In August 2008, I had an Italian lesson that changed my life.
I’d already taken two years of Italian classes, but I still couldn’t have a basic conversation. Back then I hated languages (and wasn’t any good at them either).
Then I met Francesca. A tiny Roman teacher in her 50s who rode a scooter to school and didn’t believe in pens and paper.
There was something unusual about Francesca’s classroom. There were no desks or books, just chairs in a circle. And only one rule: NO ENGLISH.
Instead of spending hours explaining irregular verbs, Francesca made us have conversations in Italian.
At first, my brain melted. I spent half the time not understanding what people were saying, and the rest feeling awkward about making others wait while I strung a sentence together. But the more I practiced, the easier it got.
And after a few days… I was speaking Italian!
Not amazingly well, but it was an exciting start. I knew that if I kept learning Italian through conversations like this, I’d eventually learn to speak it well.
I’d discovered a simple key to fluency: Practice speaking Italian as much as you can.
It sounds obvious, but before I met Francesca, I’d never thought about it.
If you want to have conversations in Italian, you need lots of speaking practice
The idea is simple, but the reality is hard.
What if you forget a word and get stuck mid-sentence?
Or you say everything perfectly, but don’t understand the reply?
Or you get really nervous and your brain freezes up?
How can you find Italians to practice with?
Won’t people get impatient if you speak too slowly?
What if people keep replying in English?
These problems are all surmountable, with the right strategies.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to start speaking Italian. From phrases to keep the conversation going when you don’t know a word, to strategies to help you deal with speaking nerves.
You’ll also learn:
The nuts and bolts of Italian conversation: basic greetings, simple questions and small talk
How to stop people from replying in English.
Where to find speaking partners to practice with.
Time-sensitive: We’ll also be sharing how you can learn to speak Italian in Italy, by joining us for our next Italian immersion vacation.
But for now, let’s learn how to have a conversation in Italian.
Get ready to have a conversation in Italian
The fastest way to prepare for Italian conversations is to learn words and phrases that are likely to come up in everyday conversation.
This means going against the traditional classroom way of learning languages: you don’t need to memorise all the rooms in a house, or names of sports before you can start having conversations with Italians.
In this section, you’ll learn key Italian conversation skills such as:
Basic greetings and pleasantries
Asking and answering small talk questions
Talking about yourself in Italian
Stopping people from replying in English
Managing communication breakdowns
Let’s start with the most important skill – managing communication breakdowns – because once you’ve mastered this, everything else will be easier.
Managing communication breakdowns: The 6 most important phrases you’ll ever need in Italian
When people say they’re nervous about speaking a foreign language, usually they’re not scared of speaking it (that’s the goal!), they’re nervous about all the things that could go wrong, such as:
In other words, if you’re nervous about speaking Italian, you’re probably nervous about the communication breakdowns that could happen.
In the video below, you’ll find 6 phrases to help you deal with these situations smoothly. The more you use them, the longer you’ll be able to keep the conversation going in Italian. And the longer you can keep the conversation going in Italian, the better you’ll get at speaking.
Come si dice questo in italiano?
How do you say this in Italian?
Che cosa vuol dire questo in italiano?
What does this mean in Italian?
Scusi, non ho capito*
Scusa, non ho capito
Sorry, I didn’t understand (formal)
Sorry, I didn’t understand (informal)
Potrebbe ripetere, per favore?
Puoi ripetere, per favore?
Could you repeat, please? (formal)
Can you repeat, please? (informal)
Potrebbe parlare più lentamente per favore?
Puoi parlare più lentamente per favore?
Could you speak slower please? (formal)
Can you speak slower please? (informal)
Possiamo parlare in Italiano per favore? Vorrei imparare.
Can we speak in Italian please? I’d like to learn.
*Note: Avoid using “non ho capito” (I don’t understand) in isolation, as people may see it as a cry for help and start speaking English. Be sure to follow it up with another phrase, such as “Puoi parlare più lentamente?” (can you speak slower?) or “Puoi ripetere?” (can you repeat?), so the listener knows how to help you.
Learn basic greetings in Italian (+ other pleasantries)
First things first – let’s start with names.
The easiest (and most natural way) to introduce yourself to someone is to shake their hand and say:
Sono… [+ your name]
Sono Katie (I’m Katie)
Sono Matteo (I’m Matteo)
An even easier (and very common) way is to just hold your hand out and say your name.
If you want to ask someone their name, you can say:
Come ti chiami?
Or the formal version:
Come si chiama?
Knowing when to use the formal address in Italian is not always easy (even Italians have problems with this!) but as a rule of thumb, use it with people over 50 who you don’t know very well and in formal situations such as in hotel receptions or fancy restaurants.
Here are some more lessons to help you master basic greetings and pleasantries in Italian:
Learn how to ask and answer simple conversation questions in Italian
Once you’ve learnt the basic pleasantries, it’s time to pick up some common conversation questions in Italian.
As in English, the first two questions that are most likely to come up in conversation are:
Di dove sei? Where are you from?
Che lavoro fai? What job do you do?
You might also need the formal versions of these questions:
Di dov’è? Where are you from (formal)
Che lavoro fa? What job do you do (formal)
You’ll also need to know how to answer those questions…
Di dove sei? (where are you from?)
The simplest way to tell people where you’re from is to use “sono” (I am) + your nationality.
Sono americano (I’m American – for males)
Sono australiano (I’m Australian – for males)
Sono italiano (I’m Italian – for males)
If you are female, change the last “o” to an “a”
Sono americana (I’m American – for females)
Sono australiana (I’m Australian – for females)
Sono italiana (I’m Italian – for females)
If the nationality ends in an “e”, it’s the same for males and females
Sono inglese (I’m English – for males and females)
Sono scozzese (I’m Scottish – for males and females)
Sono francese (I’m French – for males and females)
If you want to give the city, you can say “sono di” (I’m from) + the city:
Sono di Londra (I’m from London)
Sono di New York (I’m from New York)
Sono di Roma (I’m from Rome)
Che lavoro fai?
To describe your job, use “sono” (I am) + your job.
Sono insegnante (I’m a teacher – for males and females)
Sono in pensione (I’m retired – for males and females)
Sono impiegato (I’m an office worker – for males)
Sono impiegata (I’m an office worker – for females)
Sono studente (I’m a student – for males)
Sono studentessa (I’m a student – for females)
To find your job (and check the pronunciation), try using a good Italian-English dictionary, like WordReference.
Learn how to talk about yourself in Italian
When you meet Italian people, they’ll probably ask you about yourself and your interests. It helps to have some pre-prepared soundbites so you can talk about these topics without having to stop and think too much.
One way to do this is to memorise a paragraph or two with basic personal information. Some ideas for topics that will come up frequently are:
Why you’re learning Italian
Your opinion of Italy and Italians (Italians love to ask this!)
If writing in Italian feels too tricky at the moment, you can start by writing the paragraph in English and translating it into Italian using google translate.
But don’t stop there!
Google often translates things too literally, so you’ll probably end up with a few bizarre sentences. Before you memorise your script, get it checked by a native speaker to make sure there are no mistakes.
Where can you find these native Italian speakers?
I’ll show you later in this article, in the section called: “where to find Italian speaking partners”.
Once you’ve found your Italian speaking partner, you can simply take your text along to one of your sessions and ask them to help you correct it.
If you prefer a digital solution, try submitting your text to the “notebook” section on italki, where a native speaker should stop by and give you some corrections.
How to make small talk in Italian
The stereotype is true – Italians love to talk about food!
Learning how to talk about food will give you a great basis for light conversation in Italian. Here are some good questions to ask.
Quali sono i piatti tipici della tua regione? What are the typical dishes of your region?
Mi puoi suggerire alcuni ristoranti buoni? Can you recommend any good restaurants?
Ti piace cucinare? Do you like cooking?
Che cosa ti piace cucinare? What do you like cooking?
Che tipo di vino ti piace? What kind of wine do you like?
Mi puoi suggerire un buon vino? Can you recommend a good wine?
Preferisci la pizza napoletana o romana? Do you prefer Neapolitan pizzas (soft with thick crusts) or Roman pizzas? (thin and crispy)
Just in case you need them, here are the formal versions of those questions:
Quali sono i piatti tipici della SUA regione? What are the typical dishes of your region?
Mi PUÒ suggerire alcuni ristoranti buoni? Can you recommend any good restaurants?
