In a word, yes! If you move to Italy, the best thing to do is to at least learn the basics, ideally, you’ll be fluent in a couple of years. For that to happen you need lots of opportunities to practice, you need to leave the house and give it a go. It’s not easy, locals normally speak good English, and as soon as they hear a hint of an accent, they start to answer in English, our lazy brain loves the sound of a familiar language, and we start responding in English too, and before you know it, bam, your good intentions have amounted to nothing.
I see so many expats, who never, ever learn the Italian language, they live here for 10, 20 years sometimes, and nothing will make them learn Italian, they stay in the margins of the community forever and miss out on so much. I remember when I first arrived in France and started learning French, the most magical thing for me was learning all about the French writers, and reading them in French. Some of my favourite writers are now French and the pleasure I get from speaking the language is second to none. When I arrived in Italy, learning the Italian language was an absolute priority, I realised that since I had French and Portuguese in my head, the journey to learn Italian relatively easy, of course it’s never easy to learn a brand new language, and I still make mistakes (which amuse my boyfriend a lot) but it’s the fun of learning. When we decide to learn something new, it puts us in an unusual position as a know-it-all adult, suddenly we’re admitting that, no, we don’t know something, it’s humbling. Going through the motions of being a pupil, making the effort and the new brain connections, it’s food for the soul!
So how do you do it? How can you learn Italian? First of all, download some apps, it will give you the basic notions and help you listen to the Italian language for the fist time in a learning environment. Then once you get here and can already say: please, thank you, good morning, etc, you can start some real lessons. At the bottom of the page, there is a link with all the details to an amazing teacher, who is the teacher of all expats here in Florence, but a great teacher is only the beginning, you need to do the work. Go out and practice, fall in love with an Italian (easily done), make sure when people start talking to you in English, you keep responding in Italian, they will get the message! Don’t ever think any interaction is too small to be practice, everything is good practice, your visit to the butcher’s, the supermarket, the shops, they’re all opportunities. I only got the opportunity to start learning French formally after being in France for a couple of years, I was busy giving birth, but when I went for my placement test, I was already conversational level, I used to tell everyone I learned French in the streets of Paris! I also made some French friends who refused to speak to me in English no matter what. At the time it was a pain, but in time I became very grateful to them.
But can you get by without speaking Italian? Yes, of course. Especially in touristy city like Florence. Most places you go to have at least one person who speaks English, a lot of Italians speak French, they also talk a lot with their hands, so they make themselves understood easily…but the joy of realising you speak a whole new language, because it happens all of a sudden one day, a after a long struggle, you look back at conversation and say ‘wait a second, that was all in Italian and I understood everything’ now that is a moment to behold.