In December 2003, Language Link made the decision to add Italian to the repertoire of languages it offered to the Russian public for study. Comparable to French for its overall aesthetic appreciation, Language Link was becoming increasingly aware of the role that Italian was now starting to play in Russia.
For years, Russians have been learning English for its value in all things international; German, because of Germany's proximity to Russia and the strong business ties which exist between these two countries and French for its cultural richness. Only in the latter part of the 1990s did Italian start to emerge as a new language of choice. Though Italian cannot be compared to English in its mass appeal, it does share a number of points in common with both German and French.
Economically, Italy is Russia's sixth largest import partner and second only behind Germany for exports. Considering Italy's place as the fourth largest European economy, behind England, Germany and France, this is not surprising.
Historically, having given birth to the Renaissance movement, Italy was home to such writers as Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. In an age of enlightenment, Italy became synonymous with all things fine and cultivated. Even at the start of the 21st century, the traditions of the Renaissance still live on in Italian art, fashion, cooking and architectural design.
Today, Italian is spoken by 63 million European people thus making it one of the continent's major European languages. Geographically, Italian is spoken not just in Italy, but also in Switzerland where it is the official language of the cantons of Ticino and Graubunden. Italian can also be found in Malta, Monaco, Slovenia and Croatia. That said, it is interesting to take a closer look at 'standard' Italian as it is spoken today.
Modern Italian originates from the Tuscan dialect. Thanks to its place in both the court and government, and the high profile of its most prominent writers, the Tuscan dialect grew to be the national tongue. In a fine display of the power of the pen over the sword, the Tuscan dialect established dominance not because Tuscany was a far greater military or financial power than other Italian regions, but because of 3 great writers who emerged during the Middle Ages: Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch, all of whom wrote in the Tuscan dialect. For this reason, Tuscans today can be heard to say that theirs is the 'purest' form of spoken Italian. That said, modern Italian, as it is spoken throughout Italy today, came into being following World War II. Prior to this, most Italians spoke using one of 15 regional dialects.
With the advent of both television and the economic rise of the north and in particular Milan, the Italian language underwent spontaneous and lasting growth. Today's Italian is a combination of Tuscan dialect, Northern originality and the addition of a southern element.
Interestingly, some modern English words have found their way into the colloquial Italian language, creating a new language known as "Italiese" which is a combination of standard Italian and English. For example, you'll hear Sono single ('I'm single'), pronounced the same as in English. Italiese is often found in sporting terms, e.g., lo sprint, il dribbling, or new trends - la babysitter, and even lo stress.
For Russians setting out on Language Link's Italian odyssey, initial mastery of the alphabet should present little difficulty as a Roman alphabet is used with the simple addition of acute and grave accents. Italian pronunciation for speakers of Slavic languages is also not problematic as the vowel, diphthong and consonant sounds are indeed quite similar. Finally, Italian offers one final attraction to Russian beginners in that it, like Russian, is a mostly phonetically written language. Hence, learners of Italian need not encounter the great spelling and writing difficulties, which they have become familiar with in English. All told, Italian is probably one of the world's easiest non-Slavic languages for Russian students to learn and, arguably, should be a lot easier to quickly gain fluency in than English. If true, then in a very short time, our Russian students of Italian will be reiterating Julius Ceasar's most famous of words:
'Veni, vidi, vici,'
(I came, I saw, I conquered)