How to Learn Italian: 20 Research-backed Tips
As a language learner, you’ve probably seen your fair share of tips and advice for Italian learning.
But do these learning methods and tricks actually work?
To answer what the best way to learn Italian is, I took a look at research and science.
Here are 20 research-backed tips for how to Learn Italian… the scientific way!
- 1. Set Clear Goals
- 2. Establish a Consistent Study Schedule
- 3. Track Progress and Adjust
- 4. Keep a Language Learning Journal
- 5. Engage in Active Learning
- 6. Learn in Context
- 7. Use Language Immersion
- 8. Harness Technology and Apps
- 9. Join a Language Community
- 10. Engage in Multimodal Learning
- 11. Use Mnemonic Techniques
- 12. Employ the “Spaced Repetition” Technique
- 13. Utilize Mind Mapping
- 14. Explore Italian Culture
- 15. Practice Pronunciation with Tongue Twisters
- 16. Read Italian Children’s Books
- 17. Write a Diary in Italian
- 18. Learn Italian Through Cooking
- 19. Travel to Italy
- 20. Celebrate Small Victories
- And One More Thing...
1. Set Clear Goals
Before you can start learning, you need a goal.
“I want to learn Italian,” might sound like a good goal to strive for, but our brains aren’t wired to take on such huge problems. Instead, it’s important to break your goals down into specific and achievable tasks. You can do this in a few ways.
You can use the ABC of goals, by Frank L. Smoll:
- A – Achievable
- B – Believable
- C – Committed
Or use SMART goals:
- S (Specific)
- M (Measurable)
- A (Attainable/Achievable)
- R (Realistic)
- T (Time-bound)
Whatever method you choose, the key is to divide your Italian learning tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. Focus on specific aspects of the language that you want to learn, then focus even more specifically on smaller parts of that part of the language. For instance, you might want to learn tenses in Italian, then break it down into past, present and future tenses… then break that down even further into the different tenses within each of those groups.
Research shows that setting clear goals enhances motivation and focus, so you can keep moving forward without getting overwhelmed.
And write the goals down! People who write down their goals are more likely to actually achieve them.
2. Establish a Consistent Study Schedule
When you first start studying Italian, you might find yourself forgetting or struggling to find the motivation. This is where being consistent comes into play.
The human brain loves routines, so make your study time part of your daily routine.
Choose a time that works best for you each day. Whether it’s early morning or late evening, pick a time when you’re naturally alert and focused. Next, commit a realistic time frame for your study session. Finally, choose a spot’s conducive to study—quiet, comfortable and free of distractions.
Now comes the hard part: Stick to your routine!
Consistent practice strengthens memory retention and improves learning outcomes. More importantly, when you complete a routine enough times, it becomes a habit. Once your routine solidifies into a habit, you’ll find it much easier to stick to it, as it becomes a natural part of your day.
3. Track Progress and Adjust
No matter how well-thought-out your goals are, you’ll need to update them as you go along. Reflect on your language learning progress regularly. Assess strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement and adjust your goals accordingly.
For instance, if you find yourself grasping vocabulary quickly, challenge yourself with more complex sentences or dive deeper into colloquial expressions. On the other hand, if you struggle with certain grammar rules, dedicate more time to practice exercises and seek additional resources.
Be flexible and realistic with your goals. Good routines are flexible!
Regularly assess your study process: Self reflection is key to growth and it’s even good for you in the long run as you age. Ask yourself if the resources you’re using are effective for your learning style. Experiment with different materials and techniques to keep things engaging and productive.
As you get further into your studies, research says that your goals should grow, too. Focus on small steps forward when you’re first starting out, then set your sights on taking larger strides.
4. Keep a Language Learning Journal
Keeping a language learning journal can be a powerful learning tool. This isn’t the same as your study notebook, where you write your actual studies. Instead, use this journal to keep track of your language learning activities, including the topics you covered, new words you learned and any challenges you faced.
This ties back to the self-reflection I mentioned in the previous point. Reflect on your language journey, noting the improvements you’ve made and the areas that require more work. This process not only helps you track your progress but also reinforces what you’ve learned.
Simply put, you remember better when you write things down, so use both your study book and learning journal to reinforce your studies and keep moving forward.
5. Engage in Active Learning
Active learning is the secret sauce to supercharge your language skills. You might see a lot of tips out there suggesting that you passively take in Italian songs, podcasts, TV shows, etc. And passive learning has been shown to have some benefits, most notably the ability to distinguish between sounds in your target language.
But research has also shown again and again that learning is simply more effective when it’s active. Active learning means actively participating in your learning process. Engage in conversation, whether it’s with a language partner, native speaker or language exchange group.
Embrace active listening by paying close attention to pronunciation, intonation and vocabulary usage in your Italian media. Take notes and review them later. Utilize flashcards or language learning apps with interactive exercises to actively test yourself on new words and concepts.
Don’t shy away from writing practice, either! Create short essays, write diary entries or engage in online language forums.
This active approach reinforces learning, keeps you engaged and ensures you’re applying what you learn.
