Okay, so you want to learn Italian.
That’s great if you have a professor, a textbook and people to speak the language with on a daily basis…
…but what if you don’t?
Never fear! As long as you have an internet connection and a bit of free time, you have everything you need to learn a language without ever setting foot in a classroom—and without breaking the bank.
Listed below are seven of the best websites for learning the Italian language, all of which are either completely free, or give users the option of accessing free features such as blogs, lessons and video content.
Most of them have materials for students at any stage of the learning process.
Whether you are just beginning to learn la bella lingua, or are looking for something to supplement the knowledge you already accrued in your high school or college classes, these sites have something for everyone.
All it takes is a few minutes to sign up, and you will be well on your way to becoming fluente!
What’s the Best Website to Learn Italian? Start with These 7 Options
“Learning, made joyful.” This is the slogan for the first website on our list, Memrise.
Memrise is a language learning app with the sole purpose of making learning fun instead of a chore. It accomplishes this purpose by presenting its lessons as a series of games and flashcards, with the overarching idea that learning your chosen language will save the universe (a bit cheesy, I know, but very motivational!).
Here are a few of the site’s best features:
- Mnemonics. Memrise teaches students new words and expressions through a series of flashcards that use mnemonics—memorization aides that use images or phrases to help retain information faster and for a longer period of time. This makes Memrise great for new Italian learners, because it starts at the beginning and helps you to build up a vocabulary in a memorable, enjoyable way.
For example, for the Italian word molto (very), Memrise presents you with a picture of molten lava on it, and a caption that reads “MOLTOn lava is VERY hot.” Again, this is a bit cheesy, but devices such as these have been shown to increase memorization skills for language learners. You can even make your own “memes” if none of the available ones hit the spot.
- Vocabulary. Memrise is devoted almost entirely to learning new vocabulary. Each short and sweet Memrise lesson is composed of at least five new vocabulary words, all of which you must learn before moving on to the next lesson.
If you seem to be having trouble with some of the words (i.e., you miss several questions involving them), these words are put into a list of terms to review later. This aids in retention as well, and helps you to amass a large amount of Italian vocab in a short amount of time!
Memrise teaches vocabulary using the SRS (Spaced Repetition System) method of learning, which counteracts the brain’s natural forgetfulness by showing you words just as you’re about to forget them. This method will help cement these vocabulary words in your long-term memory.
- Fun progress markers. Memrise is like a game that you can play whenever you have a few minutes of free time. Because of that, there are a lot of appealing visual aspects besides the mnemonics.
For example, whenever you are presented with a new vocabulary word, an image appears showing a seed being planted in a flower pot. As you study the word, the the seed grows and the plant gets bigger and bigger until it eventually blossoms into a flower to symbolize that you’ve officially learned the word.
This is a great feature for those who enjoy extra encouragement, because it gives real, visual proof of your progress, which encourages you to progress even further.
Memrise is a free app but it does have the option to upgrade to a more in-depth version for $9 a month or $59 a year (which gives you access to “challenge words review” and other features), so there is an option for any budget.
One of the biggest problems language learners face is finding a way to immerse themselves in the language they are studying. Learning grammar and verb conjugations is all well and good (and essential!), but those things do not help much if you never hear them used in an actual conversation.
The key to becoming fluent in Italian is to think in Italian, and that is where FluentU comes in.
FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles.
Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.
Once you've watched a video, you can use FluentU's quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’re learning, and give you extra practice with difficult words.
Plus, it'll tell you exactly when it's time for review. Now that's a 100% personalized experience!
The best part? You can try FluentU for free!
Start using FluentU on the website, or better yet, download the app from iTunes or the Google Play store.
You can also subscribe to the Italian blog for free and we will send you updates on all kinds of neat stuff—like the best Italian movies on Netflix, the best online Italian video libraries and lots more.
Online Italian Club
Online Italian Club is a bit of a hidden treasure. It is not one of the biggest Italian language learning websites out there, but it is a great place to find resources that range from grammar lessons to exercises to listening practice.
The site is a resource made for Italian language learners by an Italian language learner. Daniel Stephens, a British man who runs the site (and a school in Bologna) spent years developing his own Italian skills. Because of this, he knows exactly what problems language learners face, and presents them with helpful tips and options to improve their learning experience.
He also communicates individually with members of the club who have questions or who interact on the site, all of which gives the site a very personal feel.
Here are some of the other features offered by Online Italian Club:
- Membership. While students can access most of the site’s lessons and other resources without signing up, becoming an official member of the Online Italian Club is free, and comes with some amazing benefits.
