In a world where the best things in life are supposed to be free, the word “free” sure doesn’t catch the eye like it used to.
Everywhere we look, all we see is: “Buy one get one free!”, “Free two-week trial!”, “Upgrade today for free!”
Non c’è più religione? (Is nothing sacred?)
Can we no longer find an unadulterated bit of freedom?
Is there nothing left to learn or enjoy without emptying one’s pockets? Is there really no such thing as a “free” lunch?
Italy is a land where the word gratis (free) does still have meaning. Traditional festivals are filled with free wine and local food, the picturesque beaches are forever free to roam and there’s always a free lunch waiting at mamma’s, no matter how old you get.
In the spirit of Italy, there are plenty of language learning resources to help you learn Italian for free, but much like the festivals, beaches and the best of mamma’s cooking, you have to know where to look!
We’ve scoured the internet and even braved the real world to find you the best free Italian lessons online and off. Let’s take a look!
The Best Things in Life Are… Italian!
There are a lot of great things about free Italian lessons (namely, they’re free!) but don’t expect them to be like a normal, structured course. Here are some things you can expect from a free Italian course, online or off.
- Less structure and more freedom: When you take a free Italian course, you’ll likely receive all the materials at once. This means that you’ll have to work out the structure and pacing yourself. On the bright side, you’ll have the freedom to focus on what you want based on your level. It’s also nice to be able to take as much time as you need on difficult units!
- Less guidance and more self-discipline: You probably won’t have a teacher or even someone to correct your work if you choose a free Italian course. This gives you the opportunity to take your education into your own hands, work at your own pace and find your own stride.
- Lots of resources but less comprehensive: Free Italian lessons are great for loading you up with tons of exercises and valuable resources, but they usually don’t give equal time to each linguistic skill. This is perfect if you just want to hone in on a particular skill (like listening comprehension, for example).
- Fewer pages and more practice: You won’t likely get a textbook with your free course, but you’ll get a lot of grammar and vocab practice materials. Textbooks cost money and worksheets are free. For this reason, many free courses are consolidated around loads of supplementary material. This provides endless opportunities for practice and drilling!
Hack, Don’t Slack: How to Make the Most of Your Free Italian Lessons
Since free Italian lessons have less structure and guidance, you’ll be in charge of making sure you cover all the bases. Luckily, we’ve got your back. Here’s how to get the most out of your gratis Italian experience.
If your free Italian lesson is grammar-heavy…
…boost your communicative skills. You may be a grammar whiz, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t use it! Try watching Italian TV to learn the proper pronunciation and writing letters or stories to learn to structure phrases.
If your lesson is speaking-heavy…
…find a good textbook. If you’re doing a language exchange, you’ll get a lot from conversation, but you won’t get a lot of practice with reading or grammar. Find a good book and your free Italian course will sail by much more smoothly.
If your lesson is vocabulary-based…
…find a good grammar resource or exercise book. Words are important, but grammar is the glue that binds them together. If you’re memorizing the dictionary, you’re a truly amazing person, but you’ll need to drill a little grammar now and again if you want to start speaking.
If it’s an audio/visual lesson…
…read a book in Italian. It doesn’t have to be a hard one! Watching or listening to Italian is a great way to pick up new ideas and to learn to identify keywords in speech, but words on a page help us connect what we hear with the grammar and spelling.
If your lesson is exercise-based…
…find a speaking partner. So, you think you’ve got it all covered? You have grammar, vocab and pronunciation activities out the wazoo and you’re studying every day. There’s only one thing missing. A little chiacchierata (chat)! So how do you find a speaking partner? We’ll look into that on our list of free Italian lessons.
6 Resources for Free Italian Lessons Online or Off
The Italian Experiment is one of the best-designed beginner Italian sites on the internet for free Italian lessons. Sometimes it can be hard to navigate in a new language and figure out just how lessons work (not to mention the, um, “retro” layout of a lot of Italian language sites), but The Italian Experiment makes it easy to jump in.
There aren’t a lot of lessons, but the beginner course is a perfect way to explore the basics with ease. Each lesson is described in English and accompanied by translations, audio recordings and phrases for context. When you’ve finished the lessons, you can move on to the free (and awesomely illustrated) Italian stories.
The stories are classics (like “Goldilocks”) so you’ll know the gist already. A really nice feature is that they break down the stories into small, digestible chunks and put a translate button after each piece. That way, you don’t have to mess with a translation app or translate the whole story at once. You can also listen to each story and read along. Repeating out loud is encouraged!
Lingo Lab is the audiovisual creation of some of the best Italian YouTubers. They feature comprehensive beginner and intermediate courses that aim to educate and entertain. These are great free Italian YouTube lessons because the videos range from one to twenty minutes, making them easy to fit into your busy schedule.
