Updated: Feb 11
As an international student who left Italy to conclude my studies, I barely spoke English and now, four years after, here I am writing an article about these two languages’ differences.
English and Italian belong to different branches of the same Indo-European families and while English further descends from the German family, like German and Dutch, Italian has origins in Latin, like French and Spanish.
Having different origins, these two languages have more differences than similarities, and for this reason, it is tough for an Italian person to learn and become fluent in English.
The main difference is that in Italian, the order of words within a sentence is very flexible, while English has stricter rules. Depending on whether it is an affirmation, a question, or a negation, English requires a precise arrangement of subject, predicate, or verb and complement, while in Italian this can vary enormously, depending on which concept you want to emphasize. For an Italian person, the order of subject, predicate, or verb can change in the sentence. A native Italian will always try to translate from the Italian-language order of a certain sentence, and if it’s not the same order in English-language, a native English speaker will probably not understand.
Another important difference, maybe the most important to be aware of in the English sentence, the subject is always specified. This is because the conjugation of the verb alone, unlike Italian, does not allow you to accurately distinguish the different people. Italian has five inflected tenses: present, simple past, imperfect, future, and conditional. The other times are formed through the auxiliaries. Unlike English, Italian does not use the perfect timing to make a connection to the present.
The style of Italian and English writing is also very different. In Italy, we tend to paraphrase, lengthen, to use long and complex periods to demonstrate our ability to write, sometimes resulting in almost baroque. In English, however, the motto less is more becomes a way of life. English speakers tend to write less, to use simple words, to avoid too complicated periods, preferring substance to mere rhetorical artifice.
Formal or informal situation is a variable that could completely change the way a person speaks or write in Italian. This is crucial for the Italian culture because people can feel uncomfortable if a person speaks to another person in a way that they do not expect. Especially speaking or writing to a Boss at work, to older people, or to strangers the pronoun must be used in the third person. While in English people always address their speaker with the pronoun you regardless of formal or informal situations, and if a person is talking to a close friend or to a stranger.
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