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Common Problems for Italian Learners of English

Common Problems for Italian Learners of English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In my past, I have lived in many different countries and language environments. I have come to learn that the best way to gain an understanding of a new language is to be absorbed in it. In countries where English is widely spoken as a foreign language (Scandinavian countries for example), learning the language of the country can be much more difficult. It is uncomfortable not being able to express oneself, so English offers a cane of comfort, but also a disservice. Unless one goes through this part of the learning process where speaking is hard for you and maybe even for your listener, fluency can never be achieved.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Eija R. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Personal Experience

Two years ago unexpectedly life brought me to live in Italy. Before moving here I did not speak Italian. To my great benefit generally Italians do not speak a lot of English, so I have had no choice but to make a fool out of myself trying to make sentences out of the simplest words to communicate with the lady in the pharmacy or the guy behind the counter at the cheese shop. And in a relatively short time, I have learned the very basics of Italian without taking a language course. (I am still planning to take one and would strongly recommending anybody else to do the same.)

I chose this subject with the aspiration of it preparing me for teaching English, particularly for Italians. In this essay, I am listing some of the most common problems that Italian English speakers might battle with. I am not suggesting that every Italian person speaking English has these problems, but these are some that I have found common in my research. In the end, I have listed the reference websites.

woman in italian city

Also Read: How do I apply for a student visa to legally teach English in Italy?

Structure of the Italian Language

Italian is a phonetic language so there are some relatively common problems with pronunciation. For example the over-pronunciation of 'ed' in regular past simple verbs like 'walked', 'looked', 'liked', and so forth. Another common pronunciation challenge is the aspiration of 'h' in words like 'hotel', 'hill' or 'happy', or detecting the difference in words like 'air'/ 'hair'; 'ear'/ 'hear'; 'angry'/ 'hungry'. Sometimes the problem can be adding an aspirated 'h' in words beginning with a vowel, in which case 'application' might turn out to 'application'. Hearing the difference between short and long vowels is another quite typical problem with pronunciation issues. Sometimes the mispronunciation of vowels might change the whole meaning of the sentence, for example when 'heat' becomes sounding more like 'hit' or 'sheet' sounding like 'shit'. Also, the smooth English 'r' can be difficult sound to create compared to the Italian rolled 'r'.


The use of the word 'will' can be troublesome for an Italian. The usual error is in sentences like 'I will call you when I will arrive home'. The opposite problem with the use of 'will' is leaving it out altogether, for example in a sentence like 'tomorrow I pick up the car'.

Also Read: How do I find a job teaching English in Italy?

Latin Influence

Both English and Italian have a lot of words from Latin, but the meaning is not always the same. For example 'fame' in Italian means 'hungry' and 'Libreria' does not mean 'library' but 'bookstore'. In spoken Italian 'Niente' and 'infatti' are commonly used words. You might hear an English speaking Italian using 'nothing' and 'in fact' a lot in conversation, but a more precise translation of these words would be 'anyway' and 'actually'. Another rather unusual comment one might hear an Italian saying is 'you have reason', which is a direct translation from Italian 'hai ragione'. A more accurate translation would be 'that makes sense' or 'you are right'.

I think every country and language group have their most common problems in learning English. Also, I think hearing accents from all different countries of the world is such richness. A long time ago a Norwegian friend of mine said to me (with heavy Norwegian accent) “ Why should I try to speak English without an accent? I’m Norwegian and you can hear it also when I speak English!”

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In conclusion, I can say that immersing myself in the Italians problems with English has taught me a little bit more Italian. Also, to better understand some of my husbands, rather strange word choices in English.

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