6. Learn in Context
Languages (and other things!) are easier to remember when your learning is contextualized. Instead of memorizing isolated words or phrases, focus on learning them in the context of sentences and conversations.
Start by reading texts, articles or books, watching shows and movies and listening to music in Italian. Pay attention to the overall meaning and how words interact with each other. Contextual clues will help you grasp the nuances of grammar and word usage.
Engage in authentic conversations with native speakers or language partners to see language in action. Context-rich interactions will expose you to colloquialisms and idiomatic expressions that textbooks might miss.
7. Use Language Immersion
Contextual learning and language immersion often go hand-in-hand, and for good reason: Language immersion is a powerful technique.
The concept is simple: Surround yourself with as much authentic Italian as possible. One of the best ways to achieve this is by spending time in a country where the language is spoken, but if that’s not feasible, don’t worry—there are still plenty of ways to create an immersive environment.
Change the language settings on your devices, social media and apps to Italian. Engage in language exchange programs, attend local cultural events and seek out language meetups to practice conversing with native speakers. Immerse yourself in music, movies and TV shows to attune your ear to native Italian speech patterns and intonation.
Authentic Italian content can be difficult to approach without help (yes, even this is research-backed info!). Lucky for you, the FluentU program embraces the benefits of immersive learning by using real Italian media as learning tools.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
8. Harness Technology and Apps
I already mentioned FluentU as one tool for authentic Italian learning, but there are many other apps and programs out there right now that can help you move your studies forward.
When you’re looking for the right options for you, explore language apps that cater to your specific learning needs. There are apps for vocabulary building, grammar practice, conversation practice and even language exchange platforms. These apps often offer interactive exercises, quizzes and gamified learning experiences that keep you engaged and motivated.
Take advantage of language learning websites and online platforms that offer free resources, such as grammar guides, audio exercises and language forums where you can interact with fellow learners and native speakers. Use language translation apps sparingly as a quick reference tool, but don’t rely on them exclusively, as they can hinder your language progress.
Finally, leverage language learning communities on social media, where you can find support, share your progress and learn from others’ experiences.
A 2020 study has shown that, while you can’t use language learning apps in isolation to learn a language, they make excellent supportive tools alongside other language learning options. So go ahead and use the power of the internet to help you along!
9. Join a Language Community
Human beings are social animals, and a lot of what we learn—from how to use our native language to proper dinner table etiquette—are learned through social interactions. This is true for learning languages, too: To truly learn Italian, you have to speak with others in Italian.
This might sound too simple to be true, but joining a language community is an important step toward Italian language mastery.
These communities, whether online or in-person, offer numerous benefits. Firstly, you’ll find like-minded language learners who share your passion for Italian, creating opportunities for regular practice and conversation. Interacting with native Italian speakers within the community will expose you to authentic language usage, helping you grasp colloquial expressions and cultural nuances. Feedback from experienced learners and teachers can pinpoint areas for improvement and guide your progress.
And finally, these communities foster a sense of camaraderie and accountability, keeping you motivated and on track with your Italian studies.
10. Engage in Multimodal Learning
Language learners often fall into the trap of hyper-focusing on one or two aspects of the language, and overlook the others.
Multimodal learning combines the main aspects of language learning—reading, listening, speaking and writing—with different types of learning—visual, aural, kinesthetic, reading/writing—into a holistic language developmental approach.
If you’ve been keeping up with this post, then you’ve already gotten most of these aspects of language learning covered. Multimodal learning trains all parts of your brain for retaining Italian.
It’s also an effective way to keep yourself motivated. Take a break from reading and writing at your desk to recite verb conjugations as you do some jumping jacks. Sing along to the subtitled music video you’re watching. You might be surprised at how effective mixing different learning methods together is!
11. Use Mnemonic Techniques
I’ve already talked about learning in context in a previous tip. But you might find that sometimes, you just need to sit down and do some memorization. In these cases, you can trick your brain into retaining information by feeding it artificially created context in the form of mnemonics.
Mnemonic techniques leverage memory principles to enhance retention and recall. Connect new Italian words to familiar concepts or create mental associations.
There are several mnemonic memory techniques, from the Method of Loci and Memory Palace methods to simpler word association.
One of the simplest techniques you can use is the “keyword method.” For instance: When learning the Italian word “bicchiere” (glass), associate it with a vivid image like a “beach chair” balancing on top of a glass. This creative connection between the sound and the image will help you recall the word more easily.
Another technique is “chunking,” where you group related words together, like “colore” (color), “fiore” (flower) and “odore” (odor), envisioning them as a bouquet of colorful flowers with distinct smells.
By incorporating these mnemonic strategies into your Italian learning journey, you’ll find that words and phrases stick in your mind more effortlessly.
12. Employ the “Spaced Repetition” Technique
Another effective method of memorization is the spaced repetition (SRS) technique. This learning method spreads out your learning over time, reinforcing material just when you’re about to forget it. The aim of spaced repetition is to move vocabulary and other language concepts from your short term-memory firmly into your long-term memory, so you can call on them whenever you need them.
