Do Italians speak English, or will your English get you by?

Ellie Whyte

Updated on Dec 11 • 5 minute read

When moving to Italy, one of the biggest questions asked is whether Italian people speak English and whether you should learn Italian. The simple answer to whether you should learn Italian is: Yes! Learning Italian is useful at best or a necessity in some cases.

Italy ranks 32 out of 35 countries in Europe, with just a moderate level of English proficiency. Certain parts of Italy are better suited to English speakers than others, but having a few Italian words up your sleeve will always go a long way!

What languages are spoken in Italy?

Nearly 97% of the Italian population speaks Italian or one of the several dialects. Although English follows Italian as the second most spoken language, only 13% of Italians speak English. English is a mandatory school subject in Italy, however it's not taught very well. As a result, many Italians don't speak English proficiently. Italians are also proud of their language, seeing no need to learn another language.

You might hear French and Spanish on the streets of Italy. But only 8% of Italians speak French and less than 7% speak Spanish.

Italian has a lot of dialects, which can be divided into 3 main groups depending on their region: Northern dialects (dialetti settentrionali o alto-italiani); Tuscan and Central dialects (dialetti toscani e mediani); Southern and Extreme Southern dialects (dialetti meridionali e meridionali estremi).

Is it easy to live in Italy without speaking Italian?

Since English is not spoken fluently in most of Italy, not knowing any Italian can prove tricky in certain situations, such as dealing with Italian bureaucracy.

But for the most part, you can live comfortably in Italy without knowing Italian, as long as you live in the large, touristy cities. In fact, some of the best cities for English speakers to settle in are Rome, Bologna and Milan. These cities have lots of English speakers and English job opportunities. You’ll even find English sign boards when using public transport and be able to order in English at restaurants.

But there're occasions when knowing some Italian is going to save you stress, time, and money.

Reasons why learning Italian is worthwhile

While it’s possible to move to Italy without learning Italian, there's many advantages to speaking Italian.

1. Make your admin work easy

Getting your Codice Fiscale (tax ID), health insurance, opening a bank account, and paying utility bills are administrative processes you’ll face when moving to Italy. These processes involve a lot of paperwork and documentation in Italian. By understanding basic Italian phrases, you can avoid the cost of hiring a translator, saving both money and time.

2. Get more job opportunities

Of course, you can get a job in Italy without learning Italian. But your options are limited, compared to Italian Speakers. Only around 13% of the Italian workforce speak English in their day-to-day work. Learning Italian can you give an edge and open up more job opportunities. As an added bonus, you’ll integrate easily with your Italian colleagues.

3. Daily life in Italy

Having some Italian knowledge makes navigating markets, train stations, and grocery stores much easier. There will often be instances where the worker you are speaking to will not speak English. By learning Italian, you can overcome the frustration of the language barrier. Italians would prefer you to speak broken Italian than speaking broken English themselves.

4. You can travel to remote places without worrying about the language barrier

The more remote and rural areas of Italy have some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes. But the people here have very little English proficiency. Learning Italian is vital when visiting these places to avoid misunderstanding the locals or missing out on information. So be sure to learn some key phrases before embarking on your trip.

5. Movies are often dubbed and not subtitled

Love movies? Unfortunately, English-speaking movies and TV shows are often dubbed in Italian. It's also unusual to see English captions in cinemas. Although expat-friendly cities have an English version of films, the show times are limited. If you want to enjoy the show, you’ll have to learn the language!

You have no choice but to learn Italian if…

For some people, it will be necessary to learn Italian.

  1. You want to live in a particular region where English is not well spoken

Whether you stay for 2 weeks or 2 years, learning Italian is necessary if the region you're moving to has few English speakers. People from southern Italy tend to have a lower level of English comprehension than those from northern cities like Bologna or Milan. If you plan to live here, you will need Italian to get by.

  1. You want to be a permanent resident or citizen of Italy

If you're aiming to get permanent residency in Italy, you will need to complete a test (Test di conoscenza della lingua italiana) to show you have an A2 level of Italian. Similarly, for Italian citizenship, you’ll need to complete a test to show you have a B1 level of Italian.

These tests are given by the authorities listed below; their cost and frequency depend on which you choose.

  • CILS (Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera, Italian Certificate as a Foreign Language)
  • CELI (Certificati di Lingua Italiana, Italian Language Certificates)
  • PLIDA (Progetto lingua italiana Dante Alighieri, Dante Alighieri Italian Language Project)

5 tips to learn Italian easily

Even if you don’t want to master the language, it’s useful to learn basic Italian to make your day-to-day life easy. Here’re some of the best ways to learn Italian:

  • Tip #1: If you’re a student, check out what your university offers. Many provide free or subsidised Italian courses for international students.
  • Tip #2: Download the free “ItaliAmo” app, which makes it easy to learn the Italian language and culture. It was developed by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
  • Tip #3: Check out other language learning apps such as Duolingo and Babbel. These are very popular options for internationals hoping to learn basic Italian phrases.
  • Tip #4: Listen to ‘learn Italian’ podcasts. Look up some Italian YouTubers. Switch your Netflix subtitles to Italian! These small steps will help you learn Italian faster than you realise.
  • Tip #5: Hang out with native Italian speakers! The most effective way to learn Italian is to immerse yourself in it. Bring new Italian friends to their favorite local restaurant in exchange for some guidance - they’ll be more than happy to help you learn.

Learn key Italian phrases

Thank YouGrazie (grat-tzee-yay)
PleasePer favore (pair-fa-vohr-yay)
YesSi (see)
Do you speak English?Parla Inglese? (par-la-een-glay-zay)
I don’t understandNon capisco (non ka-peesk-kah)
I’m sorryMi dispiace (mee dees-pee-yat-chay)
Good dayBuon giorno (bwonn jour-noh)
Good eveningBuona sera (bwoh-nah sair-rah)
Good nightBuona notte (bwoh-nah note-tay)
GoodbyeArrivederci (ah-ree-vah-dair-chee)
Excuse me (to get attention)Scusi (skoo-zee)
Excuse me (to get past someone)Permesso (pair-meh-so)

So, should you learn Italian?

It’s absolutely possible to live and survive in Italy without speaking Italian. Particularly if you’re moving to Italy for a short while and plan to live in expat-friendly cities, such as Rome and Milan. But if you plan to stay in Italy long-term, it’s useful to learn Italian to avoid frustrations and feel at home sooner. If you plan to stay permanently — learning Italian is a requirement.

Are you still looking to rent a house in Italy, but afraid of not understanding the landlord or the advertisement? HousingAnywhere provides thousands of international listings in English, so you can see exactly what’s in store for you before you make this big decision.

Please reach out to if you have any suggestions or inquiries about the content on this page.

Related Articles

Find your home in Italy

Discover all accommodation in Italy at your fingertips. Search smart and book fast!

Search Now