Imagine: You’re having your first restaurant meal in Rome.
You’ve been dreaming about this moment—and practicing the vocabulary for it—for months.
In fact, to prepare, you’ve memorized all the essential Italian travel phrases, mastered basic Italian verbs and even downloaded a few Italian apps on your smartphone.
But when you try to ask how spicy the pasta arrabbiata is, none of that matters.
The words tumble out of your mouth as a cacophony of sound. The pronunciation is horrible, and the intonation is off.
The waiter tilts his head.
He can’t understand a single word you’ve said!
In that moment, all of your hard work falls away, and you can’t even mumble a follow-up question before the waiter awkwardly leaves your table.
You’ve encountered a common pitfall for Italian learners: you’ve neglected Italian speaking practice!
As one of the four major language learning skills alongside reading, writing and listening, speaking is important for well-rounded fluency in Italian.
However, speaking is often the most coveted yet underdeveloped skill when it comes to learning a language. It’s not at all uncommon for learners to feel confident reading, writing or even listening to Italian, but then completely falling apart when it comes to speaking the language.
But don’t dismay! These negatives can be combatted with the proper learning regimen.
What you need is a learning strategy that focuses heavily on speaking skills.
How to Speak Italian Like a Pro: 8 Impactful Tips for Fluency
Overhauling a learning plan sounds overwhelming, so here are eight tips that you can incorporate in what you’re already doing to improve your speaking skills.
1. Listen Before You Speak
Remember those four major language learning skills I mentioned earlier?
Well, reading and writing naturally go hand-in-hand, and so do listening and speaking. That means that to improve reading, you should write, and vice versa.
As such, to improve speaking, you should listen. In fact, listening is the first step of speaking.
And it actually is that simple: listen widely to native Italian speech, especially at the beginning of your Italian learning journey, but consistently at every step of the way.
This is because listening has several benefits for speaking. Firstly, listening to authentic Italian allows you to tune your ear to the pronunciation and rhythm of the language.
This tuning results in better pronunciation and intonation when you’re speaking.
Next, listening to Italian allows you to hear the words and phrases you’ve learned in context.
This context allows you to understand the words and phrases better, and it also allows you to use them more naturally in your own speech. Not to mention, repetition of the same words and phrases leads to retention in your long-term memory, and you’ll be able to use them more easily when speaking.
Your listening should include everything from Italian YouTube videos, to Italian radio and podcasts, to even Italian movies and TV shows.
In fact, FluentU is a fantastic place to find authentic Italian learning materials.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
All of FluentU’s audios and videos come with built-in Italian subtitles and translations. Hover over an Italian word for an instant English translation, and then click on the word for additional information such as grammatical explanations.
Each word can also be turned into a digital flashcard for later review, and a handy progress bar helps you understand how well you know a given word.
Whichever way you listen, make sure to not do it passively.
As you listen to native Italian, employ some useful strategies. Namely, you should listen for main ideas. Aim to understand the gist of what you’re listening to. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t understand every word!
You should also take note of repeated vocabulary, especially if you don’t understand it. Lastly, recite summaries of the content you’ve heard. This will help solidify new vocabulary as well as give you some speaking practice on the topic.
You could also target listening skills explicitly. This includes having an active component to the listening, most commonly listening comprehension activities.
You can find listening comprehension activities all over the web. For example, the Online Italian Club has hundreds of listening comprehensions for all levels of Italian.
Lingua.com also has 70 listening comprehensions with multiple choice questions for subscribing members, and LearnAmo has 13 free listening comprehensions across three levels.
2. Talk to Yourself in Italian
This next tip sounds a little odd, but hear me out! It is, in fact, one of the best ways to practice speaking Italian without the added stress and anxiety of a real conversation.
I know that talking to a native Italian speaker—especially at the beginning stages of learning Italian—can be intimidating.
You don’t only need to keep track of and understand what the native speaker is saying, but you also need to organize your thoughts coherently and then string them together using the right words and grammar structures.
Add in the imploring eyes of an Italian conversation partner, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and shut down.
Easy solution: practice speaking to yourself.
The process is simple: simply recite what you’re doing as you do it in Italian.
If you’re doing the dishes or doing laundry, talk about that in Italian. If you’re driving to work or school, talk about that in Italian too.
You don’t have to limit yourself to these activities: talk about anything! Say all of your thoughts out loud in Italian, and even try a few mock conversations with invisible speakers.
While it might be more comfortable thinking about these things, speaking really puts your Italian stills to work, so don’t be shy!
As an added activity, try to note what vocabulary and grammar constructions you don’t know or need to practice more.
This will help direct your future learning, and make it easier to use these things in future conversations with yourself and with others in Italian.
3. Record an Audio Diary
Wouldn’t it be great to observe yourself talking so that you could analyze what you’re saying? If you could make sure you sounded okay and used the correct vocabulary and grammar?
Now I’m getting meta.
I’m talking about recording an audio diary.
An audio diary can take the form of a vlog with a video component, but it’s more commonly a simple voice recorder on your computer or smartphone.
You could choose to cover the same topics as when you talk to yourself, or you can treat it like a real diary with a recollection of events, your thoughts and reflections and, of course, your feelings about certain things.
All you have to do is hit record and start talking in Italian.
After an entry in your audio diary, listen back.
While you do, take note of your pronunciation and intonation.
Is it correct? What can you do to improve?
Pay particular attention to parts that don’t seem smooth when listening back.
4. Pre-plan Your Italian Conversations
If you were like me, your mother told you this age-old adage when you said something rude or insensitive: “think before you speak.”
This same strategy can be used for your Italian learning journey, but you don’t have to do it on the spot: plan what you’ll say in Italian before you speak.
