Are you interested in learning Italian? Have you been looking at language courses and Italian lessons?

Do you know the story of the Italian language? You probably know it didn’t just show up one day.

Italian, like almost every other language on the planet, has an interesting history. Since language and culture are inseparable, why not learn about online Italian courses before you start working on your language skills?

Whether you’re a linguist, history buff, or just love Italian, this article should be of some interest since it's basically the history of Italian for beginners. Let's go!

From the Romans to Today

Let’s start our history of Italian with the foundation of Rome in 753BC.

Created by the peoples of the Italian peninsula (namely the Etruscans, Romans, and Sabines), Rome was centre of the region at the time.

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The Romans left a lasting influence on Italy. (Source:

Jump forward to 200AD and the Roman Empire had spread across the whole of Western Europe. It also covered parts of Arabia, North Africa, and Armenia.

The reason we need to go this far back is because at the time there were two related languages being used: Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin.

The former was spoken by the elite. The latter by colonists, soldiers, and the people.

When the Germanic tribes invaded from the east of the Roman Empire, it caused an even greater divide between the two.

The instability in the region and the lack of a link between Rome (the capital of the Roman Empire) and the rest of the territory led to Classical Latin becoming less important.

Then there were tonnes of other invasions. Including by:

  • The Ostrogoths

  • The Lombards

  • The Francs

  • The Muslims

  • The Byzantines

  • The Normans

This mix of cultures and languages led to a variety of different dialects and new vocabulary. Now we’re up to the 10th century.

During the Renaissance there’s one name that can be credited with creating an official language for the area: Dante Alighieri.

He’s the famous writer and poet who created Divine Comedy. Since he wanted his work to be for everyone, he chose to write it in Florentine (a subdialect of the Tuscan dialect) rather than Latin.

It quickly became the language spoken by everyone in the area and over time, the language transformed and evolved into the Italian we know today.

It should be noted that during the Second World War, Mussolini (the Italian leader at the time) aimed to “purify” Italian. This resulted in the oppression of minority languages and the removal of all words of foreign origin from the Italian dictionary!

This linguistic oppression ended at the same time as the dictatorship.

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Words to Help You Get By in Italian

Would you like to learn to speak Italian but don’t know anything? Don't worry! We’ve put together a short list of words and Italian phrases that you can use to get started.

Whether you’re going on a trip or are moving to Italy, you should know at least a few of the most basic Italian words.

Basic Vocabulary:

  • Yes/No: Si/No

  • Hello/Goodbye: Buongiorno/Arrivederci

  • Please/Thank You: Per Favore/Grazie

  • Right/Left: Destra/Sinistra

This is the absolute bare minimum you should know before you go to Italy. However, if you'd like to learn more Italian vocabulary and start speaking Italian the second you get off the plane, we've got a few more words and phrases that would be essential in any phrasebook. This can be really helpful when it comes to speaking to native Italian speakers.

If you get stuck, you should also keep the following expressions in mind:

  • I don’t understand: Non Capisco

  • Do you speak English?: Parle Inglese?

  • My name is...: Mi chiamo...

Of course, you won't be conversational in your new language with just these expressions. You’ll need some topical vocabulary. To make sure you don’t starve when you’re in Italy (the food is great, by the way), here are some important culinary terms:

  • Chicken: Pollo

  • Beef: Carni Bovine

  • Pork: Carne du maiale

  • Fish: Pesce

  • Cheese: Formaggio

  • Egg: Uova

  • Pasta: Pasta

  • Water: Acqua

  • Coffee/Tea: Caffè/Tè

  • Bread: Pane

Once you get there, you’ll also need to know where you are and how to get to to important landmarks and buildings.

