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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