Official Italian speaking countries cartoon

Italian-Speaking Countries

Once you start learning Italian, you also get interested in Italian culture and history. And here you are, researching about Italian-speaking countries.

According to recent statistics, Italian is the 22nd most-spoken language in the world. Is the Italian population that big? No, it’s because people speak Italian in other places besides Italy.

There are Italian-speaking countries all over the world. And no, I’m not talking about Italian restaurants! I’m referring to countries like Switzerland, where Italian is one of their official languages. And don’t forget San Marino and Vatican City. In these, Italian is also the official language!

Italy San Marino Vatican City and Switzerland cartoon

Italian Around The World

There are more countries where the Italian language does not have official status. But that doesn’t stop it from being spoken. Here is a list of countries where Italian is widely spoken but doesn’t enjoy official status: Albania, Croatia, Argentina, Somalia, Libya, Australia, Venezuela, and Slovenia.

The Origins And Evolution Of Italian

Italian is an Indo-European language. That means that English and Italian are related. But what makes Italian stand out is that it falls under the branch of the Romance languages. No, I’m not talking about romance like flowers and chocolates. I’m talking about the fact that it’s descended from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire.

Italian is the closest language to Latin (which is impressive given how long ago the Roman Empire was around). Italian developed from a mix of Latin and the vulgar Tuscan dialect.

At the end of the Middle Ages, the Tuscan dialect began to be taken seriously as a literary language. A trio of literary giants (Dante Alighieri, Pietro Bembo, and Alessandro Manzoni) elevated the language. These guys helped take the spoken dialect and turn it into the official language of Italy.

Italian may have had a difficult beginning. But it’s now one of the most beautiful and romantic languages worldwide.

Italian Today In Stats

In Italy, about 59 million people speak Italian as their mother tongue. That’s a lot of people saying “ciao” and “grazie” daily.

Also, there are about 4 million students and immigrants. They are either studying or working in Italy and learning the language.

Now count all the people worldwide who have Italian origins and speak the language. Italian has an estimated 85 million speakers.

But why is Italian among the most studied languages?

Do you know what beats learning Italian in difficulty? To try to understand your Italian grandmother when she’s angry!

But seriously, Italian isn’t an easy language to pick up. And let’s be honest, it’s not exactly the go-to language for business either.

But why do so many people still want to learn Italian? Well, it’s all about two things: migration and culture.

Italians were slow to settle in new continents. But once they did start emigrating, they brought culture and heritage.

And that’s why so many people of Italian descent want to learn the language. They want to reconnect with their roots and understand where they come from. Plus, it’s a great way to impress Nonna at the next family gathering.

Italian culture is also rich (food, music, art, fashion, etc.). There is something in it for everybody.

And before you know it, you’re knee-deep in Italian lessons. So, if you’re thinking about learning Italian, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not worth it. Embrace the culture, the heritage, and the passion that comes with it. And who knows, maybe you’ll even understand what Nonna is yelling about.

Italian Speaking Countries Outside Italy

Twenty-six countries around the world speak Italian. Corsica, Monaco, and Albania all consider Italian their second or third foreign language. They are happy about it! But in Malta, you’ll find that people are not so thrilled about the Italian language. Italian had a rocky relationship there. You may be surprised Malta almost wiped the Italian language from its linguistic repertoire. It all had to do with politics.

Italian got late to the colonization race. However, they still conquered some territories. In 1882, Italy took over Eritrea as one of its colonies. They also had colonies in Ethiopia, Libya, and Italian Somalia. Italy left its mark on those places, with several Italian schools in Asmara and Eritrea. There was also a large Italian population in Libya at one point.

Currently, Italian is present in the North African region. The small community of colonizer’s descendants still live there. And commercial exchange with Italy has also contributed to the language carrying on.

Italian Beyond The Ocean

Italian culture has been part of American life for centuries, thanks to the many Italians who emigrated to the New World. Italian emigration happened in two main periods.

The first period was between the Unification of Italy in 1861 and the rise of fascism.

And the second migration between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s.

Almost 19 million Italians left their country during these two periods and never returned.

There are 15 million people in the U.S. who identify themselves as Italian-Americans. But only about 1 million report that they speak Italian at home! That means that a high percentage of Italian descendants do not speak Italian.

The decline in the use of Italian at home signifies a decrease in the language’s prevalence. But don’t worry. In recent decades, Italian has been the 5th to 7th most studied language in the United States.

Italian enjoys even more popularity in Central and South America. Argentina has a population of about 1.1 million Italian speakers. What should you say when you visit Argentina, “ciao” or “hola”?

Venezuela is where we find the second largest population of Italian speakers. There are about 200,000, and there used to be much more. But the number has come down in the past few years due to the country going through political turmoil and civil unrest. Brazil follows suit with a count of 40,000 speakers.

Estimating how many Italian speakers are in Central and South America can be tricky. Small groups and communities scattered throughout the continent speak Italian. You can spot them from Panama to Chile. Even among the general population, it’s common to hear Italian words mixed with Spanish.

Italian Speaking Countries On The Other Side Of The World 

Did you know that the first Italian to reach Australia was a sailor named Mario Sega? Yeah, he didn’t have a Sega console to keep him entertained back then, so he had to sail to Australia.

Fast forward to today: where do we find Italians in Australia? We have a significant concentration of Italians in Victoria and South Australia. We can affirm that over 300,000 Italians live down under. However, immigrant communities often blend various dialects and local languages. And it is no different in this case. They created their language: The Italo-Australian dialect.

Australian schools started introducing Italian to the curriculum in the 1970s. And needless to say, it’s been a hit! Italian is now the second most popular language to study in Australia. It’s second only to the Japanese language.

Wrapping Up!

Italian is an official language in Italy (obviously), Switzerland, San Marino, and Vatican City. It is also widely spoken in Albania, Croatia, Argentina, Somalia, Libya, Australia, Venezuela, and Slovenia but doesn’t enjoy official status.

There are many Italian students around the world. In the United States, it’s the 5th to 7th most-studied language.

In my case, I wanted to learn Italian to understand my great-grandmother. There are moments when she seems to be sharing words of wisdom, and I don’t want to miss out!

Italian is a beautiful language (even if you have no idea what they’re saying half the time). And learning Italian is the perfect excuse to eat a lot of pasta and pizza. And when somebody tells you something, you respond: it’s “cultural immersion.”

Another advantage Italian students have is hand gestures. It’s like Italians are conducting a symphony. I don’t even need to understand every word that is said. Give me those hand gestures, and I’m good to go.

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6 Comments

  1. Wow! I knew that Italian would surely be spoken in countries other than Italy, but I didn’t expect it to be so widespread!! I’ve been thinking about learning Italian myself at some point, but I’m going to focus on my other current language studies first. 

    Thank you for this informational post! I really learnt a lot and am feeling more motivated to begin my Italian studies.

  2. Wow I didn’t know that Italian is the 22nd spoken language in the world! This is truly impressive, especially when you consider that they don’t have organizations like the Commonwealth or Francophone rio promote the Italian language and culture. Though I was aware that Somali people talk Italian because of the colonization, I didn’t know that people spoke it in Albania as well! Thanks and continue to make us discover new facts everyday!

  3. Hi!

    I didn’t know that part of Italy spoke Italian as their first language. Thanks for sharing.

    This part of Switzerland was actually part of Italy in the past. I’ll be going to Switzerland soon. I’m moving there! So, I’ll make sure and go by Canton Ticino and experience it firsthand!

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