LE piace cucinare? Do you like cooking?
Che cosa LE piace cucinare? What do you like cooking?
Che tipo di vino LE piace? What kind of wine do you like?
Mi PUÒ suggerire un buon vino? Can you recommend a good wine?
PREFERISCE la pizza napoletana o romana? Do you prefer Neapolitan pizzas (soft with thick crusts) or Roman pizzas? (thin and crispy)
And making some nice comments about Italian food is bound to get you in the good books!
Adoro + food name (e.g. adoro la burrata = I love burrata)
Lo adoro! I love it!
Che buono! How tasty!
È molto buono.It’s really tasty!
Mi piace molto. I really like it
It’s also handy to learn some phrases to talk about food from your region because Italians will almost certainly ask you about this sooner or later.
Il piatto tipico della mia regione è… The typical dish of my region is…
Di solito mangiamo… Normally we eat…
È un tipo di… It’s a type of…
Si fa con… It’s made with…
How to talk about the weather in Italian
Another classic small talk topic is the weather – Italians talk about it just as much as British people do! Here are some handy phrases:
Fa caldo oggi It’s hot today
Fa caldissimo! It’s really hot!
Fa freddo oggi It’s cold today
Fa freddissimo It’s really cold!
Fa freschetto Literally, it’s a bit fresh – often used in summer when it’s not as hot as expected, or at the end of summer, when it starts to get cooler).
The best small talk topics draw from your own interests: if you love football, why not learn a few questions to chat about Italian teams? If you’re into music, asking about classic Italian bands would be a great way to get Italians talking.
Once you find a speaking partner to practice with, you can ask them to teach you some phrases to help you talk about your favourite topics in Italian.
How to stop people from replying in English
You finally pluck up the courage to try speaking Italian, then something frustrating happens… They reply in English!
Getting Englished is a common problem for language learners and it can knock your confidence before you’ve even started.
Keep in mind that the reason Italians reply in English often has nothing to do with your language skills. I’ve been living in Italy for 7 years and my Italian is pretty good, but people still reply to me in English at times.
Italians normally speak English to foreigners for the following reasons:
They’re trying to be nice – they assume you’d rather speak English because it’s easier.
They’re working in a busy bar or restaurant and assume it will be quicker to use English.
They serve foreigners all day and use English out of habit.
They want to practice their English!
If you can see that a person is very busy and you’re not sure about your ability to speak Italian quickly, it’s probably better to go ahead and use English.
In other situations, there are a few techniques that will reduce your chances of getting Englished:
1. Have the first phrase ready in your head
You get to the front of the queue, your mind goes blank and errrhm… errrhm… errrhm…
Before you get your sentence out, the server has switched to English.
Deciding what to say and getting the phrase ready in your head will help you deliver it smoothly and increase your chances of getting a reply in Italian.
2. Sound confident
We’ve already seen that “non ho capito” (I don’t understand) is best avoided in isolation because it gives the listener a chance to jump in and start speaking English.
Sometimes, it’s better to say:
“Non ho sentito, puoi ripetere?” I didn’t hear, can you repeat?
Italians will be less likely to switch to English when you use this phrase because you sound more confident – it’s not that you didn’t understand, you just didn’t hear 😉
Another handy phrase is:
“Non mi viene la parola” The word doesn’t come to me
This is a phrase Italians use when they momentarily forget a word. When you say it, Italians will assume that you normally know the word, you just forgot it for a second!
You can learn more phrases like these in our free webinar:
The webinar is hosted in our private Facebook group – click on join and we’ll let you in asap.
3. Look Italian
If an Italian can tell that you’re a foreigner from your appearance, they’ll probably start speaking to you in English. You can reduce your chances of this happening by observing and copying Italians:
What do they wear?
How do they move?
What do they say in certain situations?
If you can give off an Italian vibe rather than a tourist vibe, people will be more likely to speak to you in Italian. Here are a couple of guidelines that will help you blend in:
Dress smartly – Italians like to keep it formal and rarely wear sportswear outside the house or gym. You’ll see some denim and trainers, but they’re generally smart or put together in a fashionable way. You’ll also see lots of leather jackets and sunglasses!
Avoid showing too much skin – Italians rarely wear skimpy clothes. Even in very hot weather, they opt for long and flowing rather than short and skimpy to stay cool.
When you walk into a shop, it’s polite to say “buongiorno/buonasera” to the staff when you enter and “arrivederci” when you leave. With young staff in informal shops, you can use “ciao”.
Don’t drink cappuccinos or lattes after midday – they’re considered a breakfast drink in Italy.
Don’t order wine with pizza – the traditional Italian combo is pizza + beer.
4. Avoid big cities
If you get the chance, visit small towns that aren’t popular tourist destinations. You’ll be less likely to run into Italians who speak English, which will give you a great opportunity to practice your Italian.
5. Ask people to speak Italian with you
If you’re a native English speaker, it’s doubly hard to learn Italian because you’ll find lots of Italians who want to practice their English with you.
Over the years, I’ve learnt that the best way to deal with this problem is to simply ask:
Possiamo parlare in italiano? Vorrei imparare.
Can we speak in Italian? I’d like to learn.
Once you’ve explained the situation, most Italians will be happy to chat with you for a little while in Italian.
That said, in the early days, it’s not always practical to insist that people speak Italian with you, as the conversation might be slow and stunted. When you’re just starting to speak Italian, it’s better to practice in situations where there’s a “learning agreement”.
5. Set up an Italian “learning agreement”
Speaking with random people in shops/restaurants/public transport can feel intimidating because:
You don’t know the person
There’s pressure to have a normal conversation, which might make you might feel embarrassed about mistakes and long pauses (a completely normal part of language learning!)
I sometimes feel awkward talking to strangers in my native language, never mind one I just started learning!
In the beginning, it’s better to find speaking partners where there is a “learning agreement”: a situation where you are the learner and your speaking partner is there for the sole reason of helping you speak Italian.
It’s hosted in our private Facebook group – click on join and we’ll let you in asap.
Read and listen to things that will help you have better conversations in Italian
It’s difficult to have meaningful conversations in Italian by memorising phrases alone.
You also need to get lots of exposure to the Italian language through reading and listening, so you can start to absorb common words, phrases and grammatical structures. When you read and listen to Italian regularly, things will often “pop into your head” when you need them, helping you speak in a more fluid way.
Here’s an article with 38 resources to help you learn Italian. In it, you’ll find lots of tools to help you start reading and listening to Italian.
You’ve got the basic greetings and small talk down, you know how to talk about yourself and manage communication breakdowns and you’re doing lots of reading and listening.
You’re ready for your first conversation in Italian.
What to do if you feel nervous about speaking Italian
Whatever you do, don’t try not to feel nervous about speaking Italian.
It’s a bit like trying not to think of a pink elephant.
It’s not possible to “think yourself out of” feeling nervous. The more you try, the more you focus on your nerves and the worse they get.
Besides, a bit of nervousness is a good thing – it’s a sign that you’re about to do something exciting that will help you grow.
The key is to start slowly and do something that gives you the right level of nervousness – think dipping your toe out of your comfort zone, rather than pole vaulting out of it.
Once you get used to doing that, try something else that makes you a bit nervous.
Follow this cycle and you’ll make sustainable progress in speaking Italian without traumatising yourself.
Next, you’ll find a few suggestions for how to gently nudge yourself out of your comfort zone and build up to having conversations in Italian.
Warm up by chatting in Italian online
Chatting online in Italian is a great way to ease yourself into real Italian conversations.
People can’t see your face (unless you want them too) and the writing format gives you plenty of time to think about what you want to say. You can even use an online dictionary to find the right words as you chat.
Here are a few resources you can use to practice your Italian online:
HelloTalk is a bit like WhatsApp for language learners. You can use it to find native Italian speakers and do a language exchange via text messages. There are built-in tools to help you learn during your conversation, such as a translation button, which helps you understand the Italian messages. Once you get used to texting, you can practice speaking by sending audio messages (just like WhatsApp) and setting up video exchanges.
Follow Italian teachers online
There are some brilliant Italian teachers with online communities that chat together in Italian. Why not join them and practice your Italian by writing in the comments? Two of my faves are:
To take part, all you have to do is post a photo or video and write/say something in Italian every day for 30 days. It’s a great way to get daily practice in Italian and meet a fab community of language learners (you might even win a prize at the end!)