You can mimic spaced repetition with physical flashcards by putting cards back into your deck at increasing distance from the first card.
Or, you can grab a flashcard app like Anki, create a personalized deck and let the app adjust the frequency of cards based on your memory.
By leveraging the “forgetting curve,” spaced repetition boosts long-term retention without hours of daily practice. A few minutes each day will work wonders!
13. Utilize Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is a powerful technique that helps you organize information visually, making it easier to understand and remember.
Start by placing the main topic, like “Italian food” or “travel phrases,” at the center of your mind map. Then, create branches with related subtopics like “pasta types,” “regional dishes” or “useful expressions.” Add examples, related phrases and images to each branch to reinforce your understanding. Use images and keywords to represent each concept, making the mind map visually engaging and memorable.
Protip: Group related topics by color for better retention!
14. Explore Italian Culture
Learning about Italian culture is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the Italian language. After all, “language is culture, and culture is language.”
Embracing the rich heritage of Italy not only deepens your appreciation for the language, but also enhances your overall learning experience.
Start by exploring Italian traditions, festivals and customs. Watch Italian films, listen to Italian music and try authentic Italian cuisine to get a taste of the country’s vibrant lifestyle. Engage with Italian art, literature and history to understand the cultural context that shaped the language. Interact with native speakers, join language exchange programs and participate in language-focused events to connect language learning with real-life conversations.
There’s no end to how you can study Italian culture!
15. Practice Pronunciation with Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters are fantastic tools for improving your pronunciation and mastering tricky Italian sounds. Start with simple ones like “Tre tigri contro tre tigri” (Three tigers against three tigers) and gradually challenge yourself with longer ones like “Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa” (On the bench, the goat lives; under the bench, the goat dies).
Repeat them slowly and gradually increase your speed. Pay attention to the specific sounds that are tricky for you, and practice until they roll off your tongue smoothly.
Tongue twisters actually teach us a lot about how our brains process and produce the sounds that make up languages. Our brains actually slow down when reading tongue twisters before we even start trying to say them. Use them to force yourself to slow down and really focus on every sound you’re making.
16. Read Italian Children’s Books
Children’s books aren’t just for kids: They make amazing learning tools since they’re written for young language learners.
Start with simple picture books that have clear and repetitive sentences, gradually progressing to more complex stories as your language skills improve. Don’t worry if you don’t understand every word at first; context and visuals will help you grasp the meaning.
Make notes of new words and phrases and use a dictionary or language app to look them up. Try reading aloud to practice pronunciation and rhythm.
Children’s books offer a friendly and approachable environment to explore Italian grammar, vocabulary and idiomatic expressions while fostering a genuine love for the language.
17. Write a Diary in Italian
Learning Italian by keeping a diary in the language is an exceptional way to enhance your language skills and boost your confidence in expressing yourself.
Start with simple sentences and gradually challenge yourself with more complex thoughts and feelings as you progress. Challenge yourself to write a daily diary entry in Italian, even if it’s just a few sentences. Write about your daily experiences, thoughts and even your struggles with learning Italian—it’s all part of the process!
Don’t fret about making mistakes; instead, view them as valuable learning opportunities. Regularly review your entries and see how far you’ve come. You’ll be amazed at your improvement.
And before you reach for your favorite app or program, keep in mind that using pen and paper has been shown to be more effective at helping people remember things in the long term.
18. Learn Italian Through Cooking
Learning the Italian language through Italian cooking is a mouthwatering way to connect with both the language and the rich culinary heritage of Italy.
Begin by exploring authentic Italian recipes and cooking tutorials in Italian, which will expose you to everyday vocabulary and cooking terms. As you prepare dishes, say the ingredients and steps out loud, reinforcing your language skills while honing your cooking techniques. Engage with Italian-speaking chefs or food enthusiasts, either in person or through online communities, to discuss recipes, ask questions and share your culinary experiences in Italian.
Watching Italian cooking shows or reading Italian cookbooks will introduce you to colloquial language and cultural nuances related to food. Embrace this delicious adventure!
19. Travel to Italy
Learning Italian by traveling to Italy is one of the most effective ways to learn the language. When you’re in the country, you have no choice but to speak the language!
By being surrounded by native speakers and everyday situations where Italian is spoken, you’ll have the opportunity to practice and absorb the language in a natural, organic way. Engaging with locals, ordering food at trattorias and asking for directions will not only build your conversational skills but also foster a deeper connection with the Italian way of life.
From exploring historic sites to indulging in delectable regional cuisines, every aspect of your travel will become a language learning opportunity.
20. Celebrate Small Victories
Language learning doesn’t always go according to plan. Embrace the learning process and be patient with yourself.
Surround yourself with supportive individuals who share your language learning goals.
A positive mindset is important for moving forward in your learning journey!
There you have it: 20 science-backed ways to learn Italian. Use them all or hand-pick the ones that work best for you. Whatever you do, keep moving forward and have fun on your adventure toward Italian fluency!
And One More Thing...
If you're as busy as most of us, you don't always have time for lengthy language lessons. The solution? FluentU!
Learn Italian with funny commericals, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
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 with a trial.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)