Picture yourself in a library in Italy.
All the classics from “The Divine Comedy” to “The Name of the Rose” are at your fingertips.
Imagine grabbing any Italian book you like, settling into a comfy nook and reading it cover to cover.
It may seem like a tall tale now, but it’s not out of reach.
Don’t believe me?
Think about it this way: You can practice your Italian reading and work your way up to fluency by starting with familiar, easily digestible reads, such as Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” in Italian.
You can also hone your skills with books specifically designed for language learners.
In this post, I’ll show you seven books that prove you can (and should) read in Italian. It’s not only fun, it’s also quite easy.
Oh, the places you’ll go with Italian!
Why Reading Italian Is Easy
With attention to a couple of key elements of written Italian, you’ll be able to draw on your existing knowledge for learning success.
With Cognates, You’re Not Starting from Scratch
If you know French, Spanish or Portuguese, chances are you already know a little bit of Italian.
These languages belong to the same linguistic family, the Romance languages. They’re derived from Latin, the language spoken by the Romans. As a result, they have plenty of cognates, or words that look and sound very similar to one another. It’s often said that Spanish-speaking tourists can land in Italy and make their way around town just by relying on cognates.
It’s really not that difficult. For example, the word “difficult” is very similar across the Romance languages. The word becomes difficile in French, difícil in Spanish, difícil in Portuguese and difficile in Italian.
The word “easy” is translated to facile in French, fácil in Spanish, fácil in Portuguese and facile in Italian. (So yes, that’s one of the reasons why learning Italian can be easy.)
English isn’t traditionally defined as a Romance language, but it borrows heavily from Latin, so it shares cognates galore with Italian. Italian words like familiare (familiar), accidentale (accidental) and eloquente (eloquent) are very recognizable to English speakers.
There are even words that we use in everyday English that have Italian origins. So the next time you sip on your espresso, munch on your pepperoni pizza, bite into your al dente pasta or dine al fresco and listen to a concerto, (or even some a cappella singing), remember that you already know a little bit of Italian. But you don’t have to be a diva about it!
All of this knowledge you come to the table with as an English speaker will make reading a breeze. If an Italian speaker says a cognate out loud, you might not pick up on it or spot the similarity to the English translation.
However, cognates in Italian text are often written in an extremely similar fashion to what we’d write in English. They’re easier to pick up on—and you’ll soon see them everywhere while reading in Italian!
If you know any more Romance languages, you’re even more prepared to read in Italian.
It’s a Phonetic Language
Now, this is where reading Italian becomes even easier.
When first learning the language, beginners often refer to its written form to help commit key vocabulary to memory.
There’s just something about written words that make a language more tangible and specific. So you have your word lists, flashcards, lyrics and movie subtitles that help you get the language down pat.
The challenge comes in those instances when the written form bears very little resemblance to how a word is actually pronounced, such as when silent letters occur.
In Italian, there’s a much stronger correlation between how words are pronounced and how they’re spelled than you may be used to in your native language. In most cases, beginners will know how to say an Italian word by simply looking at its spelling.
With English, even simple words like knife, yacht and bough make things a little more tough, no doubt.
With Italian, you don’t have a parade of silent letters, homographs, homonyms or letters pronounced as something else. (I’m not saying there are no exceptions, but it’s true for a great majority of Italian words.)
Words that are pronounced exactly as they look, like amore (love), vino (wine) and antipasto (appetizer), not only make things more palatable but they also make the language much easier to learn.
You Don’t Have to Go in Blind
You don’t have to start from books when you’re first learning to read. In fact, you don’t even need to start from short stories.
You can start with a three-minute clip of authentic Italian.
How does watching videos help you with your reading? Simple! With FluentU, every video is a way to practice reading (and listening and comprehension and…).
That’s because every FluentU video comes with a transcript, subtitles with translations that you can easily turn on or off and so much more.
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’ve learned to recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know.
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.
That said, let’s get into some really easy books that any Italian language learner can use.
7 Easy Italian Books That Will Take You on a Learning Adventure
You’ll get vocabulary in a big picture context in this one.
For example, there’ll be a classroom scene, with all the objects you find in a typical class. Then beside or below this big scene (in the same spread), you’ll find the common objects this time individually illustrated and translated. So you’ll find words such as il quaderno (notebook), il libro (book) and la maestra (female teacher).
The book features many different scenes in the house, kitchen, zoo, supermarket and even outer space. So you don’t just get a dry list of unrelated vocabulary, you have words grouped according to context, which helps in the recall department.
At the back of the book, you have a handy glossary and a pronunciation guide.
This one deserves space on your Italian bookshelf and can be a ready reference for when you want to review the most common Italian words.
This one will get you speaking confidently in no time.
Whereas the last book covered basic words, this one is about the most common phrases and expressions. You’ll find many common articulations including buongiorno (good morning), a più tardi (see you later) and quanto costa? (how much does it cost?).
