Well, the implied meaning is different: "A few" is rather positive (half full glass): "A few people speak my language, so I can communicate". "Few" is rather negative (half empty glass): "Few people speak my language, so I find it hard to communicate". The "positive" variant in Italian would be expressed by "Un po' di gente".
Another great contribution and explanation Ferdinando. Where would duolingo be without you? You should start a fan-club and sell T-shirts "I'm an f.formica fan" :)
A few people = some people but not many.
Few people = Not many people at all.
Because la gente is singular; if you were to use 'le persone' you would use parlano. "Poche persone parlano la mia lingua"