When it comes to business, you might be surprised to learn how big of a linguistic player Italian is.
For many, the language holds the prestigious accolade of being the most beautiful in the world. It’s not hard to see why: Italian rolls off the tongue with a certain elegance, bestowing upon the speaker a degree of sophistication and continental mystique.
But there’s a lot more to this celebrated tongue. It’s a rising star in global ecommerce, as well as a key to many technical and scientific industries. It’s got a fascinating linguistic past, sure, but also a bright future — speaking Italian allows you to unlock and tap into many new marketplaces.
The Italian language: A true Romance
Italian (italiano) is a language native to the boot-shaped country of Italy, with significant populations also residing in neighbouring countries as well as further afield. There are over 67 million native speakers of Italian, with an estimated 18 million additional ‘learned’ speakers.
Interestingly, Italian is an official language in Switzerland, specifically in the south-eastern Canton of Ticino. In certain areas of the southwestern province of Slovenia — the Slovene Istria — Italian is also a co-official language alongside Slovene. Similarly, in the Istra County of Croatia, Italian is a co-language alongside Croatian.
Italian has various dialects in the many regions it is spoken — indeed, Italy itself is home to 34 distinct dialects. Most of these are Romance-based, with some of the most common including Tuscan, Venetian, Neapolitan, Milanese, Sicilian and Romanesco. Deriving from the language of the Roman Empire, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary of all the Romance languages.
The impact of Italian can’t be overstated. Italian cuisine has conquered the world, as have its fashion and luxury goods brands, with the language a crucial tongue for business success in a number of sectors and industries, as well as many technical and scientific fields.
Italian e-commerce: a rising star
The Italian language is becoming increasingly useful for doing business over the internet. Trends show that Italians are moving rapidly to embrace online shopping.
Traditionally, Italian consumers don’t do as much e-commerce as others, preferring to shop in bricks-and-mortar stores. It’s fair to say that Italian speakers — particularly in the older demographic — have a suspicion of online shopping, with Italy’s logistical shortcomings also making e-commerce too expensive. Indeed, Italy does have one of the lowest levels of e-commerce penetration in Western Europe.
All of this is changing. According to a recent study, Italian e-commerce grew by 15% in 2019 alone, presenting retailers with a golden chance to enter the market. Then, as the coronavirus pandemic hit, online shopping grew at triple-digit rates.
“76% of Italian e-commerce users made an online purchase within the past year, as against the European average of 64%, highlighting a gradual shift in mindset.”
In 2020, many Italians begrudgingly made their first moves into e-commerce, creating new online shopping habits that look forecast to stay. In fact, the wheels are already in motion; this shift towards e-commerce has led to ‘structural changes to Italy’s logistics sector’ which will make e-commerce more affordable.
Italian e-commerce revenue is set to reach €22 billion in 2024, compared with €15 billion in 2019 — a 52% increase. This is set against a dwindling level of offline outlets, with numbers of retail stores in Italy declining by 11% in the last 10 years. From 2020 until 2024, the annual growth rate of Italian e-commerce is expected to be 7.7%, with user penetration rising by 12% over the same period.
According to one measure, only 0.8% of Internet content is in the Italian language, so it should perhaps come as no surprise to learn that Italian people traditionally have a suspicion of e-commerce — many of them can’t even understand the vast majority of content! This presents a gap in the market for brands and businesses who might like to enter the market.
A wide range of evidence shows us that Italian consumers are poised, ready and waiting to hear about new products and services: Italy has one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in Europe.
A global leader in cuisine, clothing, pharmaceutical — and even robots
Having suffered economic troubles in recent years, it may be tempting to think of Italy as being in its twilight years, on a steady decline. But the facts speak for themselves and paint a very different picture — make no mistake of the economic power of Italy, and therefore the Italian language.
Italy is ranked as the eighth-largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, as well as being the third-largest economy in the European Union. Right at the heart of the eurozone, a not-insignificant 4.1% of world trade is conducted in the language.
With a large and thriving services sector, Italy is also the world’s eighth-largest exporter. The country is renowned for its industrial leadership in pharmaceuticals, food, clothing, machinery, automotive vehicles and even robots. Key industries exist in chemicals, food processing, textiles and tourism. Italian is also one of the most frequently-requested languages in the financial sector.
Such is the importance of Italian, it is ranked by the British Council as the fourth most in-demand language for the UK’s top export markets, as well as the eighth-most needed language for economic purposes, growing in importance further as the UK adjusts to life outside of the European Union.
Demand for languages in UK’s top export markets
Source: Languages for the future, British Council.
Languages needed for economic purposes
Hindi or other Indian languages
Source: Languages for the future, British Council.
You can’t get away with English.
Another reason why Italian is such an important language for doing business: other languages will only get you so far, or nowhere at all. To make a good impression on Italians and Italian-speaking consumers, you need to localise your website, marketing collateral or other documentation.
“Retailers and brands entering the Italian market need to make sure they understand unique aspects of the Italian market - Italian shoppers expect websites in Italian.”
Firstly, that’s because not all Italians understand English. Surprisingly, in 2019 Italy was ranked as the worst country in the European Union in terms of English proficiency; the country is ranked below Latvia and Argentina.
But even amongst Italians who can read English, you’ll maximise your chances of business success by translating your content into Italian. Consumers are far more confident and likely to purchase products and services when they’re reading in their own language.
It’s pretty much a rule for overseas e-commerce, regardless of the marketplace you’re targeting — in a previous blog post, we highlighted that 40% of global consumers simply won’t buy anything in a foreign language.
If you’re looking to translate your materials into Italian, it’s also worth considering which part of the Italian-speaking world you’re targeting. The Italian spoken in the Canton of Ticino, in Switzerland, has subtle but important differences to that spoken around Italy. A native Swiss Italian speaker will spot poorly-localised content a mile away; authenticity and cultural sensitivity is key when entering these new marketplaces.
As a language service provider, that’s where we can help!
Speaking this beautiful, historic language could be key to the success of your next exporting or e-commerce campaign. At Alexika, we offer specialist translations between Italian and all of the major languages of the world.
If you’re interested in translating your content, get in touch with our in-house team to discuss your Italian needs and requirements. We know exactly what it takes to get your company’s message heard by Italian-speaking consumers.