This article is for everyone in love with the Italian language. Whether you are just thinking of learning italiano or are already proficient in it, it doesn't matter. Here you will find a selection of materials and tips on how to learn Italian. Brew a delicious coffee, pause The Young Pope, open your favorite notebook, and andiamo!
Dialects or individual languages? Italy historically developed as a country of city-states. As a result, each of them has a local dialect. A single language standard was introduced only in 1861, after the unification of the country. The dialects of lingua italiana are still so diverse that not all Italians understand each other (especially if one is from the South and the other from the North).
Venetian languageused in the North-East of the country (around Venice)
Sémo drio rivàr
Omnipresent articles. Not as bad as German, Italian still tries to knock you out of your shoes with its 8 articlesor 15, if you count their variants and short versions — take a gander.
Un (Unoif the word begins with z, or s + consonant)
Dei (Degliif the word begins with z, or s + consonant)
Il (loif the word begins with z, or s) / (l ' if the word begins with a vowel)
I (gliif the word begins with a vowel, z, or s + consonant)
Una (Un' if the word begins with a vowel)
La (l ' if the word begins with a vowel)
Language of art. Music students should be familiar with words like crescendo, staccato, or forte. Many terms of art and music originated in Italian culture during the Renaissance. By the way, modern italiano originated in the Tuscan dialect group. This is the high style that Petrarch and Dante used and popularized. So Italian is truly a literary language.
It is read like it is written. A big advantage of Italian is that it is “phonetic" — the pronunciation of words coincides with their spelling. This is no French with its four-letter-one-sound combinations. The pronunciation itself is not easy for everyone, but more on that later.
Vowel endings. Many words in Italian end with vowels. This gives it a special melody. Italians also love double consonants. There are words with three such pairs at once. For example: appallottolareto form into a ballordisseppellireto unearth.
The subject is often omitted in colloquial Italian. It is already clear who or what is performing the action from the agreement of the verb. Therefore, the subject is not pronounced.
Active suffixes. In this way, Italian is reminiscent of Russian. Both use suffixes to give the word different shades of meaning. For example, ragazzo — a guy; ragazzino, ragazzetto — a small guy;ragazzone — a big guy.
How to learn Italian on your own?
Learning Italian on your own is plausible. The only question is how much time, effort, and money you are willing to spend. Here are some general tips for learning lingua italiana:
Study your “own” resources. With studying languages, everything is individual. You can find dozens of tutorials that have worked for others but somehow don't for you. Look for something you find interesting personally. It's not just about specific textbooks, but about methods in general. For some, it is easier to perceive information with their eyes, for some to listen, and others are advised to touch the objects in order to better memorize new words. Ideally, all of these techniques should be used. This makes the learning process faster.
Always find new motivation. Learning Italian is easier when you need it: for college admission, work, or marriage. In this case, you do not need to look for motivation — it is always with you. But more often italiano is learned out of love. It lives for three years for some, for others for three months, and for the rest for only three days. Italian can easily carry you away: it's beautiful and melodic, the language of fashion and art. However, this motivation is easy to lose. So always remind yourself why you fell in love with the language. Remember how you first wanted to learn Italian, when you saw a game by “Inter”Italian football team or watched The Taming of the Scoundrela 1980 feature film starring Adriano Celentano.
Un passo alla volta, which means “step by step.” Learn gradually. Take your time with grammar. First, pay attention to Italian phonetics, reading rules, learn the first 100 words and basic constructions. Leave all the other complications for later. If you need italiano for study or work, you will have to get there anyway.
Immerse yourself in the language environment. The ideal option is to go there to live, study at the university, or at least attend one-week courses. If that doesn't suit you, surround yourself with Italy. And no, this does not mean eating pizza and drinking espresso every day (although this is also possible). Listen to Italian music and podcasts, watch TV shows and movies, switch your phone to Italian, and so on.
Lessico — Italian words
Vocabulary is the main component of the language. And you need to improve yours regularly and correctly. We will tell you about the methods of learning Italian words. Spoiler alert: there is no cramming in this section.
