Let’s Talk! 5 Steps to Conversational Italian and Suave Speaking Skills
You’re probably wondering how to get conversational in Italian.
Luckily, the answer is a simple one: converse.
That’s right; to improve your skills at conversation, you’ll need to, well, actually have conversations.
No worries! For some conversational Italian practice, just choose some of the fool-proof options in this post.
- What Constitutes Conversational Italian?
- 5 Ways to Master Conversational Italian and Sound Like a True Italian
- 1. Go Beyond the Basics
- 2. Use Authentic Resources
- 3. Sing Along to Italian Tunes
- 4. Read Italian Aloud
- 5. Just Speak!
What Constitutes Conversational Italian?
So what exactly does it mean to be “conversational”? The Common European Framework for Reference of Languages provides us with some guidelines.
It shows that we can be minimally conversational in a language at even the lowest level. Think of babies and their limited—but useful—vocabularies.
At a B1 level (which is when you have sufficient vocabulary to speak about simple topics like family, work or traveling), things power up. At this stage, you’re able to converse more readily, even though you probably need to pause to think things out in your head before opening your mouth.
That’s fine. Thinking before speaking isn’t a bad thing!
But just how many words do you really need to be conversant? Like, in an actual narrowed-down, tangible goal number?
The truth is, there really is no one-size-fits-all vocabulary goal that determines if you’re conversational in a language.
Some speakers can get by with a few thousand while others want—and in their minds, need—to know more.
It pretty much depends on how in-depth a speaker believes conversations should be.
Want minimal conversation? Less will do. In-depth? You’re going to need a bigger vocabulary for that.
Thinking of words in terms of lemmas (word families) is a great way to approach the whole number thing. Learn by lemmas: work / working / worked or dance / dancer / danced.
One study indicates that recognizing even 800 lemmas in a language is enough for most communication.
What all this really means is that you can be conversational at any level!
But if you really want to get to a conversational level that’s more than superficial, you’ll have to work on that. And let’s face it, most of us want to reach that level!
Andiamo! (Let’s go!)
5 Ways to Master Conversational Italian and Sound Like a True Italian
First, let’s assume your Italian language basics are in place. Whether you’re a relative beginner or an advanced learner, you’ve done some coursework, have a core vocabulary and are up-to-speed with fundamental grammar skills.
Now you’re ready to get moving! Here’s how to do that:
1. Go Beyond the Basics
Starting to talk can be a bit scary. Even if you can put together grammatically correct sentences, you might be unsure when you first dive into using the language.
Here are three tips that’ll help you get started actually speaking Italian:
Use Italian Filler Words
Filler words are words like “um,” “like” and “so,” to name a few. You probably use them in English (hopefully not too often!) as a way to keep the sentence going without stopping it short.
By learning some Italian filler words, you can keep sounding Italian even while you’re trying to remember how to say that one word that’s, like, on the tip of your tongue.
Learn Some Italian Idioms
Idioms are conversational allies. They’re words or phrases that don’t translate literally (like “It’s raining cats and dogs!”) and native speakers often use them in daily conversation.
They sound authentic—because they are authentic! Learn a few and use them for a boost in authenticity.
Memorize Common Italian Phrases
All things considered, people are pretty predictable. We repeat ourselves a lot over the course of the conversations we share every day.
We use the same common phrases to greet each other, talk about the weather, ask for directions and many other daily interactions.
Commit a few of those expressions to your memory and open up lots of opportunities for casual conversations!
2. Use Authentic Resources
Let’s face it: Conversational language isn’t always the same as textbook language.
You may be acing the course you’re taking but if all you’re learning is textbook Italian, you’re missing out.
Fill the gaps in your knowledge with authentic Italian resources to give you a better idea of how Italian speakers really speak.
Create Immersion at Home
Surround yourself with the sounds of Italian, no matter where you are in the world.
Authentic immersion will help you soak up the language naturally and give you a better sense of what real Italian conversations sound like.
You can create this immersive “bubble” at home using immersive programs. There are many different programs available that you can use to create your own Italian space.
