The top five free smartphone apps for learning Italian

Always wanted to learn Italian but didn't know where to start? The huge number of language-learning apps now available means it's easier than ever, and The Local has rounded up five of the best.

The top five free smartphone apps for learning Italian
Photo: ikostudio/Depositphotos

The best way to become fluent is to get out there and practice speaking to real Italians, but if that's not possible – or you just want to gain a bit of confidence before embarrassing yourself in front of the beautiful barista – then smartphone apps are the way to go.

The following apps are tailored to different needs so whether you just need to learn enough to order at your favourite trattoria or want to be able to tackle the works of Dante in the original language, you can brush up on the verbs, vocabulary and/or phrases you need. They're cheaper than taking a course or investing in chunky textbooks, and many use algorithms which adapt to your skills so that you'll learn faster.

The Local has rounded up the five best apps for learning Italian which are available for free on the Google Play store. They all have an offline mode, meaning you can hone your skills whenever you have a few spare minutes without eating into your data allowance.

Let us know if you've tried them out yourself.

1) Learn Italian Words Free

Learn 10,000 words and phrases relating to useful topics from beginner to advanced level – that's more words than any other free app offers. There is a flashcard dictionary and audio pronunciation, plus a listening-only mode so you can learn while exercising or doing housework. It even has an option to switch on background relaxation music which is thought to increase your capacity for learning.

User Breanna Davis wrote in a Google Play store review: “Easily the best language app I've ever used! So easy to use, and makes learning fun and easy.”

2) Learn Italian – 50 Languages

50 languages works well if you want to learn the basics to get by on holiday or in everyday situations. It’s similar to a traditional textbook approach, combining audio and text exercises which teach you vocabulary and grammar organized into different subject areas. The free version has 30 lessons available, and then you pay to upgrade to 100. You can download extra exercises and audio files from the website,

“Excellent app. Great vocabulary and easy to use. The best language app out there for the price,” commented Jim Kerr.

3) Learn Italian – Speak Italian

The app's creators, busuu, promise that learning Italian is “easier than you think”, and its 50 million users worldwide seem to agree, judging by its positive reviews. It's aimed at those who want to develop a comprehensive understanding of Italian, with vocabulary and grammar units, audio dialogues and language games, but the most exciting feature is the option of sending send exercises to a native speaker for feedback.

Carine T praised the app in her review, saying: “Great app. Learning Italian is just great! I love the written exercises corrected by native speakers.”

4) Verbi Italiani

Already learned the basics but want to improve your grammar? This app allows you to conjugate over 10,000 verbs in all the tenses – perfect when you’re dealing with the tricky irregulars or one of the less common tenses, so you’ll amaze natives with your mistake-free Italian.

“Excellent application for those who study Italian and have troubles with verbs,” said user Zury Sof.

5) Duolingo

One of the most comprehensive and best-rated language-learning apps out there, Duolingo's makers claim 34 hours on the app “are equivalent to a semester of university-level education”. Grammar, vocabulary and phrases are organized into different topics which you work through in small, bite-sized lessons that feel like a game. It evolves as you go so that you'll be tested on the topics you struggle with most, and you get rewards for regular practice, making it addictive as well as educational. The only downside is that you can't pick and choose specific topics to learn, but have to unlock them in the correct order.

“Amazing! Duolingo is really easy and fun and really does a great job of teaching the language you have chosen!! Its cool that you get 'gems' when you finish a topic and can spend it in the store to get icons or clothes for the Duolingo bird!” writes user Hannah Bottomley.

A version of this article was first published in April 2016.

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IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy’s many local ‘dialects’

Are the Italians around you speaking a completely different language? Why are local dialects often so far removed from modern Italian? Here's what you need to know.

IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy's many local 'dialects'
A man wearing a t-shirt reading ''100% Venetian''. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

It's the problem italian language learners have faced for as long as anyone can remember. You've diligently studied your Italian grammar, and carefully practiced your phrases ahead of your first visit to Italy, only to realise upon arrival that the Italians around you seem to be speaking a different language entirely.

READ ALSO: Ten of the most common Italian language mistakes you should avoid

Italy's dialects are far more than just heavily-accented Italian. They seem like totally different languages because, in fact, that's exactly what they are.

It's not quite correct to call them “dialects”, which are actually variants on a standard language. These are different languages which evolved separately from Latin – or, in some cases, other languages.

And even when they switch to Italian, speakers of these dialects or languages often speak with a heavy accent, much to the dismay of anyone still getting to grips with with basic Italian. Even in a big city like Florence or Rome, Italian spoken in a thick local accent can be hard to decipher – even for native Italian speakers from other areas.

As the map below shows, every region and often province has its own local language. Some have more than one, and each town may also have a variation.

Many of these are part of language “families” and some are more closely related to Italian, or to Latin, than others.

The map below classifies them further and also shows how languages in different regions are connected.

Map: Antonio Ciccolella/Wikimedia Commons

This might look complicated, but anyone who lives in a small italian town will no doubt still be thinking that a more detailed map is needed, as there are actually many more, smaller variations within these categories.

Do people in Italy really still speak all of these dialects?

The language we call Standard Italian derives from 13th-century Florentine. Until then, there had been no written rules, and the languages of what is now Italy had mainly evolved by being spoken.

When Italy was unified in 1861, only 2.5 percent of the population could actually speak the Italian language. All spoke their regional languages. Now, that figure is in the high 90s, though around five percent still speak only or predominantly in their regional language.

While you might imagine that these dialects or languages are mainly used by older people and are slowly dying out, that's not usually the case. 
While they'll also speak standard Italian, you'll find young Italians proudly speaking their local lingo everywhere from central Naples to the valleys of South Tyrol.
Some are far more widely used than others. In fact the most widely spoken is Neapolitan, with over five million speakers today.
The least widely-used is Croato. This dialect is used by an ethnic minority from a region corresponding to present-day Croatia and is spoken in the southern region of Molise. Today it only around 1,000 speakers.
In the southernmost parts of Italy, such as Salento and Calabria, Griko dialects are thought to derive from ancient Greek.
Meanwhile, Sardinian is classified as an “endangered” language by Unesco,  Like Italian, Sardinian has roots in Latin – in fact, some linguists argue that, of all the modern Romance languages, Sardinian is the closest to Latin – but it also displays much older influences. Today, particularly younger people on the island speak a mix of both languages, a sort of “Sarditalian”.
For more details, here are our guides to getting started with some of Italy's regional languages: