Around 65 million people speak Italian as a first language. This number goes up to around 85 million when second-language speakers are considered. It is the fourth most common language taught around the world and one of the most common language in the European Union.
Around 200,000 people learn Italian on a yearly basis. Many of these will not achieve fluency but get proficient enough to use the language when travelling in Italy. Some people in former Italian colonies still understand the language, however, the number of people speaking Italian in those former colonies is shrinking.
It is the main official native language in the majority of Italy, apart from a small part in the north where German is also accepted as official language. Furthermore, Italian is an official language in Vatican City, Switzerland, San Marino and parts of Slovenia and Croatia.
At one point in time it did also have official status in Monaco, Malta, and Albania. Now it is just one of the most common spoken languages there. Some parts of Europe give it official minority status, including Romania and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Like French, Spanish, and many other European languages, Italian has its roots in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the Indo-European Romance languages, with derivations mostly from Latin.
Standard Italian is usually taught in schools, but there are regional variations that are known as Regional Italian. These are technically dialects, but they are understandable across the country.
There are some variations considered as dialects, but they are more like languages of their own. They use different parts of the Romance language family to create their own versions. The only three officially recognized dialects are Friulian, Ladin, and Sardinian.
Tuscan is a version that has evolved from Standard Italian. This has helped to derive the Corsican version, which is mostly spoken on Corsica in France.
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) helps to determine how difficult it would be for individuals to learn a foreign language. The difficulty level is determined from the standpoint of an average English speaker. Those who have a natural ability to pick up foreign languages or have picked up other languages will find learning Italian easier. This is especially the case if you’ve already picked up another Romance language, such as Spanish or Portuguese.
The FSI puts Italian in Category I, which means it is very “similar” to the English language. Languages in this category take between 575-600 hours of class time on average, which is around 23-24 weeks of study.