A program like FluentU, for example, helps you jump into the immersion zone by using an array of Italian videos that were created by native speakers. With these videos, such as movie clips, music videos, visual stories and more, you can surround yourself with the language as it’s used by native speakers. You can even use the exercises on this program to practice your Italian typing and speaking.
Another way you can focus on immersion is by dedicating an hour each day to only using Italian. You can do this by focusing on reading books, listening to podcasts, watching movies or even speaking with friends and family only in Italian during this time.
3. Sing Along to Italian Tunes
Dust off those vocal chords, turn up the Italian music and sing!
It feels like you’re just having fun, but singing gives learners a feel for word order and cadence. Depending on your musical selections, it can also be a super way to pick up idiomatic expressions.
Where to Find Italian Songs
If you’re wondering where to find Italian sing-alongs, wonder no more.
There’s a YouTube page with so many selections that it’ll be hard to choose which one to use first!
If you’d like to hear what Italy’s hearing, Italian radio stations live stream on the internet. Tune into a popular channel and sing along with Italy—long distance!
4. Read Italian Aloud
Reading out loud is less about conversing and more about getting comfortable with speaking Italian but it has lots of value in the quest to get to conversational fluency.
How does reading aloud help? Well, think about it: The more comfortable we are speaking a language, the more likely we are to engage in the activity. The more we engage, the easier it becomes.
So any effort aimed at speaking Italian counts toward building conversational skills!
Read Short Stories
You don’t need to read anything massive or deep for there to be a positive effect from this part of your program. Reading something short works just as well as reading a full-length novel.
I love short stories. They’re fast reads and I like how quickly the plot moves along. No extra words or long, involved explanations. And many include dialogues you can model!
There are lots of Italian short story anthologies to choose from.
One great resource is “Italian: Short Stories for Beginners.” As an added bonus, this volume comes with audio readings of the stories, so you can practice shadow reading (reading along with the audio and matching the pronunciation and cadence).
Get Started with Children’s Books
If your reading skills still need some work, consider reading Italian children’s books. They’re great confidence builders—and like short stories, tell a tale without dragging things out.
5. Just Speak!
Remember one of the first points mentioned above? That’s right—in order to become conversational in any language, you’ve got to converse.
So speak Italian as much as you can, as often as you can and with as many people as you can.
If you don’t have anyone to speak to, talk back to the television.
I’m not kidding—there’s a real benefit to responding to characters on TV shows or in movies.
Or, if you’re not ready to formulate replies, try just repeating what’s being said. Choose a character, echo their dialogue, pretend you’re conversing with the other characters. It’ll give you practice in the fine art of speaking and responding.
In other words, conversation!
Of course, it’s even better when your conversation partner actually talks back. Find language learners or native speakers like yourself to chat with!
There are several ways to find someone for conversation practice. Here are a few options:
Tandem is a language exchange site that offers speakers a chance to connect and speak Italian any time they have a few minutes to spare.
Native speakers from across Italy are available, so if you’re interested in learning a particular dialect or hearing about a certain area, choose a partner who’ll be happy to share those things with you.
Message, chat or talk using this free service and to help get your conversational skills moving!
This is a spot to find language partners from across the globe. Not all are native speakers but there are enough options that if you’d prefer authentic conversation, you’ll be able to find one.
Or, if you’re comfortable speaking with a learner like yourself, there are options available for that, too!
Member profiles indicate their particulars, including their preferred method of conversing. Some want to Skype or chat while others are available for face-to-face conversational practice.
Chiacchieriamo (We Small Talk)
You can also try this Skype option. Cinzia lives in Italy and will chat with you about all things Italian, as well as help grow your conversational skills in a lively, friendly manner.
She offers a free 30-minute first conversation to see if it’s a good fit. What’s not to love?
So to gain conversational fluency in Italian the biggest thing you’ve got to do is speak! A lot. As often as possible.
Because speaking practice leads to conversational mastery.
Your conversations will become more involved, less superficial and definitely more interesting as your skill set grows.
So use some of these handy hints, have some fun and grow your Italian to build conversational skills that’ll have you chatting like you were born on Sicily!
Buona fortuna! (Good luck!)