Should I Learn German Or Italian? (Why Not Both Languages!)

avatarMille Larsen
12 mins read

German and Italian are some of the most common languages that people want and try to learn, and if you're a native English speaker, you’ll find that they’re actually languages that are somewhat similar to English which would make learning them easier! While Italian is a Romance language that originates from Latin, German is (as the name suggests) a Germanic language, which means that it's a kind of "cousin" of English.

But you came here with a specific question: Which one should I learn?

German and Italian are two very different languages. They offer very different opportunities in terms of tourism, traveling, cuisine, socializing, and working abroad. Even the "feel" of the languages is different, and the sound of Italian and German are virtually worlds apart. Which language you should learn, depends entirely on what you want to do with it. If you're not sure, pick the one you like the most!

Now, that might not be very helpful! You probably want something a bit more tangible to base your choice on, so without much further ado, let's have a closer look at the pros and cons of German and Italian.

Which Of The Two Languages Will Be Easier For You To Learn?

German and Italian both have the advantage of being relatively easy for an English speaker to learn. I'm saying "relatively" because you won't learn either language in just a few months. It takes a long time. But compared to other languages such as Chinese and Japanese, Italian and German are quite easy!

Vocabulary-wise, German has more in common with English than Italian. As you start studying various German texts, you'll notice that many words look like English, simply with different spellings. This is because German and English both belong to the Germanic branch of languages. They have the same ancestor, which also means that words are related, and this will help when learning new vocabulary.

Italian words probably won't appear like complete gibberish to you either, though. The reason is that a lot of the words we know and use in our daily lives in English are actually of Latin origin. A surprising amount of English vocab is loan-words that the language borrowed from French and a few even go as far back as the "Vulgar Latin" spoken in Roman times. Italian (like French) is a direct descendant of Latin, so there is a connection.

You'll find, however, that many of the "simpler" German words will remind you of English, whereas Italian mostly corresponds to more scientific or "intellectual" English words. This means that you might have an advantage in learning German vocabulary as a beginner, whereas the benefit in Italian only sets into gear in the intermediate stages because it relates to more complicated words!

Grammar-wise, the two languages are quite different. Much of the German grammar is more or less close to English, but there are several things that make it more complicated as well. These are things such as the German case-system, the three grammatical genders, and the sharp distinction between addressing someone formally and informally.

Italian, on the other hand, has a more elaborated system for verb-conjugation, something which is typical for Latin-based languages, but the grammar is actually more straightforward in many ways.

Even when it comes to pronunciation, you'll find that Italian is a great deal simpler than German. The only letter you'll need to focus on in Italian is the "r" which is thrilled, whereas German has several sounds that need work to get right.

In short:

Despite German being closely related to English, Italian actually is a great deal less complicated to learn for an English speaker. So if your main concern is the difficulty, go with Italian!

You also might want to go try and play with my "language learning calculator" which can help you figure out how long it takes to learn any language. You'll find that German actually takes a bit longer than Italian for an English speaker!

Are You More Interested In German Or Italian?

Here's a no-brainer:

Pick the language you're most interested in!

Both languages are very rich in culture and history, have a unique sound to them, and open up a world of different opportunities despite being quite different, so I get why you’re torn between them.

Many people, when asked to classify the two languages into categories would immediately say that German is a logical, measured, and monotone language_._ Some will even call German "ugly" or "angry-sounding". Italian on the other hand is considered romantic, melodic, poetic, filled with passion, and beautiful. Why might this be?

There's no doubt that the two languages have a very different "feel" to them, but some of the above might also be due to stereotypes and preconceived ideas about the two languages. While it's natural to believe in these kinds of stereotypes, as soon as you start learning a foreign language, you might be surprised.

Did you know, for instance, that German has a hugely rich tradition of romantic poetry and literature? Some art-forms that are especially sentimental, poetic, and melancholic come from German-speaking countries and are expressed best in the German language with its fine affinity to covey the idea of "Weltschmerz".

The idea of German being "angry" probably comes from historical footage of dictators and military personal shouting out orders, but how do you think a Bavarian grandmother speaks to her "Enkelkinder"?

The Italian language (and Italian people) is filled with passion. This doesn't always amount to poetry and beauty, however. Try cutting someone off in the traffic in Naples, and you'll get an idea of what I mean.

How the languages are seen themselves, is also often a reflection of the things that become available once you speak the language.

Italy was the center of the Roman Empire two millennia ago and to this date, the streets of Italy are crammed full of history. From amphitheaters and impressive forums and city squares and temples to small, rustic villages with narrow streets and a great atmosphere. In addition to that, the varied landscape, beaches, coastlines, and mountains are jam-packed with breathtaking sights for any traveler. And let's not speak of cuisine for Italy's gastronomic tradition speaks for Itself!