Alternatively, if those options are outside of your budget, you can also use italki to set up online language exchanges. Find Italians who are learning your native language by selecting community > language partners, then set up a Skype call where you speak for 50% of the time in English and 50% of the time in Italian.
If you prefer face-to-face chats, try conversation exchange to find native speakers who live in your area.
If you’re in Italy, you can use conversation exchange to meet locals who will help you practice speaking Italian and show you the places they normally hang out. I did this in Paris and it was great – like having a teacher and a local tour guide all rolled into one!
Italian immersion vacations
A fast and fun way to improve your Italian speaking skills is to join our next immersion vacation in Italy. In these vacations, we give you as much Italian speaking practice as possible so you can make a huge jump in your speaking skills after only a few days.
Full Italian immersion in beautiful locations.
Patient Italian teachers who encourage you to speak.
Once my English friend invited me to a karaoke night. I accepted straight away.
I love karaoke so it was going to be fun for sure, I thought.
Little did I know that at the end of that night I would feel singled out and a bit embarrassed too.
Reason: while everyone was singing full out all those English songs, I didn’t know a single lyric.
I am Italian. I was raised in Italy. Yes, I learned English as a second language but I had no idea about the kind of songs you can find at a British karaoke night. I felt like I was missing a huge piece of a cultural puzzle.
My English friends had grown up with those songs and they knew all of them because those songs had been the soundtrack of their lives in that country. Which was completely different from mine.
Which brings me to you, and the reason why I wanted to write this article.
If you’re learning Italian and want to understand Italian culture, it helps to know a bit of Italian popular music.
These kinds of songs are such a big part of Italian culture that it’s not rare to make reference to popular songs in the middle of conversations. For example, I don’t know how many times one of my friends, called Laura, has heard a joke about her name with reference to Nek’s song “Laura non c’è”.
Or how many times I heard my Italian friends use the refrain of the song “Perdono ” by Tiziano Ferro to apologise for something in an amusing way! (more about this song and the singer later).
Plus, Italians love singing. In the 90s, we had a very popular TV show called Karaoke where the host Fiorello used to travel around Italy hosting massive karaoke parties in the main Italian cities ( I went to one of those myself!). A huge crowd of people would gather to sing along and everything would be broadcasted on TV. Because we Italians are not embarrassed about showcasing our singing skills!
So, today I’d like to invite you to an Italian Karaoke Party and introduce you to some popular Italian songs.
And, if you’re looking for strategies about how to use songs to develop your language skills, you’ll find a few helpful ideas in this article:
But for now, let’s get to know a little bit more about the Italian culture through some of the most popular Italian songs, the kind you’ll be very likely to hear at a karaoke night in Italy. Some of the songs and singers mentioned in this article can be found on LyricsTraining, a great website where you can train your listening skills and have fun with popular Italian songs of every genre.
This one is one of my all time favourite songs. If you go to an Italian karaoke night you can be sure you’ll hear (and sing!) this song.
As you may know already, 50 Special is a kind of Vespa, the popular Italian scooter manufactured by the Italian brand Piaggio, which has become one of the symbols of Italian culture. This super cheerful song sings about the good times you have when riding a Vespa and the singer, Cesare Cremonini also celebrates and sings about the beautiful, summery, landscape of his native Italian region, Emilia Romagna. I bet you’d love to travel around the “colli bolognesi” with a Vespa too!
50 Special is sung by the Italian group Lunapop, which split up a few years ago. But the main singer, Cesare Cremonini, is still very active on the Italian music scene. His songs have often a very relaxing rhythm, and the lyrics can be at times deep, but also inspiring, like this one:
Songs to learn Italian #2: Mondo (World)
Songs to learn Italian #3: Ragazzo fortunato
Ragazzo fortunato means “lucky boy” (in Italian the adjective goes after the noun!). It tells the story of a young boy who feels lucky and grateful for the little things in life. A song to sing when you feel happy about life, and we Italians love celebrating life, aka the “dolce vita” (sweet life). Personally, I love this line of the song ” Se devo dirla tutta, qui non è il paradiso ma all’inferno delle veritá, io mento col sorriso,” (If I have to say it all, here’s not the heaven, but in this hell of truths, I lie with a smile.).
About the singer
This song is by Lorenzo Cherubini, aka Jovanotti, who is a famous Italian rapper. Despite having a cheerful and upbeat rhythm, his songs often carry an important message to make people aware of social issues and injustice. A very popular song that does this is:
Songs to learn Italian #4: L’ombelico del mondo
This song by Jovanotti can be translated in English as “the belly button of the world”
Songs to learn Italian #5:Ligabue certe notti
Certe notti means “some nights”. This song describes a seemingly lighthearted Italian night amongst friends. In a way, this song has different levels of interpretation. On the one hand, it celebrates the lightheartedness of Italian people, on the other, it draws attention to the shallowness of some people’s lives. This song is so popular that has been parodied many times.
Ligabue is one of the most famous Italian pop-rock singers, second only to Vasco Rossi (more about Vasco below). Ligabue has been on the Italian music scene since the 80s and if you love his voice and his songs, you can find quite a few of them on LyricsTraining.
“Vado al massimo” means “I go full out” and is an evergreen Italian song by Vasco Rossi which you always find at Karaoke night. This is the kind of song that you’d listen to to give yourself a boost of energy and enthusiasm. The lyrics of this song are not particularly meaningful or deep but they play a lot with word sounds and assonance of words.
A little cultural anecdote about this song: The Italian world champion racer Valentino Rossi told in a few interviews that one of his rituals prior to a race is to listen to this song to get a boost of motivation…so he could go full out!
“Nel blu dipinto di blu” literal means in “The Blue Painted Blue”. This is a very classic Italian song, which is super popular abroad too. You may have heard it in its English version (with the title of “Volare” or “Fly” too.). The singer, Domenico Modugno, born in the Italian region of Puglia, was inspired to write this song to celebrate his land, its sea and blue sky. Personally, I love this song because its lyrics conjure up a feeling of freedom and light heartedness.
Domenico Modugno is considered one of the fathers of Italian music. He was born in Polignano a Mare, in Puglia, one of the most beautiful Italian towns, today Unesco world heritage. I travelled a few weeks ago to his birthpace (and I took a photo under Domenico’s statue) and if you get the chance I’d advice you to visit his town too as it’s stunning and one of the most perfect places to speak Italian (I wrote about it in this article)
Songs to learn Italian #8: Ma il cielo è sempre più blu
Sticking with the blue theme, let’s listen to this song by Rino Gaetano . The title means the sky is always bluer. Once again, this is a controversial song. At a first glance, this song seems to be optimistic and lighthearted. At a deeper level, this songs actually highlights the issues and problems of Italian society in the 70s, such as corruption or social injustice – and some of the issues mentioned are unfortunately still true today. There is also a cover version of this song by Giusy Ferreri which I find energizing and upbeat.
Here’s the recent cover of this song by Giusy Ferreri
Rino Gaetano was an Italian singer famous for his rough voice and he used his songs as a way to report social and political issues. He also wrote a book with the same title of this song, “Il cielo è sempre più blu”, in which he collected some of his songs; some of these songs were dedicated to important historical personalities like Louis Armstrong, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King e Mao Tse-tung. A pretty cool guy, Rino, who used his art as a mean to serve society and so many Italian singers went down that path after him (see Jovanotti, above)
Songs to learn Italian #9: Perdono
Perdono means “forgiveness” or “sorry” and, as you may infer from he title, this song is all about forgiveness within a love story. Most Italian popular songs are love songs because, you know, Italian people are fairly romantic and passionate. By the way, from a linguistic point of view, if you can sing this song at its real speed, you’re an Italian pronunciation master.
Tiziano Ferro is the author and singer of this song and is a worldwide famous singer, who has sung not only in Italian but also Spanish, French and Portuguese. When he first started his singing career, he was fairly innovative as he managed to bring a mix of different genres into Italian popular music, like Pop, Blues, Soul, Rhythm and blues.
So, did you like these Italian songs? They by no means reflect the vast and varied landscape of Italian music, but I hope they’ll give you a sneak peek into the way Italians think. In popular Italian music, you’ll often find the lighthearted Italian way of looking at life but you may also find more meaningful songs with lyrics which talk about social issues or rave about the beauty of our Italian land. And, yes, we have some love stories here and there too!
Over to you!
