Background and status
Italian is a Romance language spoken in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, the Vatican City, Malta, Eritrea, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK. It is estimated that there are about 64 million native Italian speakers, while the total number of Italian speakers, including those who use it as a second language averages at about 85 million.
The vast majority of native Italian speakers live in peninsular Italy (including the Republic of San Marino). France, including Corsica, has about 260,000 Italian speakers and Switzerland more than 500,000 (the canton of Ticino). For a large, if decreasing, proportion of these speakers, standard Italian is not the language of the home, where dialectal forms are used.
The Tuscan dialect is known as Italiano and is the chosen official language of Italy. It is the main language of literature and the media. Each region of Italy also has its own dialect, some of which are so distinct from standard Italian that they are mutually unintelligible. The Sicilian dialect for example, is sometimes regarded as a separate language and has a literary tradition older than Italian itself.
Overseas (in the United States where it is estimated that there are some 1.5 million Italian speakers; in Brazil with about 700,000 and in Argentina with about 600,000) speakers sometimes do not know the standard language and use only dialectic forms.
Growth and usage
The establishment of a national education system has led to decrease in variation in the languages and dialects spoken across the country during the 20th century. Standardisation was further expanded in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to economic growth and the rise of mass media and television (the state broadcaster RAI helped set a standard Italian).
Italian is widely taught in many schools around the world, but rarely as the first foreign language. In fact, Italian is considered the fourth most frequently taught foreign language in the world and making use of Language Inc. to translate your material into Italian makes perfect business sense.