life is less than perfect.
My recent experience…
I’m no longer a young whippersnapper. Even though I’m in reasonably good shape, my body doesn’t perform in the same way it did a decade ago. Neglect of essential maintenance (stretching, wholistic diet and exercise) are now manifesting as body aches and less-than-fluid mobility.
Without going into explicit detail, I’ve found myself making the rounds with specialists to understand and take corrective action wherever possible. During these meetings and therapy sessions, having a decent command of the Italian language has served me well. For a doctor or a physiotherapist to hear directly from me, not a translator, has made a huge difference. Also, being able to understand questions, feedback, and suggestions have been essential.
All of this give me a greater sense of confidence and independence. Who wouldn’t want that when being resident in a country with a vastly different culture?
Learning Italian is hard work.
I can understand why many expats keep looking for workarounds to avoid the pain. It’s a difficult task for most adult brains. So, many newbies stay firmly attached to their romantic Italian fantasies and resist doing the deeper work required by the language. And such deeper work is required to really become integrated into the Italian culture.
In my experience, people who don’t embrace and learn the Italian language end up living on the fringes of the culture. They often gravitate a type of “gated” community of similar expats. You know, safety in numbers?
When the Italian experience is less than idyllic…
It happens. It’s part of life here. Italian bureaucracy can be confusing, slow, and inconsistent. Things don’t happen in the same way or speed that you are probably used to. How will you deal with it? With rudimentary Italian? With a translator? What happens if you have an emergency, and you don’t have someone hand to translate and run interference?
Do you want a full, rich life in Italy?
If so, not speaking Italian becomes a problem. I’ve lived in Italy for ten years now. I’m saddened by fellow Americans who’ve landed and lived here for years yet still don’t speak Italian at a beginning intermediate level (at least). Too many expats keep putting it off and putting it off, making it more unlikely that a command of the Italian language will ever progress.
If there is one message I’ve tried to hammer home again and again…
It’s about having a command of the Italian language. I’m urging people to do the work to learn the language so that their Italian experience soars rather than becoming yet another American (or insert your country here) experience with only Italian seasoning.
Get started, sooner than later.
If you’re newly landed in Italy, or if a life in Italy is in the works, mastering Italian at an intermediate level is essential, in my experience. Otherwise, not speaking Italian becomes a problem—or at least a grand hindrance. Lack of speaking and understanding the language can also lead you into misunderstandings and confusion. Who wants that?
Find the right mode of learning for you.
I got a solid start with Rosetta Stone before I left the States. But, only with intensive studies at a school in Rome and, subsequently, with a private tutor (like Simone) did I really make progress. A multitude of other resources are available (like Quizlet or Duolingo). Just get going, and don’t be too ready to rest on you laurels! You may think that I’m being preachy, but I also suspect you’ll thank me one day!