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ITALIAN LANGUAGE

Five tips that make it easier to learn Italian

Learning Italian can be tricky to begin with, but there are ways to help smooth the path to proficiency.

These tips can help you on the path to learning Italian.
These tips can help you on the path to learning Italian. Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

The journey to fluency in Italian can sometimes feels like it’s all uphill. Here are some tips for making things a little easier.

1. Practice speaking Italian as soon as you can

Speaking in Italian can feel daunting when you’re a beginner, but the best strategy is to throw yourself in at the deep end and not worry too much about making mistakes, as this is one of the quickest ways to get comfortable with the language.

  • If you live or work with someone who speaks fluent Italian, try to switch the conversation to Italian just for a few minutes a day to start with.
  • Set up a regular language exchange with a native Italian speaker. In Italy you’re likely to find plenty of Italians keen to practice their English and willing to correct your Italian in exchange. If you’re somewhere more remote, you can arrange online sessions through platforms like Tandem.
  • Look for places that hold language events, such as cafes or the weekly gatherings such as those held by the Koiné – Italian Language Centre in Rome where you can chat to other people learning Italian.
  • Join conversation groups through the Meetup app.
  • Look up ‘fare volontariato’ along with the name of your town to find volunteer opportunities in your area, where you will get to practice your Italian.

2. Language schools

There are a plethora of private language schools in Italy for foreign students wanting to learn Italian, with a wide range of prices and time commitment levels to choose from.

You may also be eligible for a free or heavily state-subsidised course at your local CPIA (Centro provinciale per l’istruzione degli adulti, or adult education centre). While most often most widely attended asylum seekers and refugees, in theory all foreign nationals over the age of 16 with a valid residency permit have access to these language programmes.

The advantage of language school is that it gives you a structure to your learning, and gives you skills in the four areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as learning about Italian culture. The class times are often flexible and you can choose between online and classroom lessons.

The downside is that with large class sizes, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to practice speaking, which is why supplementing language school with speaking opportunities can really help.

3. Italian media

Watching Italian TV with subtitles is always helpful. If you don’t have a TV, you can watch some Italian channels online, including programmes by national broadcaster Rai.

On Netflix there are popular Italian series including Zero, Baby, and Suburra: Blood on Rome.  

Italy’s podcast industry is currently growing rapidly, with new programmes popping up all the time – you can find a list of some of the best podcasts to get you started here.

READ ALSO: Some of the best podcasts for learners of Italian

Listening to Italy songs can help with pronunciation. The famous song Con te partirò, with its slow tempo, is a good one to get started with. Here are some other songs that can help you learn Italian.

4. Graphic novels and books

When you first arrive, reading children’s books out aloud can help you learn how to make your mouth form those tricky words, as well as give you confidence when you can read and understand the whole of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Il piccolo bruco maisazio) in Italian.

If you want something more targeted towards adults, books which have the Italian one page accompanied by an English translation on other, like Jhumpa Lahiri’s In altre parole/In Other Words, are a good option as they allow you to easily and quickly check the meaning of words or phrases you don’t know.

Graphic novels by popular Italian writers and cartoonists like Zerocalcare and Gipi are also a great way in to the language, as you’ll learn more colloquial Italian while having pictures to tell you what’s going on.

You can borrow books from your local library or buy them from second hand shops and mercatini (markets), as well as at bookstores like Feltrinelli.

5. Creating new daily habits

Forming small but regular new habits will keep up your language learning without it feeling too overwhelming.

  • For example, keep a little notebook or a place on your phone where you can write down new words you come across in your daily life. During the week, while on the bus or waiting to meet a friend, keep looking at those words to get them stuck in your head.
  • When you’re caught off guard in situations, such as someone asking in a shop, “Posso aiutarla?” (‘can I help you?’), and you automatically blurt out English, don’t feel too disheartened. Instead, write the scenario down, find out the different ways to respond, and memorise them, so that next time it automatically comes out. “Sto solo guardando, grazie” (‘I’m just looking, thank you’) is always a useful one.
  • Add some Italian accounts to your social media so when you scroll, you’re seeing and hearing Italian. Italian news sites are a good place to start, then seek out the profiles of Italians who specialise in the kinds of things that naturally interest you, whether that’s cooking, fashion, football or something else.
  • Listen to Italian podcasts or audiobooks on your way to work or when doing the washing up, whether it’s about a topic you’re interested in, or a specific language learning podcast like ‘Coffee Break Italian’.
  • Plan out what you’re going to say in a new situation before you say it and commit to it in Italian, for example booking an appointment, ordering food, speaking to your neighbour or language teacher.