For example:

  • Hotel: albergo

  • Market/supermarket: il mèrcato/supermercato

  • Restaurant: il ristorante

  • Hospital: l’ospedale

  • Post office: l’ufficio postale

  • Police station: la polizia

  • Bakery: il panificio

Don’t forget you can use gestures if you get stuck. Italians are famous for speaking with their hands. If you take an Italian language course with a native teacher - to find one, try searching for "Italian lessons London", for example - you'll soon see this for yourself.

If you can’t make yourself understood, try finding a language in common or using your smartphone to help you. Even if you can’t speak Italian perfectly, you should always try.

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There are plenty of people in Italian you can talk to. (Source:

It’s the best way to improve! Of course, you should probably consider getting Italian tutorials to help you before you go.

Italian Communities around the World

When you compare it to some of the countries around it, Italy didn’t look that keen on having an empire. As a result, there are very few other countries around the world where Italian is spoken as an official language.

Aside from in Italy, as an Italian learner, you'll be able to speak to some people in countries that also have Italian as an official language like:

  • Switzerland

  • Croatia

  • Slovenia

  • The Vatican

  • San Marino

You can also find countries with significant Italian communities. The countries with the most Italians include:

  • Greece

  • Belgium

  • France

  • Monaco

  • Tunisia

  • Albania

  • Romania

  • Brazil

  • Argentina

  • Uruguay

  • Costa Rica

  • Mexico

  • The United States

  • Canada

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There's even a Little Italy in New York City. (Source:

There were Italian colonies that considered Italian an official language in the past. However, today the language has pretty much disappeared. This includes countries such as:

  • Libya

  • Eritrea

  • Somalia

  • Ethiopia

The Italian language (and also culture) tends to be centred around Italy itself.

Latin: The Language that Gave Rise to Italian

As you’ve already seen, it was Latin that gave birth to Italian.

While many call Latin a dead language, did you know that it’s still used today? It’s one of the Vatican’s official languages.

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Just look at a Catholic monument if you want to see Latin being used today. (Source: Lucky Jim)

In fact, Latin and Italian just took different routes.

Thus, the original Latin was Old Latin. It was commonly used by the Romans and split into Vulgar Latin (with inevitably became the Romance languages) and Classical Latin.

With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Vulgar Latin overtook Classical Latin.

It became Medieval Latin in the 9th century. By the 15th century, it had turned into Renaissance Latin.

By this time, Latin was decreasingly spoken by the people. With the advent of the printing press and the publication of the Bible in Latin, it became the language of Christianity.

The Latin in the 16th century was dubbed New Latin by scholars. This version of Latin was only used for education and science.

By the 20th century, Latin was hardly used by anyone. In fact, only the Vatican considers it an official language. The rest of the world can barely read or write in Latin.

On the other, you should remember that Latin (which came from the Italic languages) gave rise to all the Romance languages of which Italian is a member. Therefore, if you want to learn Italian, knowing about Latin can be very useful. It can help you understand the roots of Italian grammar, its alphabet, and structures.

Additionally, if you like classical literature or art history, Latin can help you learn more about Italian culture.

Now that you know the history of the lingua italiana, why not take an Italian course at university or a language school or find a private tutor?

Whether you’re in a private tutorial or a language class, you’ll have everything you need to learn Italian (or any other foreign language for that matter).

Don't forget that you can also supplement your language learning with free online Italian course. These can be a great way to go from beginner to expert in both written and spoken Italian.

You could also organise a trip to Italy (Pisa, Florence, Rome, or Venice, for example)! After all, there are plenty of Italians you could practise with there. As an added bonus, you’ll also get to visit a beautiful and fascinating country. Speaking is the best way to learn a language, after all.

You should also consider taking intensive private tutorials before you go. In addition to practising how to speak Italian, you’ll also have opportunities to practise your pronunciation.

Furthermore, unlike classes at school, a private tutor can take the time to focus on your weaknesses, help you with something you’re finding difficult, and just generally tailor their entire class to ensure you make as much progress as possible.

Most of our tutors will offer free tutoring for the first hour to see if you like them. Make the most of that!

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.