The sign-up process is simple (just enter your name and email address), and once you are registered, you will receive up to three free lessons per week via your email. These lessons often include vocabulary tests and audio exercises, making for a well-rounded learning experience.
- Conversations. One of the best features that Online Italian Club has to offer is its recorded conversations. These always include at least two Italian speakers and increase in speed and difficulty as one’s Italian skills improve.
Although students are encouraged to simply listen to the Italian dialogue by itself at least the first time, the full text of the conversation is provided as well, so you can follow along if you need to.
- Options for all levels. While many Italian language learning websites cater more toward the beginner, Online Italian Club has learning materials for every level of expertise, with more materials for the various levels being added all the time.
The levels are arranged according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which is the same system used in schools and businesses all over the world. Ranging from A1 (Beginner) to C2 (Proficiency or Mastery), there is something here for students of every imaginable skill level.
- Classes and readers. Aside from the free lessons and exercises, Online Italian Club also offers links to Italian classes taught by reputable tutors from their site, to be completed via Skype.
If you are more of an independent learner, the Club also offers Italian “readers,” which are short, downloadable e-books featuring stories for learners at the various learning levels. The readers also come with corresponding audio files so you can hear the words being spoken out loud as you read along.
Online Italian Club is a free site, but if you are looking for something more advanced to supplement your learning, one 30-minute lesson costs around 20 euros, as do the Italian readers.
Duolingo is one of my personal favorite websites for learning Italian. Released in 2011, Duolingo has over 120 million users, and has won several awards. It is one of the most downloaded educational apps in the Google Play store.
One of the reasons for all of these accolades is the sheer amount of material that Duolingo has to offer to language learners that makes learning Italian not only challenging, but also fast and fun.
Duolingo can be used via either the website or as an extremely responsive and sophisticated app for phones or tablets. It is basically a series of quizzes that increase in difficulty as you progress. For this reason, this app might be best for those who have had a bit of experience with Italian in school, or have learned the basics via other websites.
With Duolingo, there are no lessons, just quick, five-minute (or less) tests that exercise your skills in vocabulary and retention by having you translate sentences, fill in the blanks or define words. They also have audio features, in which you are asked to either listen to a sentence and type the words that were spoken, or speak words out loud.
Aside from these exercises, there are several other great features that make Duolingo one of the best options for language learning:
- Skill tracking. Not only does Duolingo test your skills on a daily basis, it also keeps track of how much you have learned and how often you practice. The more you practice, the more experience points you earn.
There are incentives to achieve increasingly higher levels, including the ability to unlock fun new lessons, such as “Italian Flirting” (for when you need something a little better than “Ciao, bello”).
- Daily reminders. When I said that Duolingo tests your skills on a daily basis, I meant it. When you create an account and complete your first lesson, you start a “streak” that continues as long as you keep working on your skills every day.
If you skip a day, you go back to zero (your lessons stay completed, but your ego deflates a bit when you see that your streak went from 167 days to zero!), which encourages you to keep at it. The more days in your streak, the more experience points you earn, and the bigger your ego gets.
Forgetful? Do not worry—if you do not complete your daily session by a certain time, Duolingo will send you an email reminding you of that hot streak you do not want to lose.
- Weakest words. Duolingo keeps track of the words you miss the most during the exercises. It then takes those words and inserts them into your next lesson and the next lesson and the one after that, until you have mastered them. The repetition is useful for helping you to memorize tough words or phrases—soon you will know the word so well you will be sick of seeing it!
Over time, as your memory the sections you have finished begin to grow weaker too, you have the chance to “strengthen” them by taking a test that covers your weakest words from that particular subject. This keeps you from forgetting what you learned in the past as you move on to new material.
Duolingo’s desktop site also has articles to read (and write) in Italian, but the main focus of the app is the tests, which make learning more like a game. This should especially appeal to Italian learners who get bored easily with the traditional lesson format. Best of all, it is completely free!
As “The World’s First Total Immersion Language School Online,” LiveLingua.com has earned a great reputation within the Italian language learning community.
In fact, this website uses the same materials that are used by the United States’ Foreign Services Institute, the institution that prepares diplomats and other foreign affairs officials for speaking with foreign leaders and citizens around the world.
By making the institute’s materials available for free on their site, Live Lingua is opening up a whole new level of language learning to everyone, regardless of their government clearance level. Some of the resources include free downloadable audio files, e-books and a recording feature that helps you to be sure that you are pronouncing words correctly.
Materials are separated into the following sections:
- FSI Italian Headstart. This is the “quick and dirty” guide to the Italian language. It focuses on pronunciation and simple things such as the alphabet and the numeric system, while giving you a brief introduction to conversational skills and techniques.