The words and expressions are accompanied by illustrations for quick recall. For example, to teach buongiorno, this book uses a picture of an excited little boy stretching on his bed, as the sun is slowly peeking through his window. With this simple picture, chances are you won’t forget how to greet with “good morning!” in Italian.
Below the Italian word or phrase is a pronunciation guide so you can start practicing words on your own. And, in order to keep the focus on Italian, the English translation is provided only at the bottom of the page.
Make no mistake, although this is a coloring book, adult language learners can glean much from its 60 pages—which also feature Italian numbers, food, family members and more.
Who can forget “Humpty Dumpty,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” and the other nursery rhymes of our childhood? You may not remember what you had for lunch today, but the rhymes and songs you’ve learned 30 years ago will always stay.
That’s why you should consider this book for the long haul. It contains 20 nursery rhymes that have been around for generations.
When native speakers want their kids to learn their mother tongue, they resort to these classics. But they’re also perfect for the budding Italian language learner, regardless of age or hairline.
The whole nursery rhyme is written first in Italian, and then on the same page, with its English translation provided.
In addition, there are sets of language games and challenges that offer a fun way to remember the words contained in the selections. You’ll be asked to do word pairs, fill in missing letters or rearrange Italian word jumbles.
All 46 pages of this book are chock-full of language lessons.
With this book, you’ll get travel, history, geography and archaeology lessons all rolled into one. Not to mention one lovable canine.
“Adriano, il Cane di Pompei” is the warm story of a dog who lives in the ancient city and modern tourist destination of Pompeii.
Hadrian loves the hustle and bustle of the place and the comings and goings of people. He considers every visitor his friend, and is often fed by the kindness of the guests.
(But you know something’s about to happen that’ll drastically change things, right? Get the book to find out why this title is one of the most asked-for books both by young and old.)
“Adriano, il Cane di Pompei” is written in simple grammar. It’s written first in Italian, three to four sentences at a time. Then on the same page, below the Italian, English translations are conveniently provided.
I’ve got to hand it to the illustrator, who has truly brought this character to life. Leo Lätti has drawn a lovable character deserving of a series.
And if that’s not enough, the book also features historical asides that not only teach you language skills but also give you a peek of the past. What more can you ask for?
This is the Italian version of a Dr. Seuss classic, one of the best selling children’s books of all time.
And if you loved it in English, you’ll also love it in the Italian—especially how the rhyme and the repetition can give your beginner language skills a boost.
You’re not starting from scratch when learning this one. You probably read the English version when you were a child and are familiar with Sam-I-Am. You may have even recited some parts of the book from memory.
The original version was intended to introduce English beginners to vocabulary, and thankfully, that spirit has transferred to the Italian version. The structural genius of the original comes through.
You’ll be reciting Dr. Seuss in Italian in no time.
6. “Italian Short Stories for Beginners: 8 Unconventional Short Stories to Grow Your Vocabulary and Learn Italian the Fun Way!”
Olly Richards is one of the better known polyglots on the web. He speaks eight languages (and counting) and runs the language learning website I Will Teach You A Language, where he dishes out the language learning hacks and tips he’s practiced over the years.
The advantage of having someone like him write short stories for you is that he’s been on the other side of the fence and can really cater to your perspective.
He can also craft adventures that are uniquely entertaining so that learning the language almost becomes an afterthought.
This book is a collection of eight unconventional stories geared to build the vocabulary of beginner and low-intermediate learners. The stories belong to different genres and come in different tenses so that readers become more versatile by the end of the book. They don’t come with English translations, and you’re encouraged to wrestle with the text.
All the help you might need is embedded in the writing of the story itself. For example, regular recaps are built into the story. Difficult words are bolded and are defined at the end of each chapter. Comprehension questions are also provided at the end of each chapter to encourage you to read more closely.
At over 270 pages, this is the fattest book of the bunch.
This book is divided into three parts. The first reading is about Christine, a transplant from the United States. She and her family go to live in Rome.
Enjoy reading along as she learns about Italian traditions and celebrations. She’s shown around by Antonio, who helps her realize how her American culture is both similar and different from that of her adopted home.
The second part brings readers through centuries of Italy’s existence—from the legendary founding of Ancient Rome by Romulus, to the explorations of Marco Polo, to present day figures including Silvio Berlusconi.
You’ll not only be learning the language in these pages, you’ll get a streamlined and compacted course on Italian history.
Finally, the third part gives readers more of the spices and flavor of Italian language and culture, through different writings of the country’s most prominent authors. You’ll get a better grasp on Italian society and Italians’ journeys, hopes and struggles in these pages.
The book has no English translation and progressively becomes more challenging, but don’t fret. Help is given all throughout the book. Each reading ends with comprehension questions and challenging activities that help you retain the language skills you picked up. Reading summaries are also interspersed throughout.
So there you go! Seven books that should be part of your reading list.
This post is premised on the fact that reading is a great and effective way to learn language. The wealth of content available in these books will be all for nothing if you don’t crack open a book and start turning the pages.
So don’t wait to advance in your language journey before you read a story. Reading is the way you get there.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.