Do you know an Italian song that you love and you’d like to share with us? What do you like about it and how did it help you learn the lovely Italian language?
Share it in the comments below as I’d love to sing it along!
You love the country, the culture, the food and the people.
Maybe you’ve already been to Italy on holiday and are planning to go back, and this time you’d like to converse with the locals. Maybe you even dream of living there one day.
Or perhaps your family is Italian, and you’d like to learn it so you can reconnect with your heritage.
Whatever the reason, you know you want to learn Italian. The question is, how?
In this article, you’ll find 38 tools that will help you learn Italian, from beginner to advanced level. Some of them I used when I was learning Italian (some I still do!). Others I wish existed back when I first started.
The best Italian learning tools will help you:
– Use Italian in conversation, so you can start chatting asap.
– Practice speaking, reading, listening and writing in Italian.
– Get hooked, so that you feel motivated to keep learning.
Read on to find a list of fab Italian resources that do exactly that.
Italian learning tools that will help you pick up the basics
So you’re thinking about learning Italian, but all you can say is ciao.
There’s a lot to like about the Assimil Italian course. First, it has a system where you do one chapter per day (around 30 minutes), which is ideal for getting you into a productive language-learning routine. Next, it introduces new vocabulary and grammar points little and often and keeps coming back to them so you don’t forget.
Importantly, each lesson is based on a conversation so you can get used to reading and listening to Italian in realistic contexts. Finally, the CDs are entirely in Italian, which means you get tons of Italian audio that you can download and listen to on your headphones as you go about your day.
2. Coffee break Italian
The Coffee Break Italian podcast is a delightfully relaxed (and very effective) way to pick up Italian. The lively and interactive lessons introduce new things at a nice pace, building on what you already know so you don’t forget anything. As well as teaching you the language, Mark Pentleton and his team throw in lots of cultural notes and anecdotes, which make the lessons a pleasure to listen to.
3. Michel Thomas
When you start learning Italian, it won’t be long before you meet the big bad world of Italian verbs. These can cause headaches for beginners because they change depending on who’s doing the action. To see what I mean, take a look at the difference between the English and Italian verbs for mangiare (to eat).
But worry not. If you learn Italian verbs the right way, they suddenly get a lot easier to remember. The Michel Thomas Italian course organises verbs into logical groups which helps you pick them up fast. And perhaps more importantly, it shows you how to use this grammar to build useful sentences.
The course also shows you how to take advantage of the many English words that have an Italian equivalent (known as cognates), such as informazione, azione, conversazione, animale, originale, distanza… All you have to do is put on an Italian accent and you can already say loads of Italian words!
I’ve used Michel Thomas to get off the starting block for French, Italian and Spanish and I’m always surprised by how much I can say after only a few hours of listening.
Another challenge of learning Italian at the beginning is remembering all those new words and phrases. The Pimsleur course drills Italian into your brain by repeating things you’ve learned in new contexts and building gradually on what you’ve already learnt.
It can be a little old-fashioned in places (the plot follows someone on a business trip), but when used in combination with other resources, it’s a great way to fix the basics in your mind.
5. Italy made easy
On Manu’s Italian Made Easy YouTube channel, you’ll find oodles of easy-to-follow tutorials, travel and cultural tips, Q&As and live lessons. His videos start from beginner and go all the way up to advanced.
Well, when you get the Italian sound system, you’ll be able to pronounce Italian better so you can make yourself understood more easily. You’ll also be able to hear Italian sounds more accurately, which will help you understand what Italians are saying to you.
And when you can understand and be understood in Italian, you’ll have better conversations with Italians (the reason you want to learn Italian in the first place, right?)
Lots of people make the mistake of thinking that pronunciation isn’t important at the beginning, but if you neglect it, you could find yourself with lots of fossilized mistakes that are difficult to correct later on. On the flip side, if you start focusing on Italian sounds from the get-go, every time you speak and listen to Italian, you’ll be reinforcing what you’ve learnt so your pronunciation will keep getting better and better.
Luca-based Italian teacher Silvia posts Italian words, phrases and study tips on her Instagram page. There’s also an italearn website with free materials like video tutorials and lovely grammar infographics.
8. 5 Minute Italian
No article about Italian learning tools would be complete without our own 5 Minute Italian podcast! Hosted by myself and my partner Matteo from our home in Milan, 5 Minute Italian is a fun podcast which helps you pick up the basics in bite-sized pieces.
Check out our 5 Minute Italian podcast library, where you’ll find tons of mini-tutorials on grammar, vocabulary, cultural tips and pronunciation. And if you join our Italian club, you’ll also get weekly emails with bonus materials like quizzes, flashcards and invites to free speaking workshops.
Italian learning tools that will help you get conversational
Once you’ve got some basics under your belt, it’s time to practise using Italian in real-life situations.
As you bridge the gap between learner materials and real spoken Italian, you’ll need support from subtitles and slow, clear speech. You’ll also need a great dictionary and smart ways to remember all those new words!
If you like the idea of improving your speaking skills quickly and cheaply without taking your slippers off, you should give italki a try.
It’s a website where you can find one-to-one Skype lessons with Italian conversation tutors (called community tutors) often for less than $10 an hour. And you don’t need to worry about speaking slowly, making mistakes or sounding silly – tutors are there to help you learn and most are friendly, patient and used to working with beginners.
If you’d like to give italki a try, you can get a free lesson by clicking any of the italki links on this page: once you’ve signed up and booked your first lesson, you’ll get a $10 voucher to spend on the next one.
I don’t get any commission if you sign up through this link, but I do get a free lesson with my Italian conversation tutor on italki. This helps me improve my Italian, save money and spend more time writing articles like the one you’re reading now – Grazie!
Italki is also a handy tool for working on your writing skills: post your writing on the notebook section and a native speaker should come along and give you feedback.
If you’d like a little practice before trying spontaneous conversations, try warming up with HelloTalk, an app where you can do language exchanges via text and vocal messages (a bit like Whatsapp for language learners). It’s the perfect way to get used to chatting with native speakers before having a go at face-to-face conversations.
11. News in slow Italian
Often the topics covered in language learning materials are either too boring or babyish. News in Slow Italian gives you something interesting to listen to by covering the week’s news in slow and clear speech (hence the name!). A great way to bridge the gap between beginner materials and real spoken Italian.
12. Easy Italian
On the Easy Languages YouTube channel, presenters interview people on the street, with questions close to Italians’ hearts like “what’s your favourite food”. It’s a great way to get up close to Italian culture and get used to hearing natives speak in a natural and spontaneous way.
The interview format is brilliant as you hear the same phrases repeated over and over and the answers are usually entertaining. To help you follow, there are big subtitles in Italian and smaller ones in English (quick tip: try covering the English subtitles while you listen the first few times, so you can get used to figuring out the meaning from the Italian).
Sadly there aren’t as many Easy Italian episodes as there are for the other Easy language channels like German and Spanish, but there are still quite a few to keep you busy!
13. Word reference
Once you start reading and listening to real Italian, you’ll need a good dictionary so you can look up the new words you find. Word Reference is my go-to Italian-English dictionary because it gives nice example sentences which help me see how the word is used in real life and remember it better.
The following video uses Spanish examples, but it has plenty of useful tips that you can apply to your Italian studies.
There’s also a brilliant forum where you’ll find answers to FAQs and a space to pose questions to Italian native speakers. Finally, there’s a verb conjugator, where you can check how to use Italian verbs in different tenses.
Next, you’ll need to remember all those new words you learnt. One popular way is to use a flashcard app like Memrise, which quizzes you on words at specific intervals to help you remember better. It’s based on scientific studies which show that we remember information better when we space out the reviews, compared cramming them over a short space of time.
Memrise is huge in the language learning community and you’ll find lots of Italian courses with ready-made vocabulary lists already on there. However, it’s better to make your own course with example sentences that you’ve already seen or heard being used in real life, for the following reasons:
Learning words in sentences (rather than in isolation) helps you understand how to use them later.
Words are much more memorable when you associate them with real experiences, as opposed to a bunch of letters floating around on a list.
15. Use the google translate chrome extension to translate Italian words with a click
With the Google Translate Chrome extension, you can turn any Italian website into an interactive Italian dictionary. When you click on a word you don’t know, the English translation pops up on the same page, so you can read websites without constantly stopping to look up words. There’s even a little speaker symbol next to the translation so that you can check the pronunciation.
