French and Italian are two very similar languages

Key tips to boost your confidence in the language learning process (for French speakers learning Italian).

French and Italian are very similar as they belong to the group of romance languages. Yet they still have some differences. That makes it interesting for learners to explore. Hence the question: is it so easy for French learners to acquire linguistic Italian skills.

I have a real passion for languages myself and I remember watching France 2 as a child (I come from an area of Italy which is close to France and has been historically influenced as a part of the French area). I did it purely out of my own interest as I did not formally start to learn French until secondary school. I continued the journey to University and qualified with a Master’s Degree in French Translation in Turin.
I remember times where I thought it was quite interesting to face some challenges (which I always approached with some sense of humour with my university mates and teachers). I spent one year at University in Brussels, taking a chance of the fantastic Erasmus project (a year abroad to study in a European city).
Both French and Italian are very melodic and rich in terms of semantic fields and expressions.
In this article I am going to support learners to identify their common transfers from L1 and some tips for an enjoyable and smooth learning experience with Italian. I am extrapolating this from both a paper with case studies and my experience.

The following can be used as general guidelines.

French students of Italian are usually very motivated when learning Italian, due to the high affinity and language closeness. There is no Krasner’s filter, so no particular resistance when learning the language.

What are the common slips French speakers make? (which I remember doing the other way round).

  • They naturally are inclined to use “vous” rather than “Lei” to address formally.
  • Feminine words used in the masculine sense (e.g. “la fiore” instead of “il fiore”).
  • Some prepositions combines with articles (de la, a la, in la ….).
  • Use of “a” instead of “da” (e.g. “camera a letto” “camera da letto”).
  • Mixing up of “di” and “da” (in French they are both translated in the same way).
  • Omitting the preposition “a” (“vado camminare”).
  • Tendency to use “beacoup de” followed by a plural wheras in Italian it is followed by a singular part (e.g. “beaucoup de gens” “molta gente”).
  • Calque of the Gallicism (as for example, “je vais aller” “vado andare” instead of “andrò).
  • Omitting the article before the possessive adjective (e.g. “non so dove sono mie chiavi”)
  • Calque of the Gallicism “je viens de” (e.g. “vengo di/da vedere mia sorella”)
  • Wrong use of the suffix “mento” (e.g “governamento”)
  • Wrong use of the tense ending for the imperfect “(e.g. “amevo”)
  • Wrong use of the auxiliary for “piacere” and non-agreement. (e.g. “la mostra mi ha piaciuto” and not “La mostra mi è piaciuta”)
  • Use of present instead of the subjunctive after verbs of opinion (“credo che è”, correct form is “credo che sia”).
  • Phonetics and spelling of some words where double consonants are used in Italian (e.g. “imagine” “communicazione”).
  • Non agreement of the impersonal use of “si” equivalent to “on” (“si dice molte cose”).
  • Wrong order of the adverb in a sentence (e.g. “ho troppo fatto”).
  • Use of the relative pronoun “chi” instead of “che” (transfer from the French “qui”).

Some common cognates (words which are similar in the two languages but with a different meaning in L2).

  • Fermo la porta (Je ferme la porte)
  • Mi piace la tua roba (instead of “il tuo vestito”)
  • Vado al magazzino
  • Avanti di andare (instead of “prima di andare”)
  • Come fa freddo metto la giacca (French “comme” = Italian “siccome”)


Some strategies that worked for me:

  • Try and imitate native speakers by watching TV, listening to the radio.
  • Explore the language with curiosity. Apply the beginner’s state of mind where you explore with openness. Follow the path and take a chance to learn. Keep persevering and have fun.
  • Contextualise the chunk of language in something that could be meaningful.
  • Practice with peers and get guidance from the trainer.
  • Consider spending some time in the country. I spent one year in Brussels and travelled to France a few times. Such a great chance to embrace the culture and boost your motivation!

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”
– Frank Smith

Happy learning!

Paola a été un excellent professeur d’Italien Elle a su enseigner grâce au Neurolanguage Coaching de manière très efficace – alors que j’étais débutante Je la recommande fortement dans vos apprentissages de langues (elle en parle un grand nombre!)

-Mathilde Plegat
Directrice Opérationnelle F&B et Hotels Groupe chez Experimental Group
November 12, 2020, Mathilde was a client of Paola’s

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