The Best Way to Learn Italian
Italian is a language that has always appealed to me, as Italy is such a lovely country. I have traveled and hitchhiked through Italy and, at that time, I didn’t speak Italian, so I was relying on my knowledge of Spanish to communicate with people. With so many fascinating places to visit, great food and lively people, it didn’t take long to realize that I wanted to learn Italian.
I’ve compiled some Italian resources which helped me learn the language and I’ll share my Italian learning methods and where I am today with the language.
The Best Way to Learn Italian: My Method
The first thing I remember doing was getting the Italian Linguaphone series, which is basically an at-home course to help you learn Italian. These are overpriced in my opinion, as you only really need the text, audio and a glossary. I’ve always found that the comprehension exercises that you’re meant to complete before and after reading the text are unnecessary and actually spoil the pleasure of reading.
I skipped all of the practice exercises, but I did read the text and listen to the audio many times. This was about 30 years ago, so it was before I had the realization that you had to listen and read things repetitively for the vocabulary to start to stick in your brain, but I did this sort of instinctively.
I have never liked bilingual books where you have, for example, Italian on the left-hand side and English on the right-hand side. This has never been an effective learning strategy for me as I don’t want to have to skim through the English text until I find the corresponding word from the Italian text.
What I want when studying a language is to see the word that I don’t know and quickly find out the meaning. In former days, this meant using a reader with a glossary, and I’ve previously discussed that I used these while learning German. There were many different books that I read, for example Prime Letture Italiane Per Stranieri by Armida Roncari. There are, however, a few disadvantages with glossaries, for example, the word that you’re looking for may not be in the glossary. Today, these types of readers have been, to a large extent, made obsolete by online dictionaries and tools like LingQ.
Obviously, if you speak French or Spanish, you get a lot of “freebie” vocabulary in Italian due to the similarities between the languages.
People often make a big fuss about “false friends,” or words that appear to have the same meaning across both languages, but actually do not. False friends aren’t actually such a big deal. There is the odd false friend among these languages, and you may use the word in the wrong context, but through these mistakes, you’ll quickly make the corrections. The bottom line is that the common vocabulary is a much greater benefit to the learner than it is an obstacle.
I used a great Italian grammar book called Essential Italian Grammar by Olga Ragusa, which I go back to often. This is a great resource because the different Italian pronouns can be quite difficult, as they’re different from what I’m used to with other languages. I found it beneficial to review the rules and then watch for them when reading and listening to my Italian content.
A big boost to my Italian was the discovery of Il Narratore, a very small audiobook publisher based up on a hillside near Verona. He has a number of wonderful Italian audiobooks, and a particularly great rendering of I Promessi Sposi, a classic of Italian literature. This novel was often read in school, so a lot of people, particularly Italian people, find the story quite boring. For me, I love that it takes place in another century, in another country, it feels exotic. It’s the type of story that I like and this is a really lovely audiobook version that he does. I can remember jogging in Palm Springs listening to I Promessi Sposi.
Il Narratore also has a fantastic audiobook version of Pinocchio. The great thing about classics like these is that you can easily find the digital text online and import it into LingQ. You can then look up words and phrases and listen to the audio. This allows you to learn in a way that’s much easier than struggling through bilingual textbooks or even books with glossaries.
Learn Italian on LingQ
So, this was my path with Italian, but I’m still not where I want to be in terms of vocabulary. For example, I want to read Umberto Eco novels, but there are too many words that I don’t understand. So when I start reading them, I end up underlining many words with the optimistic intention of coming back to them and looking them up with a dictionary, which I never do. This is why LingQ is an ideal place to study this type of content because I can look up and save words and phrases that I don’t know.
I’ll show you how I’ve studied Italian on LingQ. If I click on my profile and look at my activity, you can see that I have 22,236 known words and that I was particularly active back in 2008 and then at various times since then.
If I look at my LingQs created, I can see that there are only 5,000 of them, which tells me that the bulk of my known words came from words that I saw in the text, but didn’t have to look up because I knew them. LingQ eventually determines what your vocabulary level is as you go about looking up and saving words that you don’t know.
If I look at the words I’ve read, I can see that I’ve read a fair number, but I’ve also read a lot away from LingQ. Although back in 2013, I read 61,000 words, which isn’t insignificant.
So looking back at the gradual growth of my known words total, it picked up a lot at the beginning and then gradually grew, but I haven’t been very active in recent years.
Where do I Want to Get to with my Italian?
I can communicate in Italian, but not as well as I would like. I understand well, but if I pick up an Italian book, there are words that I don’t know. I would like to be better in my reading, and if I weren’t learning Arabic and Persian, I would love to spend time improving my Italian, as with many other languages.
I have brought my Italian up to a level where it isn’t semi-Spanish, it’s actually Italian, although not as good as I would like. So, if I had the opportunity or needed to use the language, for example if I went to Italy, or if I decided to spend a month indulging my interest in Italian, I could bring my level up. I would say I’m at a rusty B2, which I could easily bring up to a better level of B2 or even C1, which is where I hope to get all my languages even if I seldom get there.