16. All about Italian
Italian teacher Elfin posts mini Italian tutorials and videos online. Her lessons are full of native-sounding phrases and tips on how to use them so you can sound more natural when you speak. The best thing? It’s all on Instagram, so instead of looking at pictures of what your old school friends made for dinner, you can boost your Italian skills!
Speaking of learning a language on Instagram, why not improve your Italian speaking and writing skills by joining the #languagediarychallenge? Every month, a community of lovely language learners get together to practice using the language they’re learning. To join, all you have to do is post a photo or video to Instagram and write/say something in the language you’re learning for 30 days. Then use the hashtag #languagediarychallenge and tag @joyoflanguages. There’s also a cool language-related prize at the end!
Alberto from Italiano Automatico creates videos for Italian learners who already have some knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary, but can’t speak very well yet. The videos are entirely in Italian and he speaks slowly and clearly, making them a great tool for transitioning from learner materials to natural Italian speech. If you need a little help, after you’ve listened you can try switching on the auto generated subtitles, which are usually pretty accurate. On Italiano Automatico, you’ll find lots of ways to improve your Italian including explanations of common words and expressions, interviews with Italians and tips on how to learn a language. You’ll also find fun videos with Alberto’s co-host, his lovely nonna!
19. Learn Italian with Lucrezia
On Lucrezia Oddone’s YouTube channel, you’ll find tutorials, vlogs, Q&As and tips on learning Italian. You’ll also find handy recommendations for fun Italian resources like music, books, films and TV shows. I especially like her vlogs, where Lucrezia takes you on little trips around Italy, sharing her enthusiasm for all things Italian. Many of Lucrezia’s videos are entirely in Italian (with subtitles), which are perfect for the full immersion experience. She also has a podcast and an Instagram account where you can follow her adventures and learn Italian at the same time!
On her Instagram page, Italian teacher Elena posts handy Italian words and phrases with example sentences, as well as photos with bilingual Italian-English captions. You can also practice your writing by answering her questions in Italian!
Practice chatting in Italian and connect with other learners by joining the 5 Minute Italian Facebook Group. If you have questions about the Italian language, you can post them to the group and we’ll answer them as soon as possible. You’ll also find handy resources like songs and YouTube videos to help you learn the fun way. And we often share photos and videos (in Italian of course) so you can see what we’ve been getting up to in Milan!
Evviva! Now you can have basic conversations and understand simple spoken Italian, it’s time to hone your skills by reading and listening to materials intended for native Italians, like books, newspapers, TV series and films. Moving onto native speaker materials is the most exciting part of learning a language. Now you can:
Learn how Italians really communicate with each other.
Immerse yourself in Italian culture.
Improve your Italian by doing things you enjoy, like watching films or reading the newspaper.
Here’s a selection of some of my fave resources for Italian native speakers.
22. Corriere della Sera
Corriere della Sera is one of Italy’s biggest newspapers. On their website, you’ll find articles and mini videos so you can keep up-to-date with current affairs in Italy and world news from an Italian point of view.
For a helping hand in understanding the articles, try using the google translate extension (see number 15) to translate the vocabulary by clicking on the word so you don’t have to interrupt your flow every time you need to look up a word.
La Corriere della Sera website is also famous for their gossip stories on the right-hand column that drag you into a web of trivial news (like what the latest Italian celebrities are up to) rather than reading about real current affairs. A time-waster for Italians, but great for learners because getting lost in a web of addictive reading material is good for your Italian!
23. Italian podcasts
With apps like podcast player, you can find a huge variety of Italian podcasts for native speakers. Just set the country to Italy and start browsing different shows until you find one you like. A few of my favorites are:
Scientificast (a podcast that explains science to the general public)
Sgrammaticando is a YouTube channel about Italian grammar with a twist: it’s aimed at native speakers (yep, even Italians need help with their own grammar sometimes!) as well as Italian learners. In her fun and friendly style, Fiorella answers FAQs and gives tutorials to help both Italians and Italian learners avoid common mistakes and “defend themselves” from the common traps of the Italian language.
I’m thrilled to see the growing selection of foreign-language TV programs and films on Netflix, it’s becoming an invaluable resource in any lazy language learners toolbox! The offerings will depend on where you are in the world, but you if you search for “Italian TV series” or “Italian films”, you should find some good stuff to watch. Make yourself a cuppa and put on your PJs, it’s time for an Italian TV binge…
26. The Jackal
The Jackal team is famous throughout Italy for their hilarious spoofs of Italian culture and other silly stuff. They have Neapolitan accents and throw in lots of local slang, so it’s a great way to train yourself to understand regional varieties of Italian.
Don’t worry if you find regional variations like this tricky to understand at first, that’s normal! For a little help, you can use the subtitles which are often available in both Italian and English. I’d recommend listening without subtitles first, then working with the Italian subtitles to pick out words you missed (only use the English ones for translations if you get really stuck).
FanPage describe themselves as independent news reporters, but they offer so much more than you’d expect from a standard news channel. Here you’ll find social commentaries, interviews, investigative journalism, pranks and fascinating insights into Italian culture.
28. La 7
La 7 is an Italian TV channel that posts many of its programs online so you can catch the replay. Have a gander around the site, choose a TV show you like the sound of, then click the “RIVEDILA7” tab to find past episodes. There’s something for everyone, from politics to cooking shows.
At the time of writing, you can access these shows freely from abroad (no need for a special license or VPN). You can also find some full episodes of La 7 TV shows on their YouTube channel.
Rai is the national public broadcasting channel in Italy. Like La 7, they post replays of their TV shows online, which at the time of writing are available to watch from abroad. On the Rai website, you’ll find a world of Italian TV at your fingertips including documentaries, dramas, reality TV, films and quiz shows. You can also catch up with episodes of the popular soap opera un posto al sole.
Tools that will inspire you to learn Italian
Now you’ve got the resources, but what about the motivation? To stay inspired throughout your Italian journey, it helps to have some encouragement and advice from other people who’ve already done it. The following are blogs and websites from italophiles who are teaching themselves Italian and are happy to share what they learn along the way.
30. Cher Hale
Cher Hale turned her passion for the Italian language into the delightful blog the Iceberg Project. In her articles and podcast, you’ll find fun grammar tutorials (that’s right, she actually makes grammar fun!) together with fascinating cultural and travel tips. On a mission to teach you how Italians actually talk, Cher’s also teaches you key words and expressions that Italians use all the time (and you won’t find in phrase books).
31. Studentessa Matta
Melissa, also known as the Studentessa Matta (crazy student), started her blog as a way of improving her Italian skills and connecting with other Italian learners. As well as writing bilingual blog posts, Melissa promotes the Italian language and culture through her podcast and YouTube channel, which are often recorded entirely in Italian. On her YouTube channel, you’ll find stories about her Italian adventures, grammar and idiomatic expressions explained as well as cultural tidbits.
While studying in Italy, Brian uploaded a couple of videos of himself speaking Italian to document his language learning journey. Since then, he’s been making videos in Italian to help Italians pick up English and learn more about cultural differences between Italy and America.
Although his videos are aimed at Italians learning English, his comparisons and tips are useful for anyone who finds themselves navigating between Italian and English-speaking cultures, just like Brian did. If you’ve ever been in that situation, you’ll probably find yourself nodding along and laughing at his funny observations about the differences between Italy and the US.
34. Tia Taylor
4 years ago, American-born YouTuber Tia Taylor moved to Milan to study at the prestigious Bocconi University. On her bilingual channel, Tia explores American and Italian cultural differences, covering a range of topics, from beauty to politics. Her Italian is top-notch and her videos have Italian and English subtitles so you can go back and catch any words you might have missed.
35. Questa Dolce Vita
A few years ago, Canadian-born Jasmine left everything behind and moved to Bergamo to pursue her Italian dream. On her blog Questa Dolce Vita, she gives an articulate, honest (and often hilarious) insiders view of what it’s really like to learn Italian.
Jasmine is co-host of the DolceVitaBloggers link up, a place where Italy bloggers get together every month to write and read about their Italian experiences.
36. Mamma Prada
UK-based Kristie and her Italian husband are raising their kids to be bilingual in English and Italian. On MammaPrada, Kristie shares her story of learning Italian alongside her little ones. Across her blog and social media channels, you’ll find Italian articles, handy words and phrases, language learning tips, travel advice and cultural gems.