Italian language learning can be a slow process but keep going, take the small wins and one day, we promise, you will be understood. 

Find more articles on learning the Italian language here.

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ITALIAN LANGUAGE

‘I’m not Onassis’: Seven things Italian dads say and what they mean

As world-famous promoters of tough love, Italian dads have a repertoire of phrases ready for 'creatively' scolding their children. Here are just a few of of their favourite lines.

'I'm not Onassis': Seven things Italian dads say and what they mean

From doors being carelessly left open to requests for unreasonably expensive items, there are countless things that are guaranteed to upset an Italian dad.   

And whatever the misdeed, they’ll have a snarky remark suited for the occasion. 

Here are just seven of the favourite set phrases you’re likely to hear an Italian dad come out with.

Ma ti sembro Onassis?

Usually uttered after a request to buy something indecently pricey, “Do I look like Onassis to you?” is one of the best comebacks in the Italian dad’s repertoire. 

Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate who established himself as one of the richest men on the planet in the 20th century. 

READ ALSO: Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather like a true Italian

We might never get to know where exactly Italian fathers’ obsession with the Greek tycoon stems from, but we are sure that countless generations of young Italians will continue to be reminded that their father isn’t nearly as opulent as Onassis. 

Countless alternative versions of this expression exist, including non sono la Banca d’Italia (“I’m not the Bank of Italy”) or those referring to Italy’s very own cavaliere, Silvio Berlusconi, such as: “non sei la figlia di Berlusconi” (“You’re not Berlusconi’s daughter”)

Io non vado a rubare!

Roughly translatable into English as “I don’t steal for a living!”, this is another parenting staple for requests involving the purchase of expensive items. 

The phrase is generally uttered with sheer indignation and accompanied by various expressions of outrage. 

Financial prudence is top of Italian dads’ priorities. Mess with that at your peril. 

Come ti ho fatto, ti distruggo.

The “I’ll destroy you just as easily as I made you” ultimatum is not used lightly but, whenever the circumstances call for it, the real Italian father will not hesitate to pull out this verbal ace.

Generally triggered by grave displays of disrespect or (very) bad behaviour, the expression is nothing short of a psychological warfare masterpiece.

READ ALSO: These are Italy’s most popular baby names

A family of four posing for a photo.

Italian dads are world-famous promoters of tough love but most also have a soft side to them. Photo by Jean-Pierre CLATOT / AFP

Questa casa non e’ un albergo.

Here’s one for the rogue adolescents having a hard time abiding by the sacred rules of the house, especially those turning up late for meals or getting home late at night. 

Italian fathers don’t like to beat around the bush, so any breach of the law of the land is met with a stark reality check: “This house is not a hotel”. 

The phrase might sometimes be followed by “You cannot come and go as you please” (Non puoi andare e tornare come ti pare e piace) but the first part is usually sufficient to get the message across.

Hai la coda?

Very few things upset Italian dads as much as an open door does. 

It doesn’t really matter what type of door – whether that be the front door, a bedroom door or even a car door – as long as it’s one that their unfailing judgement commands should be shut at all times.

READ ALSO: Puns and plot spoilers: How English movie titles are translated into Italian

As a result, any Italian boy or girl forgetting to close a door behind them should expect to be asked whether they have a tail (coda).

It nearly goes without saying, having a coda would theoretically explain why the guilty party didn’t close the door in question.

Perche’ no. 

If you’ve had the luck (or misfortune – you decide) to be raised by an Italian father, you’ll know this one all too well. 

When mercilessly turning down yet another one of his children’s requests, the quintessential Italian dad doesn’t remotely bother coming up with a plausible reason for doing so. 

It’s not happening “because I said no”. That’ll be all.

Ma da chi hai preso?

It’s only right for us to wrap up with Italian dads’ darkest moment of doubt. That’s when the actions of their children make them question whether they actually are the fathers of the misbehaving brats after all.

The phrase in question, which is roughly translatable into English as “Who did you get this from?”, is usually said with a mixture of dismay and bewilderment. 

The Italian father cannot fathom where his offspring’s disposition to reprehensible behaviour comes from but refuses to accept that his genes might be responsible. 

Several hours of silent introspection generally follow the utterance of this phrase.

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