This is the basic lesson to give you just enough knowledge to get around in Italy as a tourist.
- FSI Italian Programmed Course. This section is even more basic. Starting with introductions to things like letter sounds, this course starts at the very foundations of the language, and goes on to give the student a background in the important grammatical aspects of Italian, including number and gender distinctions, nouns and verb tense.
- Italian FAST Course Volumes 1 & 2. These courses are the ones that many government officials use when trying to learn a foreign language quickly and efficiently. FAST stands for “Familiarization and Short-Term,” and is a training course designed to basically toss you into a foreign language and have you get by on just what you know.
This type of course is not based around grammatical structures or rules. Instead, it features conversations and immersion in situations you would encounter over the course of everyday life in Italy (which is arguably a much more effective way to learn a language, even if you might have to take a supplementary grammar course to fine-tune your skills).
Each course section listed above includes an e-book textbook, as well as audio files for each lesson. All of the courses can be either self-taught or used with help from an Italian tutor and best of all, they are all absolutely free!
ItalianPod101 is a podcast that features free lessons taught by lively and energetic speakers for students at any stage in the Italian language learning process.
Created for students who get bored just following along with textbooks, this podcast is a great way to learn Italian! Being able to immerse yourself in the language and to hear the words pronounced clearly and correctly by genuine Italian speakers is one of the best ways to improve your fluency.
Here are some of the features ItalianPod101 offers:
- Lessons. ItalianPod101 has thousands of lessons to offer, and more are being added all the time! These lessons are available in both audio and video forms, so whichever way you prefer to learn, they’ve got you covered.
- Flashcards and lesson notes. While the main idea of this resource is to teach students Italian via audio lessons, there are some visual aids available as well, including flashcards and PDF files with notes about each lesson.
These features can help you to really focus in on the concepts introduced in the lessons, and enable you to practice your vocabulary even when you are not listening to the podcast.
- Community. Aside from the enthusiastic hosts of the podcasts, ItalianPod101 lets you interact with other Italian speakers, as well. You can discuss lessons with other students, and even chat with them in a special forum designed to foster a sense of community, which is a great way to increase your confidence.
Language learning is hard—it is nice to know that there are other people out there having the same struggles and experiences that you are!
Although you can upgrade to a paid account for more resources, ItalianPod101 is free and the signup process is quick and painless—all you have to do is put in your email address and your current Italian skill level and you are all set!
One World Italiano
One World Italiano has many different types of resources to help train your brain and immerse yourself in the Italian language.
Developed by an Italian language school in Cagliari, Italy, this site is Italian taught by Italians—so, unlike some sites out there that might rely on the helpful but sometimes hopeless Google Translate for their scripts, you can rest assured that the Italian you see on this site is the real deal.
The materials on One World Italiano are taken from genuine Italian news channels, newspapers and television shows as well, so it is also great for learners who are a bit more advanced and looking for challenging content that they can really sink their teeth into.
Here are a few of this site’s best features:
- Courses. As you would expect, online language courses taught by staff from a bona fide language school are of superb quality. The courses cover skills like grammar, verb tenses and conversations, and include reading, writing and listening exercises.
The site also has links to the One World Italiano School in Cagliari, so if you are feeling adventurous, you can sign up to take Italian classes in Italia!
- Videos. One World Italiano has a vast array of video resources for audio and visual learning. These include YouTube videos that come with various comprehension exercises and even movie trailers for recent and past films that have been dubbed and released in Italy.
With these, you get a real feel for how Italians speak, which will do wonders for your own pronunciation and listening skills.
- News and culture. What better way to get to know a culture than to read and watch their news? One World Italiano has links to the biggest and most popular news outlets in Italy, including Rai News and Corriere della Sera.
Whether you prefer to watch the news or read it in a newspaper, this site has you covered. They also have grammar and comprehension exercises based around passages written about Italian customs and culture, so you can learn even more.
One World Italiano is a free site with loads of useful references, so no matter what your skill level is, you can find something challenging and useful there.
Any one of these would be a great place to either start or continue your Italian education, but if you really want to immerse yourself in italiano, try using as many of them as you can keep up with!
And be sure to check out some print or e-books, too.
These really are the best websites to learn Italian online, so be sure to take advantage of all the awesome resources at your disposal. With all of this knowledge at your fingertips, you will be speaking Italian like un nativo in no time!
Jessica A. Scott is a novelist from Louisville, Kentucky. While her first love is writing, her second love is learning Italian, a goal that she has been pursuing since her sophomore year at the University of Louisville. You can find out more about Jessica and her work at www.jessicascottauthor.com.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.