What’s special about these Italian lessons is the teaching method. Lingo Lab doesn’t just spit rapid-fire Italian at you and expect you to understand. They speak slowly and then break each sentence down on-screen to clarify all its parts. The text of each sentence is displayed, and as they explain each word or structure, the relevant words are highlighted to guide your learning.
By the time you finish, not only do you know how to say new phrases but you’ll also have a better understanding of functional Italian grammar and vocabulary.
The Foreign Service Institute is a language learning resource created by the United States government in order to assist foreign service personnel to learn a language in their new country. Luckily for us, all the lessons are public domain, meaning that you have access to hundreds of expertly created Italian exercises for free online.
This course is entirely listening-based and is broken down into 30 lessons containing dialogues for practice and repetition.
The structure is pretty simple, really. You start with lesson one and go from there! This is an excellent course because there’s no profit motive whatsoever. They even let you download the text and listening files, so you only have to visit the site once. From there, the course is yours and you can load it onto your iPod, study in the car or share it with friends.
One of the best rated Italian learning podcasts, Learn Italian Pod is just as fun as it is free. Although this podcast finished in 2014, they managed to amass an amazing 175 recordings in their five-year run. Now, you can use these as a database for accessing a ton of free Italian lessons and getting some culture as well.
Each podcast lasts only five or ten minutes, but because of the hosts’ brilliant blend of fun, culturally relevant phrases, repetition and explanation, the information you learn really sticks.
Learn Italian Pod never feels rushed. Each lesson presents a bite-size portion of dialogue along with context to give you a reason to remember. Some of the titles include “The First Latin Lover,” “Touring Italy on a Vespa” and “May the Best Pizza Win.” This is a great course for someone who wants to learn phrases that you can actually use and retain without having to dive into grammar exercises.
Sometimes, if you want something done right, you have to turn off the tube and put pen to paper. This has never been truer than with Italian learning! Don’t get me wrong, Italians are just as glued to their smartphones as the rest of us, but they still have an appreciation for handwriting and face-to-face conversation that many have forgotten.
Finding an Italian penpal is a fantastic way to get Italian lessons for free, and doing it by hand is even better. According to the Wall Street Journal, when learning a new language, it’s much better to do so by hand. Handwriting helps your brain connect with each letter and word. A keyboard just can’t do that!
Italians will be eager to start a correspondence and help you learn Italian for free, but you’ll need to help them in exchange! You’ll get some great experience with Italian grammar and sentence structure with a knowledgeable teacher. Be sure to repay the favor by being a good English teacher for them.
Make sure to encourage them to correct you at every opportunity, ask them lots of questions and get suggestions of good Italian resources (TV shows, movies, books, etc.). Form a friendship based on respect and commitment and you’ll both improve quickly.
Organize a Language Exchange
This is probably the best way to learn Italian for free. Real conversation with a real Italian will put your brain in immersion mode and give you the push you need to start making connections in Italian. Conversation may not have everything (writing and reading are still important!), but in terms of functionality, it’s the fastest way to get communicative in Italian.
So how do you find an exchange partner?
First and foremost, there’s the internet. There are a lot of language exchange apps that help people connect from all over the world. You can find a penpal, email, Skype or call. You might begin by emailing or messaging your partner, but try to start video chatting as soon as possible. To get the most out of free Italian lessons through an exchange, remember that speaking is the best way to improve!
If you live in a city, it might be easier than you think to organize face-to-face Italian lessons. Just look up the name of your city plus the word “Italians” on Facebook, and there will likely be a group dedicated to bringing Italians in that area together. Many of them will be thrilled to do a language exchange in order to improve their English.
If you live near a university, there will probably be some Italian exchange students who want to improve their English or an Italian club with foreign and local students. It can be surprisingly hard for Italian exchange students to make friends and practice their English, so get in touch with the language department and tell them you’re interested in an exchange.
When you meet up, make sure to let your exchange partner know that you’re serious about learning and improving. The best way to show them what you want is to be a great teacher for them. Bring books, exercises and give your partner homework. Once they see that you’re serious, they will be too.
A good language exchange is about balance. You’ll need to find a middle ground between conversation and study, and also between being friends and teachers. Lay some ground rules and be clear about your expectations to ensure fun and successful Italian lessons.
Taking free Italian lessons is beneficial in ways that go far beyond language. Learning on your own terms can help build self-determination, listening to Italian dialogue can give you a taste of culture and meeting a language partner can result in lifelong friendship.
Your lessons may be free, but learning Italian is priceless!
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