Kristie runs the DolceVitaBloggers link up, together with Jasmine from Questa Dolce Vita and Kelly from Italian at heart.
37. Italian at heart
On her blog Italian at Heart, Kelly shares her journey to learn her grandfather’s mother tongue, along with her culinary, travel and cultural adventures. You can also follow her on Instagram, where she posts bilingual photo captions in English and Italian.
So those were my 38 favourite Italian learning tools. I’m sure there are loads of other good ones I’ve missed so if you have any more, please share the love and add them to the comments.
Have you used any of these Italian tools before? Which is your favourite? Which one would you like to try next? Let us know in the comments below!
Can you roll your Rs?
Have a go now. Go on, no one’s listening.
If you made a lovely rrrrrr sound, you can stop reading and go back to Facebook.
On the other hand, if you’re anything like me when I started learning Spanish, you may have blown a raspberry, or made a noise that sounds like a cross between Darth Vader and a flushing a toilet.
If this is you, and you’d like to learn how to roll your Rs, keep reading.
In this post, you’ll learn:
Why you can probably learn how to roll your Rs, even if you think you can’t.
A simple method to train yourself to make the rolling R sound (that actually works).
A quick trick you can use right now to make your R sound more Spanish or Italian, even if you can’t roll your Rs yet.
Why can’t I roll my Rs?
The Italians and Spanish make it look easy, but the rolling R sound is actually pretty complex.
Also known as the trilled R, the sound is made by blowing air between the top of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. With the right tongue position, muscle tension and air pressure, this air causes the tip of your tongue to vibrate, creating a lovely rrrrrrrrrrr sound.
To get it right, you need to think about the following things:
Position: the tongue should rest on the little ridge behind your teeth (roughly in the same place as when you make the t sound).
Tension: the tongue should be relaxed enough that it can move up and down freely in the stream of air, but not so loose that the air passes straight over.
Air pressure: if you breathe too softly, your tongue won’t vibrate, but if you breathe too hard, your tongue won’t stay in the right position.
The rolling R sound requires you to coordinate your mouth muscles in a way that’s totally different from English (with the exception of some accents, like Scottish, which use the rolling R in words like grrreat).
If you don’t have this sound in your first language, learning to coordinate your muscles in this way can feel almost impossible.
Is the ability to roll your Rs genetic?
I always envied the kids in my Spanish class at school who could elegantly roll their Rs. Whenever I tried, I ended up with my face ended up covered in slobber. As my Spanish teacher (erroneously) explained that the rolling R is something you’re either born with or you’re not, I accepted the idea that I was not one of the lucky ones and decided to save myself the embarrassment of trying.
But 10 years later, when I was learning Italian in Italy, I found myself struggling with the rolling R again. I wanted a good Italian accent so I could blend in with the locals, but when you can’t roll your Rs, it immediately singles you out as having quite a strong foreign accent.
I’d always assumed that my problem was physiological – maybe something about the shape of my tongue meant I couldn’t do it – so I resigned myself to the fact that I would always have a crappy R in languages like Italian and Spanish.
Can I train myself to roll my Rs?
Luckily, a year or so later I met an Italian teacher at the school where I was working, who insisted that most people can train themselves to make the rolling R sound.
This was something I didn’t want to hear at the time because it felt like she was implying that I hadn’t tried hard enough. Didn’t she know that my problem was physiological?! No amount of practise would change the shape of my tongue!
I decided to practise the rolling R anyway, mostly to prove her wrong, so she’d stop being so smug around poor foreigners like me who couldn’t do it. I watched tutorials on the internet and started practising everywhere: waiting for my computer to load, washing the dishes, in the shower…
I didn’t expect it to work.
But it did. After a few days, I could feel my tongue getting closer to the rolled R. After a few weeks, I could do the Italian R quite well. I went from being irritated at the Italian teacher to wanting to hug her.
I could finally roll my Rs!
Why you can probably roll your Rs too
There was nothing wrong with my tongue, I just needed to retrain my mouth and tongue muscles so they could adapt to a new, complex sound.
You’ve had decades to fine tune your mouth muscles to make sounds in your first language. Training the muscles to make new sounds takes perseverance (probably way more than you think), so it’s easy to assume there must be some physiological reason why you can’t do it.
But in countries where Spanish or Italian is spoken, almost everyone can make the rolling R sound. Only a small percentage of people can’t do it because of physiological problems. The majority of us would’ve learnt just fine if we’d grown up speaking a language with the rolling r.
The good news: this means that with the right techniques and a good dose of perseverance, you can probably learn how to roll your Rs.
This tutorial will show you how.
Are you learning Italian? Learn to speak and understand faster with 5 Minute Italian.
You just watched a tutorial from our 5 Minute Italian course. You can learn to speak and understand basic Italian fast with weekly podcast lessons + bonus materials, by joining our 5 minute Italian crew.You’ll get:
The 5 minute Italian podcast delivered to your inbox each week.
Bonus materials that only members get access to, including:
Lifetime membership to the Facebook group, where you can practise with Italian teachers.
If you’re looking for some guidance on how to get started, you’re in the right place.
When I first started learning Italian (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to learn words quickly, or that I should pay attention to things like prepositions.
Come to think of it, I probably didn’t know what a preposition was!
Had I known things like this from the get-go, it would have saved me loads of time and effort.
That’s why I’ve put together this complete guide to learning Italian for beginners. It has all the things I wish someone had told me before I started and the exact steps you can take to pick up basic Italian quickly.
You’ll learn things like:
Essential Italian travel phrases
How to roll your Rs
The best way to remember Italian words, phrases and grammar
Action points you can follow to make sure you succeed
Throughout, you’ll find links to audio files and mini-lessons you can use to start learning Italian straightaway.
A 4-step roadmap to learning Italian
What should I learn first? Which method should I use? How can I stay motivated?
When you learn a new language, there are so many things to think about that it’s easy to get lost. In fact, one of the main things that can slow your progress in Italian is a lack of clear direction.
If you want to get somewhere fast, it helps to have a clear roadmap.
Here, you’ll find a 4 step action plan you can follow to start learning Italian successfully:
Find your motivation (know why you want to learn Italian).
Learn the essential phrases (so you can start talking straight away).
Go into detail (start learning grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation).
Take action (so you can achieve your goal of speaking Italian).
Let’s get started shall we?
1. Find your motivation
Learning a new language takes time and commitment. If you’re not clear on your reasons for wanting to speak Italian, somewhere down the line you may find yourself wondering if it’s really worth it.
On the other hand, if you’re excited about learning Italian, that enthusiasm will pull you to your desk, even on days when you don’t really feel like it.
When you’re motivated, it’s easier to overcome the obstacles that normally get in the way of learning a language, like lack of time or tiredness. As the saying goes:
If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, if not, you’ll find an excuse.
That’s why motivation is number 1 on our roadmap.
Before you start learning Italian, take some time to get excited about it. Think about all the awesome things that will happen when you speak Italian, and come back to them whenever you need a motivation top-up.
If you need a little inspiration, here are my top 3 reasons for learning Italian:
You’ll experience the real Italy
Italy is one of the most popular destinations in the world, and with good reason! With stunning countryside, Mediterranean beach towns, a rich history and arguably the best food and wine in the world, Italy has a lot to offer.
But if you don’t speak the language, it’s difficult to get out of the tourist bubble.
You’ll get so much more out of Italy if you understand and speak a bit of the language. It’s all part of the experience: laughing with the waiter, chatting to a little old lady on the train (with the help of a few gestures!) or playing with Italian kids at the beach. When you have a go at speaking Italian, you’ll come away with better holiday memories.
Even a handful of phrases can help you feel like a local. It’s a great feeling when you can order a meal or ice-cream in Italian and they understand what you’re saying.
You can also get insider recommendations from Italians about the best places to go in their town – no more frozen pizza and reheated pasta at tourist restaurants!
You’ll get to hang out with Italians
There’s an Italian saying: “il dolce far niente”, which means the sweetness of doing nothing.
Italians are masters of the art of living: most have a relaxed pace of life and love meeting new people. This is a huge plus when it comes to making Italian friends and practicing italiano with the locals.
When you have a go at speaking, Italians are usually patient and friendly. And many feel more comfortable speaking Italian compared to English (especially in small towns and villages). This gives you a real reason to use your Italian, which helps you learn faster.