Generous Italians have gifted many words to other languages, including English. They are familiar to everyone: bank, tomato, passport, etc. And don’t even get us started on lexical borrowings in culture and architecture:
Balcone — balcony;
Arca — arch;
Museo — museum;
Musica — music;
Ballerina is still a ballerina.
English and Italian vocabulary are very similar. When learning italiano, pay attention to the roots of words. In English, they sound different, but the writing and meaning are the same. The Spanish speakers have nothing to do here. These languages are so close that you almost speak Italian already.
Sometimes you come across words posing as others. For example, the Italian word camera means "room" and “camera” is macchina fotografica.
The Importance of context
A common mistake when learning new words is to take them out of context. How does it usually happen at school? We write down the vocabulary in a column, add the translations and memorize it all. You are lucky if the words were given on the same topic, for example, "medicine." Then they are easier to remember. But more often than not, the vocabulary is given randomly: we begin with the verb mangiare — “to eat,” and end with tirapugni — “brass knuckles.” So no associations are built between words.
Therefore, it is best to learn vocabulary in context. You will sooner remember that mago is a "magician" if you read at least a few sentences where it is used. For example: Il mago ha fatto un incantesimo sul cavalierethe wizard cursed the knight; Il mago l'ha trasformato in una ranathe wizard has turned him into a frog. The same goes for the set expressions: alzare i tacchiflee (as in "run away"), montare la testato put on airs, etc.
List of necessary words
Make a list of essential words with which to start learning a language. Here we are talking not only about the clichéd "20 basic phrases in Italian", but also about what is important for you. Let's say you love movies and can chat about them for hours. Find and make a list of words on the topic of "cinema". It will be easier for you to memorize new vocabulary, because it is related to the topic of interest to you. Plus, it will come in handy in communicating with the native, to tell about yourself and your hobbies.
Lingua italiana is a melodic language. There are just so many beautiful songs written in it. You don't have to be an opera lover to listen to Italian music. Some of the most popular performers are Il Volo, Andrea Bocelli, Adriano Celentano, Laura Pausini, and others. Enjoy the music while learning new words. There are special apps to learn the language from the lyrics. For example, lyricstraining.com.
Chiedere / Domandare
Sapere / Conoscere
Have a necessity
Volere / Desiderare
Mi scusi — Sorry
Per favore — Please;
Prego — You're welcome;
Grazie — Thank you;
Altrettanto — The same to you;
Si / No — Yes / No;
Buongiorno — Good afternoon (as a greeting);
Buona giornata — Good day (as goodbye);
Come ti chiami? — What is your name?
Mi chiamo ... — My name is ...;
Come? — What did you say? (as “could you repeat, please”)
Free platform for learning new words. Uses the spaced repetition method.
Grammatica — Italian grammar
Grammar is one of the most difficult aspects of any language, and Italian is no exception. At first, it looks rather simple, but as the days get longer, the cold gets stronger. Every time you think you've learned a rule, a new detail appears, and then another and another. Here are some tricks that should help you to survive and not get lost in the thicket of Imperativo, Condizionale, and Congiuntivo.
Define a goal
First, define a goal. Why are you learning Italian? There are two main approaches: jumping straight into the rules or immersing yourself in the language — listen, watch and read, without delving into grammar. You don't always need to know how something works in order to apply it in life. This is also true for foreign languages. To understand and speak it, you don't need to waste time on a detailed analysis of grammar. Basic knowledge is enough for traveling and communication. But if you are taking CILS, going to study or work in Italy, it is better to understand the twists and turns of grammar rules from the very beginning.
First the rule — then practice
We analyze the rule and only then use it with examples. A universal order, which many tend to forget. In most textbooks, the authors first give texts with constructions unknown to the student and only afterward do they explain what has just happened. It’s much better to do it in the opposite order: read the rule → look at the examples → put it all into practice. The latter should preferably be done both in writing and out loud. This way, the grammar is also consolidated in oral speech.
