Top tips: how to learn Italian

As thousands of foreign students arrive at universities across Italy, The Local speaks to one linguist to find out the best way they can learn the language.

Top tips: how to learn Italian
Mastering the Italian language means ditching the grammar books. Italian photo: Shutterstock

For every foreign student that masters the Italian language, there are surely two that leave with barely a word.

Although learning the language of love may come easier to those studying for Italian degrees, or Spaniards, the linguistic gap has little to do with ability.

There are – as The Local discovers – some key pitfalls which university students repeatedly make early on.

“Often, when people come on exchange they go out with other exchange students and don’t learn the language. This is a mistake everyone makes, including Italians who study abroad,” Christian Cibba, who organizes a language exchange in Rome, tells The Local.

Taking the easier option and socializing with fellow foreigners may be fun, but it certainly won’t help students learn Italian.

SEE ALSO: The world's top 10 universities to study Italian

Thankfully, fluency will not be found in a grammar book.

“You can learn all the tenses and grammar rules you want, but if you don’t use them in daily life, they don’t stay with you and you forget them.

“The best way to break through, in parallel with studying, is to get to know Italians and go out with them. Go for a pizza with them, joke with them,” Cibba says.

One of the main complaints foreign students have, however, is the difficulty in meeting locals.

As a result, three years ago Rome’s Romit language school started organizing weekly tandems where foreigners and Italians could practice their language skills.

Now co-organized by Cibba and attracting around 50 people each week, the language meet-up is one of the main ways foreigners can improve their spoken Italian.

“It helps a lot; students start here and slowly improve,” Cibba says. “It’s really easy to meet both other foreigners and Italians who want to meet foreigners.”

While socializing helps foreigners pick up expressions used in daily life, students can improve their formal Italian with a TV.

“Watch films in Italian with Italian subtitles at first; they help with learning the pronunciation. On TV presenters also use the correct pronunciation,” Cibba advises.

Going beyond the bar and the sofa, we’ve compiled the best five guides to take students’ language learning to a new level:

1. Top 10: Ways to learn Italian

2. The most embarrassing mistakes to avoid in Italian

3. 10 ways to speak Italian with your hands

4. How to argue like an Italian

5. Top 10: The best animal sayings in Italian

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Italian word of the day: ‘Inchiodare’

You'll nail this word in no time.

Italian word of the day: 'Inchiodare'

What do a carpenter, a detective, and a bank robber screeching to a halt in their getaway car all have in common?

In English, not much – but in Italian, they could all be said to inchiodare (eenk-ee-ohd-AHR-eh) in the course of their professional activities.

In its simplest form, inchiodare simply means ‘to nail’ (chiodo, ‘kee-OH-do’, is a nail) – a picture to a wall, or a leg to a table.

Ha trovato questo cartello inchiodato alla sua porta.
She found this notice nailed to her door.

Inchioderò la mensola al muro più tardi.
I’ll nail the shelf to the wall later.

But like ‘to nail’, inchiodare has more than one definition.

You can use it to describe someone or something being ‘pinned’ in place, without actually having been literally nailed there.

Mi ha inchiodato al muro.
He pinned me to the wall.

La mia gamba è inchiodata al terreno.
My leg is pinned to the ground.

You can be metaphorically inchiodato to a place in the sense of being stuck there, tied down, or trapped.

Dovrei essere in vacanza e invece sono inchiodata alla mia scrivenia.
I should be on holiday and instead I’m stuck at my desk.

Don'T Forger You'Re Here Forever GIF - The Simpsons Mr Burns Youre Here GIFs

Siamo inchiodati a questa scuola per altri tre anni.
We’re stuck at this school for another three years.

Sono stati inchiodati dal fuoco di armi.
They were trapped by gunfire.

Just like in English, you can inchiodare (‘nail’) someone in the sense of proving their guilt.

Chiunque sia stato, ha lasciato tracce di DNA che lo inchioderanno.
Whoever it was, they left traces of DNA that will take them down.

Ti inchioderò per questo omicidio.
I’m going to nail you for this murder.

Thomas Sadoski Tommy GIF by CBS

Senza la pistola non lo inchioderemo, perché non abbiamo altre prove.
Without the gun we’re not going to get him, because we have no other proof.

For reasons that are less clear, the word can also mean to slam on the brakes in a car.

Ha inchiodato e ha afferrato la pistola quando ha visto la volante bloccando la strada.
He slammed on the brakes and grabbed the gun when he saw the police car blocking the road.

Hanno inchiodato la macchina a pochi passi da noi.
They screeched to a halt in the car just a few feet away from us.

Those last two definitions mean that you’re very likely to encounter the word when watching mystery shows or listening to true crime podcasts. Look out for it the next time you watch a detective drama.

In the meantime, have a think about what (or who) you can inchiodare this week.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.