You’ll feel a little bit Italian, too
Romantic, musical, expressive – people often say Italian is the most beautiful sounding language in the world. When you learn Italian, you can have loads of fun getting into the role and trying to adopt the distinctive accent.
2. Learn essential Italian phrases for travellers
Hopefully you’re now feeling excited about learning Italian and ready to get started. Before we dive into the details like grammar and pronunciation, it’s a good idea to get some essential phrases under your belt so you can communicate straight away.
Don’t worry if you say things a bit wrong, or you can’t understand what people are saying back to you yet – that’s normal at first!
Getting started is the hardest part. If you’re willing to have a go at using basic phrases, everything else will feel easier from there. And Italians will appreciate it if you make a little effort to communicate in their language!
Phrases like “where is…”, “how much…?” and “can I have..?” will take you a long way. Once you learn the basic structure, you can adapt them to say loads of different things in Italian.
For example, when you know how to say “can I have” = “posso avere”, you can use it to ask for anything anywhere: the bill in a restaurant, a pillow in your hotel, a ticket on the train… All you have to do is look up the name of the thing you’re asking for.
Here are a few Italian travel phrases to get you started.
Essential Italian travel phrases
Dov’è…? = where is…?
Dov’è il bagno? = where’s the toilet?
Dov’è la stazione? = where’s the station?
Quanto costa? = how much does it cost?
Quanto costa il caffè? = how much does the coffee cost?
Quanto costa la pizza? = how much does the pizza cost?
Posso avere….? = can I have?
Posso avere il conto?= can I have the bill?
Posso avere il menù? = can I have the menu?
Posso avere un caffè? = Can I have a coffee?
Numbers are usually one of the first things people learn and with good reason – they pop up everywhere! From buying things to asking about public transport, you’ll need to master numbers if you want to get by in Italian.
You can learn how to count to 100 in Italian with the 5 Minute Italian episodes below.
Learn more Italian with fluency phrases
When you start speaking a language, it’s normal to have communication breakdowns, for example, when you don’t know a word, or when you don’t understand what someone just said.
With the right strategies, you can actually turn these moments into opportunities to learn more Italian.
Imagine you go into a bakery and you see a delicious pastry, but you don’t know what it’s called. You have two options:
You can point and say “one of those please”.
You can point to it and ask the barista in Italian “come si dice quello in Italiano?” (how do you say that in Italian?)
Most Italians will respond really well to this kind of curiosity. Once you open the conversation in this way, you’ll probably get the chance to chat to them a little more, and learn new words in the process!
There’s nothing wrong with using English when you get stuck, but the more you can use Italian to manage communication breakdowns, the longer you can keep the conversation going.
And the longer you can keep the conversation going, the better you get at speaking Italian.
Here are 5 fluency phrases that will help you turn communication breakdowns into opportunities to learn more Italian:
How do you say X in Italian? = Come si dice X in Italiano?
Sorry, I didn’t understand. = Scusi, non ho capito.
Could you repeat that please? = Potrebbe ripetere per favore?
Could you speak slower please? = Potrebbe parlare più lentamente per favore?
Can we speak in Italian? I’d like to learn. = Possiamo parlare in italiano? Vorrei imparare.
Want to learn more Italian so that you can get by in in Italy? In the 5 minute Italian podcast, you’ll learn how to deal with a common travel situation each week, like buying ice-cream or getting from the airport to your hotel.
3. Going into detail: Italian grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation
Now you’ve picked up some basic Italian phrases, it’s time to learn about the big 3: grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.
At this point, it’s a good idea to get yourself a beginner’s textbook or audio course and work though it systematically so you can build up a foundation of these 3 aspects. Michel Thomas and Assimil both have great Italian courses for beginners.
This section will give you an overview of the main things you need to know about Italian grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, together with tips on how to learn them effectively.
Italian grammar is simple-ish (no complicated case systems!)
1000s of Italian words are similar to English
Italian pronunciation is quite straightforward: there aren’t many new sounds to learn and the spelling system is simple.
Italian grammar: How is it different to English?
In this section, you’ll learn about two very important features of Italian grammar which don’t exist in English: verb conjugation and the difference between masculine and feminine words.
Verb conjugation is just a fancy way of describing how verbs change depending on who’s doing the action (just in case you need a little reminder, verbs are words which describe actions or states, like jump, speak or be).
We can see this with the verb “be” in English: we say “I am” but “you are“.
But the verb be is actually a bit of an exception in English. Normally we don’t change the verb much, apart from in the third person.
Italian, on the other hand, uses looooads of verb conjugations. Here are a couple of examples (click below to listen to the pronunciation):
Essere = to be
Io sono = I am
Tu sei = you are
Lui/lei è = he/she is
Noi siamo = we are
Voi siete = you all/both are
Loro sono = they are
Parlare = to speak
Io parlo = I speak
Tu parli = you speak
Lui/lei parla = he/she speaks
Noi parliamo = we speak
Voi parlate = you both/all speak
Loro parlano = they all speak
If you’re observant, you may have noticed that there are 6 forms of the verb in Italian, while English only has 5. That’s because Italian has a plural “you” that’s used for when you’re speaking to more than one person. It’s a bit like saying you both/you all/you guys/y’all.
For many learners, verb conjugation is the most intimidating thing about Italian: one look at a list of Italian verbs and you might worry that you’ll never fit it all in your brain.
But you will.
Little by little is key.
And it’s not as complicated as it seems. Most verbs follow one of 4 patterns, which don’t take too long to learn. It’s true that there are quite a few irregular verbs, but many of these are similar to other irregular verbs, so you can learn them together in groups.
Importantly, don’t feel like you have to learn all the verbs at once. Focus on the ones you’ll use the most, then learn the others gradually as you go along.
Masculine and feminine words
The Italian word for “female friend” is:
But for a “male friend”, it’s:
Italian has gender, which means that nouns can change based on whether they are masculine or feminine (just in case you need a little refresher, nouns are words which describe people, things and places).
Feminine words often end in “a” and masculine words often end in “o”.
Here are some more examples:
Bambina (female child)
Bambino (male child)
The word for “a”, as in “a girl” or “a boy” also changes depending on whether the word is masculine or feminine. To say “a girl” in Italian we say una ragazza,while to say “a boy”, we say un ragazzo.
The funny thing is, languages with gender use the same system for objects, like chairs and books.
In Italian, a chair is feminine: “una sedia”.
While a book is masculine: “un libro”
This can feel a bit strange at first – how can a chair be feminine and a book be masculine?
Gender isn’t based on any logic about whether things have “feminine” or “masculine” qualities.
When it comes to learning the gender of objects, just think of the words as being split into two arbitrary groups: masculine and feminine. When you know which group the word is in, it will help you make decisions about the grammar, like whether to use the word “un” or “una”.
How can you remember which group a word belongs to?
Try using imagery. For example, you could imagine “una sedia” as pink chair with a bow on it and “un libro” as blue book with a moustache on it (of course if you prefer to avoid gender clichés, you can choose different images!)
Common mistake alert! Prepositions
Prepositions are little words like “in”, “over”, “on”, “off” and “for”.
They’re not always logical: for example, if a light “goes off” it means that the light stops, but when an alarm “goes off”, the sound starts!
Because they’re not always logical, they vary a lot between languages. Here are some differences between Italian and English:
Italians don’t say “welcome to Italy”, they say welcome in Italy: benvenuti in Italia.
Italians don’t say “on the TV”, they say “in the TV”: in TV.
Italians don’t say “in the papers”, they say “on the papers”: sui giornali.
Italian learners often struggle with prepositions. But if you pay attention to them from the beginning, you’ll have a much better chance at getting them right in the long run.
Italian vocabulary: how to remember Italian words and phrases fast
Learn the words which are similare
One of the best things about learning Italian is that a lot of the words are very similar to English. In fact, when you start learning it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to notice that you can already say loads of Italian words by simply saying English words in a hammy Italian accent. Similare (pronounced sim-ill-ar-ray) is one example – no prizes for guessing what it means!
How do you say fantastic in Italian? Try to say it in your best Italian accent.
Coke for breakfast: Remember Italian words and phrases with memory hooks
What happens when you drink cola for breakfast? The combination of sugar and caffeine gives you an energy boost and you spring into action.