Learn verb conjugation
Verbs are perhaps the most daunting part of Italian grammar. Mostly because of the conjugations that strike terror into the hearts of beginners. For example, the complete declension table of the verb essere — "to be" — in all tenses and forms looks like this:
In reality, everything is not that scary. In short, there are 3 groups of verbs in Italian:
With the ending -are: lavorare — to work, visitare — to visit;
With the ending -ere: scrivere — to write, decidere — to decide;
With the ending -ire: dormire — to sleep, sentire — to feel/hear.
Within the same group, they all conjugate in the same way. Of course, there are exceptions. Every self-respecting language has a couple (dozen or hundred). But for the entry level, only the most basic ones are needed: essere — to be, and avere — to have.
Multiple sources are better than one
Get your knowledge of the language from different resources. Even if you are sure that you are studying the best textbook in the world, written by an Italian, still take several sources. Don't limit yourself to one thing. Use the Internet, mobile applications, and other study materials: videos, podcasts, magazines, blogs, and more.
Site of the Italian language school. Explanation of Italian grammar from the articles to Subjunctive mode.
Comprensione orale — What to listen to in Italian?
The most enjoyable part of learning Italian is listening. It is pleasant for two reasons. First, the very sound of lingua italiana. Second, the amount of fun and free study materials you can use. How to develop listening skills?
Films and TV shows
Watch movies and TV shows in Italian. It's a fun and effective way to learn to understand native speakers. The only nuance is that it works well as an addition, but not as the primary method. Perhaps not everyone will like Italian cinema, but there are many world-famous classics among their directors. So getting to know them will be useful not only for language learning but also for general development. Famous Italian directors are Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Paolo Sorrentino, and so on.
You can find subtitled Italian films and series on streaming services like Netflix or YouTube. You can always find content with English subtitles, but if your level is B1 or higher, it is better to watch immediately with Italian subs. This way you will not get lost in translation and get the greatest benefits from the series.
Radio and podcasts
A great way to learn to understand a language is to listen to radio and podcasts. If you like the first option, then get ready. Italian speakers speak very quickly. There are many different stations: the first state-owned RAI Radio, the musical Lattemiele, the Neapolitan Radio Kiss Kiss Italia, and others.
Among the podcasts, we suggest you look into News in Slow Italian. This is a topical news program covering the field of politics, science, and culture. They are recorded at different speeds and vocabulary for levels from Beginner to Advanced. Plus, the site has free Italian courses and the news itself contains a transcript and even translations of some words. Other interesting resources: Italy made easy, Max Mondo, Sientificast, Daily Cogito. The last two are suitable for levels B2-C1.
Another source for developing your language comprehension skills is audiobooks in Italian. Here the choice depends only on your preferences. In theory, you can even listen to those works that you do not understand. The bottom line is that you get used to Italian and after a while, you begin to distinguish between individual phrases and words. Audiobooks are easy to find on Audible, but they cost money. More options are available on YouTube or on LibriVox. And you can choose the book yourself: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco,If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, or whatever you like.
We promised that listening will be the most fun part of learning the language. Any resources are suitable for developing skills, and YouTube is no exception. Find Italian blogs with topics that interest you: the culture and life of the country, comedic sketches, film analysis, and more. A big advantage of this format is that people communicate less formally. From them you can learn trendy words, slang and other amenities of the Italian language, which you will not hear on the radio or in podcasts. Also try to watch bloggers from different cities. This will help you to better understand dialects and learn about the regional characteristics of Italy. Channels to look out for: Marcello Ascani, Massimo Polidoro, Breaking Italy.
A website with a selection of audiobooks in different languages, including Italian. Has both fairytales and serious literature.
Lettura — What to read in Italian?
Reading in a foreign language is difficult. Many people postpone this skill for later. They think: "Now I will learn to speak, then enrich my vocabulary, and finally…" And finally what? In reality, without reading, you cannot improve other aspects of Italian. After all, from books you will learn new words and expressions that make speaking more interesting, and practice grammar at the same time. So what to read in italiano?
