Throughout it’s history, we’ve seen Italy’s territory expand several times. Especially during the time of the Romans when it accounted for almost all of Western Europe and parts of Africa. Nowadays, the world is completely open, we can get to the other side of the planet in a matter of hours, and language learning is really important.
Where does Italian stand in the modern age? Is it still in the same place? Has it moved elsewhere? We’re going to have to learn about Italy and the language if we want to work out whether or not we should learn Italian.
Countries where Italian is Spoken as an Official Language
There are currently 70 million speakers of the Italian language around the world. As of 2013, there were 60 million people in Italy.
Even if every single one of them spoke Italian, we’d still be missing 10 million Italian speakers. So where are the rest of them hiding? In addition to the neighbouring countries, large numbers of Italian speakers emigrated to places in Europe, South America, and the US.
Here are the countries where Italian is an official language:
Italy (of course) with around 60 million native speakers
Switzerland with 471,000 Italian speakers
San Marino (the 3rd smallest state in Europe) with 30,000 Italian speakers
The Vatican (the smallest European state) with 1,000 Italian speakers
Croatia where less than 5% of the population (around 200,000) speak a language other than Croatian.
Slovenia where around 10,000 (less than 0.5%) of the population are Italian Slovenes.
In Switzerland, Italian is an official language in two areas:
Grisons: 10% of the population (33,000 people)
Tessin: 83% of population (255,000 people)
Aside from Italy, there aren’t really any countries that speak Italian as their only an main official language. In Switzerland, for example, Italian is just one of several official languages and it's not even the most common one. They also speak German, French, and Romansh.
In the Vatican, Latin is the first official language. The same goes for Croatia and Slovenia. While Italian is one of the official languages, it plays second fiddle to the countries’ other official languages.
When Italy colonised Eritrea in 1890, Italian was also an official language there. However, nowadays the language has all but disappeared.
Malta also considered Italian an official language until the 1930s. The annexation of the country by the British Empire in 1816 eventually resulted in the change. Today, Italian has been replaced by English as an official language.
In any case, Italy wasn’t as much of a colonial country as say Britain, France, and Spain. Thus, Italy is generally spoken in Western Europe in the countries around Italy itself.
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Italian Communities around the World
While Italy’s empire didn’t reach as far as others (not counting the Roman Empire), there are a large number of Italian communities around the world. Let’s see where they are.
Italian in Europe
In 2007, statistics showed that more than half of Italian emigrants settled in Europe (57.3%). In 2014, 13% of Europe spoke Italian.
The countries with the largest Italian communities include:
Germany and Switzerland with around 500,000 people
France: 350,000 people
Belgium: 200,000 people
Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Austria: less than 100,000 people
Romania and Greece: around 290,000 people of Italian origin
The UK: around 100,000 people
This means there are around 1,000,000 Italians in the EU outside of Italy and there are also a number of European cities with large Italian communities.
Barcelona, which is just across the Mediterranean from Italy, is the most popular European city for Italian migrants. Between 2000 and 2009, the Italian population in Barcelona grew from 15,400 to 52,000.
Italian in North America
There’s a huge Italian community in the United States. In fact, Italian-Americans account for 5.6% of the US population (around 18 million people). They are spread across the US but are mainly found in:
Rhode Island (19.6%)
New York (19.4%)
New Jersey (16.8%)
And Massachusetts and Florida.
The Italian community in Canada includes around 1.3 million people.
Italian in South America
South America has welcomed a large number of Italian migrants to a number of different countries.
Brazil (25% of the population, around 30 million people, is of Italian origin)
Argentina (18 million people of Italian heritage)
Uruguay (1 million)
Both Costa Rica and Mexico are home to plenty of people of Italian origin, too.
Other Countries with Significant Italian Communities
There are other countries that welcomed Italians on a smaller scale to those we’ve already seen.
Italy also colonised certain parts of Africa. Outside of Eritrea, there’s also Italian speakers in:
Ethiopia (under 2,000 speakers today)
Libya (spoken as a second language by around 125,000 people in 2007)
Important Information about Italian
Before you jump into your first Italian lessons, here are some facts and figures worth knowing about Italian.
Italian’s no longer the most spoken language in Europe or the world though it has certainly had an impressive influence over a number of fields like science, music, and art.
Generally speaking, it’s only the Italians and a few of countries neighbouring Northern Italy that speak Italian. Between 12 and 14% of the people in these countries are thought to speak the language.
Throughout the rest of Europe, this figure is as low as 5%. Once you get to France, only 5% of the population can speak Italian while 39% can speak English.
In 2012, Italian was third in terms of languages spoken in Europe with 12.52% of the population speaking it. It’s behind German (15.71%) and English (12.91%). French is just behind it with 12.09% of Europe speaking it as their first language.
Italian is an interesting language when it comes to business. Italy is actually 4th in Europe and 8th in the world in terms of GDP. You'd think that this would encourage more people to speak the language, right?
It’s also a popular tourist destination and one of the most-visited countries in the world. Expo 2015 was also held in Milan. With beautiful cities and more UNESCO World Heritage Sites (including Venice, Pisa, and Florence) than any other country in Europe or the world, Italian culture has made its mark.
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The Art of Seduction? Speaking Italian
The musical cadence of Italian’s various dialects are why it’s often considered one of the world’s sexiest languages. That’s probably also why there are so many Italian love songs!
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The Romance languages like French and Spanish tend to be thought of as sexy. However, when asked, people tend to favour Italian.
Italian: A Language of Art and Culture
Are you interested in art? Learning Italian through private or group tutorials (in a language school, online, or with a tutor) can be really beneficial.
There are so many Italian artists. You are probably familiar with Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Donatello. In fact, all the turtles were named after famous Italian artists.
If you want to learn more about art, learning Italian will inevitably help you to learn more about their paintings and their lives. In Italy, language and culture are basically inseparable. You can't learn one without the other. Learn the Italian basics with our blog for beginners.
Why Choose to Speak Italian?
Speaking Italian can be really useful. Aside from all the business, the UK does with Italy, there are a lot of similarities between our two languages that will help.
With over half of English vocabulary originating from Latin or French, you’ll soon notice that Italian isn’t much a foreign language as you may have thought. This is generally thanks to the Norman invasion in 1066.
You can take Italian classes at universities, language schools, or with a private tutor (from right here on Superprof, for example). There are also websites with language courses so that you can learn Italian online. Why not check out our article on the best ones?
With a good teacher and regular practice, you’ll be able to boost your vocabulary, speak better, and improve your reading and writing. If you can afford it, you could have a trip to Italy. In addition to learning more about the country that excelled in terms of culture, literature, and science, you can also practise all your new Italian words and phrases for free!
One last thing: Very few students in the European Union decide to learn la lingua Italiana. That means if you decide to learn to speak Italian, you’ll be in demand. Especially when it comes to looking for language jobs. Your CV will also stand out because it's unlikely they'll have seen many candidates with Italian as a skill.
If you’d like to learn a language (Italian, for example), we recommend looking for tutors on Superprof. Most of them will offer free tutoring for the first hour to see if you like them.
Don’t forget that you can also study Italian on-line or through watching films and TV shows, and listening to the radio and podcasts in Italian.
Are you ready to learn a new language? Do you need help remembering phrases and grammar? Why not take a language course or get language lessons with a tutor on Superprof.co.uk?
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