Pre-planning your conversations with native Italian speakers can eliminate stress and surprises. It also makes certain vocabulary and grammar structures second nature, meaning you don’t have to explicitly build sentences or responses when speaking.
You can just speak!
Pre-planning your conversations is easy.
First, make a list of common topics and those you like to converse about. This can be about the usual topics like personal information, directions and ordering at a restaurant. You might even include some of your favorite subjects like books, movies or Italian food.
For each topic, create a vocabulary list and sample sentences. This vocabulary list should include common words related to the topic, and your sample sentences should be things that you can imagine yourself saying during a conversation about it.
Don’t be afraid to write full paragraphs either!
In addition to statements, make sure to pre-plan questions that you could ask. These questions will help to keep the conversation going, and it may even lead to new topics that you can navigate.
As with the other tips, you may choose to record these pre-planned conversations for added practice. This will help you to fine tune your accent and intonation and see if there are areas that should be improved.
There are also several Italian speaking courses that can help you plan your Italian conversations. Speaking courses present oral lessons on the most common topics at each stage of your Italian learning, so they can be a fantastic roadmap.
I recommend individual oral-based courses like Michel Thomas Italian and Pimsleur.
You may also choose to plan your conversations with a native Italian tutor or teacher. You can hook up with one of these at Cyber Italian or on italki.
5. Find a Language Exchange Partner
All of my tips so far have been rather individual, but the time has come: all your practicing will naturally lead you to the desire—and the skills—to speak Italian with a native speaker.
It’s time to find a language exchange partner to practice your Italian.
In fact, as you’d expect, having conversations with Italian native speakers will be essential to your growth, and after talking to yourself and pre-planning Italian conversations, you’ll need to practice the spontaneity of real ones.
Even though it may be uncomfortable, spontaneous conversations have a steep learning curve: what you’re comfortable with and what needs to be improved becomes immediately apparent.
But conversations with a language exchange partner don’t need to be completely unexpected. You can actually coordinate with your partner before you talk with them to alleviate some of the pressure.
I suggest asking your partner if you can talk about pre-determined topics.
This will allow you to plan certain aspects of the conversations by creating vocabulary lists and determining what grammar constructions are needed.
While speaking, it may also be useful to keep a list of unknown words and grammar constructions that your speaking partner uses. Look these up after your conversation and incorporate them into your regular Italian practice to master them.
You can find Italian language exchange partners all over the web.
Smartphone apps like Tandem and HelloTalk take a Tinder-esque approach to matching native speakers of Italian with learners.
In exchange for practicing Italian, it’s generally expected that you’ll speak English with your partner for them to practice their skills, too.
You may also join a website like MyLanguageExchange to find an Italian exchange partner to practice both oral and written communication.
6. Perfect Your Italian Accent
I’ve touched on this at points when discussing previous tips in this post, but having a good Italian accent will help you be understood when speaking.
Luckily, having a passable—if not good—accent in Italian isn’t hard. Most of the sounds are the same as in English, aside from the rolled “r,” and things are written how they’re pronounced.
Even still, to perfect your Italian accent, you need to listen to a lot of Italian and repeat as you listen along.
This can be a line-by-line activity where you listen to a short clip of Italian, pause the audio and repeat, or you can repeat selected words and sentences.
I suggest the latter for more advanced learners of the language. As you progress, you’ll come along words and phrases that are more complicated to pronounce, so spot practice will be necessary.
As with other tips, make sure to record yourself to analyze your pronunciation. You could even show your recordings to a native Italian speaker for them to give you some honest feedback on your accent.
There are also many smartphone apps and websites that focus on pronunciation practice.
Duolingo and Rosetta Stone make speaking and voice recognition a central part of their learning platform, and Forvo is an online audio dictionary where you can hear the pronunciation of virtually any word in Italian.
7. Grow Your Base Vocabulary
While planning out conversations can seem to be an arduous task, you’re actually planning out your conversations just by learning Italian through vocabulary building activities.
In fact, increased comfort will come with a robust and practiced active vocabulary.
This is because knowing common vocabulary will ensure you can converse about common conversation topics, and having this vocabulary in your long-term memory keeps it easily accessible when speaking.
You should be intentional in your vocabulary acquisition. Grow vocabulary constantly by writing down and practicing new words.
These new words should come from everywhere: reading books and online content, Italian films, music and smartphone apps. It can be hard to decide which words you should learn, so stick to common words and ones that are frequently repeated at first.
To internalize these words, use this vocabulary actively and in context by writing them in compositions and through speaking practice such as planned conversations or an audio diary.
You could also try a vocabulary building app. Popular ones include well-known programs like Duolingo and Memrise as well as vocabulary-specific flashcard apps like Learn Italian Words Free.
8. Join an Italian Community
Speaking Italian one-on-one with a native speaker may be a little intimidating, so a group can be a great option.
I’m not saying that you should find an audience for your newly-acquired language skills, but finding a group of Italian learners can have untold benefits to your speaking skills.
In fact, group conversations allow for multiple points of entry as well as less pressure. This means that you can add your thoughts to the conversation when they arise, but then simply listen along to other speakers if you feel unsure of what to say.
You can find online communities of Italian speakers and learners on social media sites like Discord.
Discord was originally created for video game streamers, but it now can host written and audio conversations. There are even established groups of Italian learners on WhatsApp who practice speaking and writing the language.
Would you rather join a group in person?
You can also find in-person Italian conversation groups by looking at your local listings or from sites like Meetup. Meetup is an online directory of clubs and groups organized by location and by interest. Chances are, there’s an Italian speaking group nearby that meets regularly to practice their skills.
Don’t let the answer to a question like “Dov’è il bagno?” throw you off.
By following these eight tips, you’ll be ready to communicate in Italian in all situations and watch your speaking skills flourish.