For those who are just starting out on their journey of learning Italian, short stories and dialogues are suitable. They can be found in textbooks or on the internet. For example, sites such as Think in Italian or Lingua have easy texts specifically for the A2 level. When you get bored with such reading, move on to adapted works or books with parallel translation.
If you want to get a feel of the modern Italian language, read the news. This is a good way to train your reading skills and stay up-to-date with world events. Plus, this way you immerse yourself in the political and social life of Italy — you will find out what is important for the local population. Find extracts from the daily newspapers like Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica, Il Messaggero, and La Stampa.
It is impossible to learn Italian without referring to its literature. After all, the works of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio essentially became the primary source from which the modern version of the language emerged. We are not suggesting that you charge the classics of the Renaissance. This way you will scare both yourself and them. You need to gradually submerge in Italian literature. Below is a video showing Italians offering 15 of the best books to read in their language. You can choose one of the options, but always remember two rules: personal interest and level of language proficiency.
Better start with more relevant pieces. There you will find vocabulary that will be useful now, not 500 years ago. Books in Italian can be found on the Readlang, Liber Liber, and in many FB communities. Italiano enthusiasts enjoy sharing their accumulated wisdom.
This method is more suitable for developing the feeling of language and expanding your general outlook. If you have already reached the heights in Italian prose, try to study the subtle matters of poetry. Untranslated poems are easy to find on the Internet. For example, here on this resource there are poems with a parallel translation into English.
More than 100 Italian proverbs for those who wish to enlarge their vocabulary.
Produzione scritta — Let’s write in Italian
A big upside of the Italian language — words are written as they are heard. The difficulty in writing in italiano comes mainly from grammar and sounding like an italian. If you are learning the language for travels, you can omit the rules and practice of writing. But for those wishing to study and work in Italy, there is no escape from them. Take a notebook, a pen, and get ready for work.
Look at samples
Use materials that someone else has written as examples. It is better to take them from the native speakers themselves in order to write like a true Italian. A common mistake of foreign learners is direct translations. This is especially true for beginners who do not yet have a sense of the language. They take the sentence in their native language and translate it "as is" into Italian. Most often, it turns out logically and grammatically correct, but it is noticeable that a foreigner is writing. For example, you can start a business letter with the words “Buongiorno, …” and you will be understood. However, the locals are more likely to greet you like this: “Egregiodear (close to "darling") / Spettabiledear (more official) / Gentileestimable.” This also needs to be learned. Interaction with natives helps a lot in this.
Find a pen pal
To spice up your practice, chat in Italian. There are many platforms on the Internet where you can meet native speakers. For example, Tandem, Hello Talk, Ablo, or Interpals. Try to find someone who really fixes your shortcomings. Also, remember that "native" is not always equal to “flawless.” They can sometimes make mistakes in spelling and punctuation just like your doing in the English.
Corresponding with an Italian is great. But if your goal is to work and study in the country, business writing skills, essays and abstracts are required. So practice with all types of texts. Of course, here we are talking about people who have already reached the level of B1-B2. At the beginning of the journey, there is no point in tormenting yourself with the description of graphs in Italian.
Technique for intermediate to advanced level — listen to audio and write down a transcript of it (preferably by hand). This is how you simultaneously improve your listening skills and practice writing. At first it seems that this is quite easy, because in general you understand the announcer. But when it comes to writing every single word according to all the rules of grammar, the difficulty rises steeply. But do not worry, a couple of dozen texts and everything will go smoothly.
One of the main goals for Italian learners is to learn how to speak it. Fortunately, this is not the most difficult aspect of the language. The main thing is to practice a lot and correctly.
Find a conversation partner
The best way to develop your communication skills is to find a conversation partner. Ideally, they should be Italian. With a partner, you not only train speaking but also get acquainted with the peculiarities of Italian mentality. A native speaker will tell you about the intricacies of pronunciation and use of specific words. Check out italki, Speaky, or Easy Language Exchange. There you can find teachers of Italian and just friends for communication.