Germany and the other German-speaking countries actually have many similar touristic sights to offer. Granted, Roman history doesn't dominate the German city-scapes, and it's mostly visible in some southern and western areas, but Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the other German-speaking countries do have a great amount of Gothic architecture, medieval towns as well as their fair share of mountainous regions, which in some cases easily rival the Italian landscapes in beauty.

Great literature, both modern and historical, has been written in both Italian and German and both cultures produce films, TV, and music in a larger amount that you'd be able to keep up with and in multiple styles and genres.

So when picking which language to study, you also have to think about which country, and culture you want to spend time with!

Professional Opportunities, Business And Jobs For Italian And German Speakers

If part of your goal with learning languages is to use them professionally, both Italian and German have a lot of opportunities. In fact, both Germany and Italy are important trade partners with the US. In 2018, Germany and the USA traded for 252 billion]( and in 2019, Italy and the US exchanged goods for [103 billion. While Germany is the biggest economy in Europe, the Italian numbers are nothing to scoff at!

The US-Italy and the US-Germany trade relationships both indicate that there is an enormous amount of potential for professional endeavors with any of the two countries.

But how does language actually come into play in this context?

Obviously, doing business with someone or collaborating in a professional setting, means that you have to communicate, and to communicate well, you need to have a language in common. It would make sense to say that the one who masters the language of the other party has the upper hand in terms of accommodating and making oneself available. Then, on the other hand, it might be easier to negotiate in your native language.

When it comes to proficiency in English as a foreign language, Germany was ranked as number 10 internationally in 2019. That's pretty good, but it doesn't mean that all Germans are fluent in English. In fact, I've found that Germans almost always prefer to do business in German and that, outside of big corporations, most aren't that comfortable in English. So knowing German would be a great advantage.

Italians, on the other hand, are ranked 36 on the list. This means that if you want to work in a professional setting with Italian-based companies, you probably need to learn Italian.

So should you learn German or Italian for business? Well, I tend to say that it doesn't matter. Both languages represent huge populations and impressive economies with a lot of potential. If I had to pick, I'd say that the German economy is not only stronger, it's also more stable. So go for German!

Which Do You Want To Marry?

Learning a foreign language is a serious commitment. You'll be studying, reading, listening, watching and dreaming about the language for years before reaching fluency. It's almost like a relationship.

Once you reach fluency and you stop "studying" the language, you start using it, probably every day. It might become part of your routine, you might make connections with the country where it's spoken, you'll make friends and acquaintances who don't speak English and with whom either German or Italian is the only medium for communication.

So before you start on German or Italian, think of this:

Do I want to spend the rest of my life with one of these languages?

Learning a language is a lot like finding a life partner and getting married. It's years of work, there are ups and downs and if you change your mind after a couple of years, everything you'll have put in will be, sort of, for nothing.

So maybe you've got plenty of good reasons for learning German, but you can't stand how formal the language is. Will you be able to put up with this for all the good parts? And are you even allowed to learn Italian if you don't like pasta? Is it even possible?

To get something out of the language you're learning you have to like it. And you have to like the culture, the people and as many things as possible related to that language.

But you also need to make the language part of your life.

Some people actually do end up married to a language (or someone who speaks the language). Imagine having Italian-speaking in-laws, living in Italy, and doing your taxes in Italian. There's no specific reason that this shouldn't be appealing to you, but if you don't want Italian to become part of your life like this, maybe you should think twice about learning it.

So figure out if you'd rather commit to Italian or to German. Or maybe language-celibacy is actually the way to go for you!

Which Language Would Make Sense For You To Learn Here And Now?

One thing is thinking about a potential new life in the future, another is considering your situation right now.

Where do you live, who do you spend time with, what languages are spoken in your community and how would it impact you to know Italian or German if nothing else in your life changed?

Not everyone will pack their backs and go start a new life in Europe once they've got a signed certificate from a language exam in their hands. Most people actually learn languages to stay right where they are.

So have a look at your own situation. If you spoke Italian or German, would you actually have anyone to speak to in your local community? Are there shops and businesses run by German or Italian speakers? Would knowing either language open up any professional opportunities where you are, or would you be able to work remotely?

What other kinds of things would you be able to enjoy in the language if you hadn't got the opportunity to travel every other month? Can you pick up Italian television-channels? Do you have a German neighbor? An Italian grandmother?

Finally, there's the availability of study materials. Italian and German are both popular languages to learn among English speakers, but maybe there's a particular reason why one would become more relevant than the other. Is it easier to find classes, tutors, books, movies, and learning-opportunities for Italian or German where you live?

Conclusion: Should You Learn Italian Or German?

Okay, let's be honest: The question isn't really posed in a way that makes it possible to answer it precisely. Whether you should pick Italian or German depends on you, you and you, plus a few minor considerations that you could or could not take into account.

I've tried outlining some of the major reasons why you might learn one or the other, but in reality it's highly subjective.

But to round everything off, let me try and answer the question as bluntly as it was asked:

Pick a language like you would pick a car:

German cars are reliable, well-built, secure and generally, a sensible investment.

Italian cars are fun!