You’ve just learnt the Italian word for breakfast, using a technique called mnemonics: a memorisation strategy inspired by the ancient Greeks and endorsed by memory champions as the most effective way to quickly remember large amounts of information. The trick is to create a little memory hook, by linking the sounds and meaning of the new word to words you already know.
Let’s learn another one. Imagine you’ve planned to go for a walk with your friend Arthur. He knocks on the door and you shout “come in Arthur” = kam-in-ar-ta.
You’ve just learnt the word for “walk” in Italian.
If you want to remember new words quickly in Italian, try creating memory hooks like the ones above. Get creative – the sillier the image, the easier it is to remember!
It might take you a little while to come up with memory hooks at first, but the more you do it, the quicker you’ll get. And it will save you a lot of time and effort in memorising Italian words.
Italian pronunciation: why it’s easier than you think
Say what you see!
Italian pronunciation is relatively straightforward compared to many other languages, especially when you take into account the spelling system.
English has a complex spelling system where different combinations of letters can be pronounced in many ways. To demonstrate this point, George Bernard Shaw once pointed out that the word fish could be spelled “ghoti.”
gh = /f/ as in enough.
o = /i/ as in women
ti= /sh/ as in nation
Luckily for us, Italian has a very phonetic spelling system, which means that most letters can only be pronounced in one way. Once you learn a couple of spelling rules, you’ll be able to pronounce the words you read without difficulty.
The Italian spelling system: C and G
One of the rules you’ll need to learn is the pronunciation of C and G, as it’s not always the same as in English.
Generally, C is pronounced as a hard K sound, like in the word cake. Similarly, G is usually pronounced as a hard G sound, like in game.
Examples you may recognise
The same rule applies when C and G are followed by the letter “h”.
Examples you may recognise
However, when you see C followed by the letter I or E, it’s pronounced as a soft C sound, (like the ch sound in the English word chocolate).
Examples you may recognise
Likewise, when you see G followed by the letter I or E, it’s pronounced as a soft J sound, (like the j in jeans)
Examples you may recognise
If you want to learn more about how to pronounce C and G in Italian, and hear some more examples, listen to 5 Minute Italian episode 11 and episode 12 on how to pronounce an Italian menu.
How to roll your Rs in Italian
You’re probably already familiar with the fact that Italian has a rolled R sound. Some people can do it naturally, but for others, it takes a bit of work.
I used to really struggle with the rolled R. In fact, I had just about given up, until one of my Italian teachers insisted that I could learn to do it. She was right! I practised and practised and practised until eventually, I managed it.
So don’t get discouraged if you were born without this skill – most people can learn with the right techniques.
If you want to find out how I learnt to roll my Rs in Italian (and a quick trick to make your R sound more Italian even if you can’t roll it), listen to the tutorial below.
The smiley L
Another Italian soundwhich may be new to you is the smiley L (known formally as the palatal L). When you see the letters gli together, as in famiglia, it’s pronounced similar to an L sound, but instead of putting the tongue tip behind your teeth (like in the English one) you spread the whole tongue out across the roof of your mouth. If you smile when you say it, it helps to put the tongue in the right position, which is why we christened it the smiley L.
This sound is much easier to learn when you can hear it being pronounced and get some examples. Listen to the tutorial below for tips on how to pronounce the smiley L in Italian.
The smiley N
Italian also has a smiley N sound. When you see the letters gn together, as in lasagne, smile, push the whole tongue flat against your mouth (like in the smiley L) and try to make a N sound. As with the smiley L, it’s much easier to learn with audio instructions and examples. Listen to the tutorial below for tips on how to pronounce the smiley N.
Common mistake alert! Double consonants
In Italian, when you see two of the same consonants in a row, you should make that sound longer. For example, the word “sono” (which means I am) has a single consonant: “n”, while the word “sonno” (which means sleep) has a double consonant: “nn”. The “n” sound is held for longer in the latter.
Can you hear the difference?
Don’t worry if these words sound very similar at first, with practise, you’ll be able to differentiate them.
Many foreigners continue to mix up single and double consonants, even when they speak Italian very well. If you pay attention to them right from the beginning, you’ll have a much better chance of getting it right in the long run (in fact, I wish someone had given me this advice when I first started learning Italian!)
Common Mistake Alert! Not pronouncing the vowels properly
In English, we don’t always open our mouths fully to pronounce the vowels.
For example, in the word “responsible”, the letter “i” is pronounced as a kind of lazy “e” sound, which is produced with the mouth and tongue in a completely relaxed position. In the phonetic alphabet, it’s represented with the upside down ə sound (called the schwa).
However, Italian vowels are always pronounced fully. Can you hear the full “a” sound in the Italian version?
The lazy “ə” sound doesn’t exist in Italian, so be sure to pronounce each vowel fully.
Time for some action: how to achieve your goal of speaking Italian
So far so good. You’re excited about learning Italian, you’ve got some essential phrases and you’ve started learning about the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. You even know which common mistakes to look out for.
But there’s one last step.
If you want to make real progress in Italian, it’s importantto turn your good intentions into actions.
As Leonardo da Vinci says:
Being willing is not enough; we must do.
In this section, you’ll learn 4 strategies that will help you take action and get you closer to your goal of speaking Italian.
Use it or lose it
Bear in mind that no textbook or audio course will give you everything you need to speak Italian.
Textbooks teach you a lot about the language, but they don’t really help you use it in real life. Think of them like a book on how to play the guitar. It gives you a lot of useful information, but unless you actually put your hands on the guitar, you’ll never be able to play.
If you want to be able to use Italian in real life situations, you need to practise first. Practising helps you turn the Italian words and phrases you learn in books into active knowledge that you can use to communicate with Italians.
If the idea of speaking straightaway makes you feel nervous, don’t worry. You don’t have to walk up to an Italian and start talking after your first lesson. There are other ways to practise using your Italian:
Take the new words and grammar points you learn in your textbook and try using them to write sentences about your life.
Write a diary entry about your day.
Talk to yourself in Italian in your head: What are people around you doing? What objects can you see?
Practise speaking with a language exchange partner or conversation tutor. If you don’t feel comfortable attempting conversation yet, you can tell them about new words or grammar points you’ve learnt and ask them to give you examples of how they’re used in real life.
These activities help you connect what you learn to real life, which makes them easier to remember.
If this feels tricky and you make lots mistakes at the beginning, don’t worry. It’s a normal part of being a beginner. The most important thing is to start – that’s how you get better!
Join 5 Minute Italian to get lots of beginner-friendly opportunities to practise, including:
Speaking workshops, where we’ll help you get over nerves and have a go at speaking Italian.
Access to our private Facebook community where you can practice chatting to other learners in Italian and get personal feedback and corrections from Italian teachers.
In January, around 35% of people in Britain go on a diet.
By February, most have given up.
When it comes to goals like losing weight or learning a language, most of us start full of optimism, only to run out of steam a few days or weeks later. This happens because willpower is a limited resource: when it runs out, we fall back on old habits, like eating peanut butter out of the jar (just me?).
Even if you’re really committed to learning Italian at the beginning, your determination might fizzle out somewhere down the line.
You probably know that the best way to learn Italian is to study regularly over a sustained period, but that’s not always easy when your willpower waxes and wanes. The key to solving this problem is to make Italian a habit. Once you’re in the habit, learning Italian feels natural, so you don’t have to rely on self-discipline all the time.
Here are a couple of things you can do to get into the habit of learning Italian:
Find little ways to introduce Italian into your daily routine. For example, you could listen to a podcast at breakfast, read a book on your commute, or review vocabulary while you’re waiting for your computer to load.
Start small: just as bad habits can be difficult to break, good habits take time to make. Start with something so easy you can’t say no to, like 5 minutes a day. Then add an extra minute each day. Built up gradually until you find a length of time that a) slots easily into your daily routine and b) feels like you’re making good progress.
Science shows that if you work towards a goal as part of a group, you’re more likely to achieve it, compared to if you try going it alone. Joining a group of people who are learning Italian helps you learn faster for a couple of reasons:
If you study alone, it’s easy to make excuses in your head and slack off. Teaming up with others who are learning Italian makes you accountable to other people, which gives you an extra push.
The group gives you moral support, opportunities to practise and practical advice that will help you progress quicker.
Community is a powerful thing: if you’re serious about learning Italian, joining a group will help you succeed.
Join 5 Minute Italian (it’s free!)
If you want to learn basic Italian fast, you’ll get the exact steps and support you need by becoming a 5 Minute Italian member.
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