But you don't have to practice exclusively with native speakers. Foreigners who speak italiano also work fine. Try talking clubs, which are often found in language schools and cultural centers. Just choose a group according to your level. If you already have B1, you may not be very comfortable interacting with beginners.
Speak all the phrases out loud
Learning a language while silently moving your lips will not work. You need to speak Italian right away. Now you have learned the first 30 or 300 — no matter how many — words. Take them and make a sentence, and then be sure to say it out loud. If it's hard for you, read ready-made Italian texts aloud. You need to get used to speaking Italian, and train your vocal apparatus. Otherwise, there is a risk of crashing into the language barrier. A person can know the entire vocabulary inside out, but find it difficult to connect words in speech.
Expand your vocabulary
The vocabulary is divided into passive and active. The first is vocabulary that you only learn but rarely use. The second is regularly used phrases. To communicate fluently in Italian, you need to move as many words as possible from passive to active. How? Through practice, of course. As soon as you learn a new word, immediately add it to your speech. Repeat it one, two, ten times to secure. It is important to do this in context, as part of a phrase.
First, let's define what "Italian" pronunciation is, and if it exists at all. The special feature of lingua italiana is the huge number of dialects, which in fact were formed as separate languages. Italy had been a country of city-states for a long time, so each region has its own dialect. And although they are all rooted in Latin, they sound completely different. Today, the most common variant is the official Italian, created after the unification of Italy. The second most popular language is the Neapolitan language. It is used in the south of the country.
Foreigners are advised to learn the official version of italiano. In general, with Italian it is best to focus on the correct pronunciation of words first. And only after, when you have already reached an advanced level, sharpen your accent. The easiest and most efficient way is to move to Italy. Sounds tempting, but expensive, and doesn't suit everyone. Another option is classes with a professional linguist (maybe an Italian) who will correct all your mistakes. But even without the accent, they will understand you in any case. The question is what do you want: just speak the language or speak like a local. If the former, then leave the accent correction for last.
Observe the articulation
Italian pronunciation is characterized by distinct articulation. Therefore, when learning a language, it is important not only to listen, but also to watch how the native speaker talks. Pay attention to the movement of the lips, tongue: how wide the mouth opens on vowel sounds, how consonants are annunciated, and so on.
No Italian conversation is complete without active gestures. Non-verbal communication plays a large role in their daily life, so we advise you to study it. Facial expressions, gestures and posture are special parts of the language. It is best to practice speaking with native speakers. Or you can watch the video on YouTube. For example, here are 60 Italian gestures explained (and this is just a part). Well, for aesthetes there is a similar video from Dolce & Gabbana. It is also worth mentioning that the Italians in the comments easily spot foreign models by incorrectly shown gestures. Can you?
But be careful. Do not mindlessly copy every movement of local residents. Otherwise, there is a risk of slipping into the parody zone and offending everyone around you. It is important to understand the true meaning of the gesture (in different situations and regions). This aspect of the language should be considered when you are already on C1-C2 level.
YouTube channel by an Italian online school. You can sign up for their courses, but they are paid, and the videos are not.
Why learn Italian?
Lingua italiana is significantly less widespread than English and Chinese. But you probably know at least a couple of Italian words and use them regularly in your everyday life. For example, when you order pizza or go to the bank. So you are surrounded by Italy. In addition, italiano is the fourth most studied language in the world. A very good achievement for its relatively small size. Why do people learn Italian?
Italian for Study
Italy is one of the most affordable European countries for study. The average tuition fee is 4,691 USD per year. There are also many ancient universities: Bologna, Padua, Neapolitan and others. Plus, universities in Italy provide students with good scholarships — from 1,173 USD to 11,727 USD. They cover tuition and living expenses. True, to study there you need to know italiano. There are programs in English, but there are much fewer of them. And the level of fluency in the country is not the highest (worse than in Bulgaria). Foreign students say that knowledge of Italian is necessary for staying in the country anyway. The standard admission requirement is B2. To prove your level of proficiency, you need to pass one of the exams. Most often it is CILS, but there are also CELI and PLIDA.
So if you are planning to study in Italy, it is better to study with a tutor right away. Find a tutor who has personally taken one of the exams, or sign up for a preparatory course at a language school. In theory, preparing for CILS on your own is possible, but then you should study using special textbooks to understand the format of the assignments.
Italian for work
In terms of international business, Italian offers fewer opportunities than Spanish or French. However, if you want to work in the country, then you cannot do it without knowing the local language. This is not a mandatory requirement and no one will ask you for confirmation to get a work visa. But it is still desirable to own it at least at the level B1-B2.
Get ready though — it is not easy to find a job in Italy. The unemployment rate among foreigners is one of the highest in Europe at 13.1%. The problem of finding a job is also relevant for Italians themselves. Over the past few years, more than 800,000 young people have left the country. This is more than the entire population of Palermo. The main reasons are a lack of jobs and poor career prospects.
It is easiest for foreigners to find a job where special qualifications are not required: nanny, worker, entertainer, housemaid, and so on. You can also find a job as an English or another language teacher. Also, always remember that every region of Italy is like a mini-country. Salaries, requirements and the approach to foreigners differ. For example, in the South it will be easier to find a job without knowing italiano. But in the North, you will most likely be checked for your level of language proficiency.
Italian for immigration
There are people who study Italian for one specific purpose — to immigrate. In general, this can be done without knowing italiano. There are many examples of people coming to Italy without knowing the language and staying for life. But we advise you to study it up to level A2-B1. This way, you will avoid problems in everyday communication at first. Knowledge of Italian is essential in any case: without it, you cannot become a part of society. Of course, someone just wants to live in Italy, but what's the point if you remain an alien to the locals?
The process of obtaining citizenship here is not the fastest (in fact, like all bureaucratic procedures), and takes up to 10 yearsthrough employment. If you graduate from an Italian university, you are given a year to stay in the country and look for a job.
Every year Italy attracts millions of tourists. This amazing country offers travelers everything: delicious food, beautiful landscapes, historical sites and hospitable locals. It's a great idea to drive through Italy to see all the regions. Indeed, each has its own peculiarities of language, mentality, traditions and even cuisine. Don't forget that Italian is also useful for visiting other countries: Switzerland, San Marino, as well as some regions of Slovenia and Croatia.
If you are learning italiano for traveling, then focus on speaking, listening, and vocabulary. Choose the words and phrases that you need first. Below is a list of the most important expressions for tourists. Better learn them beforehand. This is more convenient than looking in the dictionary every other minute.
Parla inglese? — Do you speak English?
Non parlo l'italiano — I don’t speak Italian
Non capisco — I don’t understand
Siamo stranieri / Sono straniero — We are foreigners / I’m a foreigner
Grazie mille — Thank you very much!
Quanto costa (questo)? — How much does it cost?
Come si arriva a ...? — How to get to…?
Dov'è il bagno? — Where is the restroom?
Vorrei ... — I would like to ...
Vorrei vedere questo, per favore — I would like to see this, please ...
Mi puo aiutare — Can you help me?
Gira a destra / a sinistra — Turn right / left
Va dritto — Go straight
Aperto / Chiuso — Open / closed
Aiuto! — For help!
Italian for yourself
Study, work, and immigration are all noble reasons for learning Italian, but far from the only ones. Many people choose it for its sound and beauty. Others admire the expressiveness and the flamboyant temperament of the natives. And others fall in love with Italian cuisine. Whichever category you put yourself in, the main thing is to stay motivated. Learning lingua italiana "for yourself" is the hardest part, especially if you study it on your own. In order not to lose your enthusiasm, remind yourself why you decided to take on this feat at all. Revisit that movie with Marcello Mastroianni that won you over, or listen to a concert of Il Volo.
To confirm the level of proficiency, you must pass an international exam. This is required for entry to university and getting a job in Italydepends on the employer. There are several options for Italian: