How to Speak Italian With Confidence: 8 Impactful Tips for Fluency
Imagine: You’re having your first restaurant meal in Rome, but when you try to ask how spicy the pasta arrabbiata is, none of that matters.
All of your hard work learning Italian falls away, and you can’t even mumble a simple question before the waiter awkwardly leaves your table.
You’ve encountered a common pitfall for Italian learners: you’ve neglected Italian speaking practice!
What you need are learning strategies that focus heavily on speaking skills, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
- 1. Listen Before You Speak
- 2. Talk to Yourself in Italian
- 3. Record an Audio Diary
- 4. Pre-plan Your Italian Conversations
- 5. Find a Language Exchange Partner
- 6. Perfect Your Italian Accent
- 7. Grow Your Base Vocabulary
- 8. Join an Italian Community
- And One More Thing...
1. Listen Before You Speak
To improve speaking, you should listen first.
Specifically, listen widely to native Italian speech, especially at the beginning of your Italian learning journey. You should also do it consistently 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 speak Italian.
Next, listening to Italian allows you to hear the words and phrases you’ve learned in context.
This context allows you to understand words and phrases better, not to mention use them more naturally in your own speech. Also, 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 practice should include everything: Italian YouTube videos, radio, podcasts, movies and TV shows. FluentU is another option if you’re looking for more language learning support.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Whichever way you listen, make sure not to do it passively.
As you listen to native Italian, you can employ some useful strategies.
- 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!
- Take note of repeated vocabulary. This is especially important if you don’t understand it.
- Recite summaries of the content you’ve heard. This will help solidify new vocabulary and give you some speaking practice on the topic.
- Target listening skills explicitly. You can find listening comprehension activities all over the web. For example, the Online Italian Club has hundreds of listening exercises for all levels of Italian. Lingua.com also has 70 listening exercises with multiple choice questions for subscribing members, and LearnAmo has 13 free listening exercises 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 can be intimidating, especially at the beginning stages of learning Italian.
After all, you need to keep track of and understand what the native speaker is saying, organize your thoughts coherently and string them together using the right words and grammatical structures.
Add in the watchful 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 laundry, talk about that in Italian. If you’re driving to work or school, talk about that in Italian too.
- Talk about anything. You don’t have to limit yourself to the activities I just mentioned! Say all of your thoughts out loud in Italian. Try a few mock conversations with invisible speakers. While it might be more comfortable thinking about these things, speaking really puts your Italian skills to work.
- Try to note what vocabulary and grammatical 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 when you speak Italian to yourself or others.
3. Record an Audio Diary
Wouldn’t it be great to observe yourself talking so you could analyze what you’re saying and make sure you sounded okay and used the correct vocabulary and grammar?
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.
- Choose to cover the same topics as when you talk to yourself. You can also 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 you’re listening back.
4. Pre-plan Your Italian Conversations
If you were like me, your mother probably 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 grammatical 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.
- 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.
- Create a vocabulary list and sample sentences. This vocabulary list should include common words related to the topic. Your sample sentences should be things 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 you could ask. These questions will help to keep the conversation going. It may even lead to new topics you can navigate.
- As with the other tips, you may choose to record these pre-planned conversations for added practice. This will help fine-tune your accent and intonation and see if there are areas that should be improved.
- Take one of several Italian-speaking courses that can help you plan your conversations. Speaking courses present oral lessons on the most common topics at each stage of your Italian learning. 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 via sites like Cyber Italian and italki.
5. Find a Language Exchange Partner
All of my tips so far apply to individual learning. Now, the time has come: all your practicing will naturally give you the desire and skills to speak Italian with a native speaker.
It’s time to find a language exchange partner to practice your Italian. Here’s how:
- Look up language exchange websites. For example, MyLanguageExchange allows you to find an Italian exchange partner to practice both oral and written communication.
- Use smartphone apps. Apps like Tandem and HelloTalk take a Tinder-esque approach to matching native speakers of Italian with learners—except you don’t have to worry about whether they think you’re a suitable romantic partner!
- Make sure your partner gets something out of it too. There’s a reason it’s called an “exchange.” In return for practicing Italian, it’s generally expected that you’ll speak English with your partner for them to practice their skills, too.
Once you find your language exchange partner, you can:
- Have free-flowing conversations. As you’d expect, having conversations with Italian native speakers will be essential to your growth. Even though it may be uncomfortable, spontaneous conversations have an important benefit: what you’re comfortable with and what needs to be improved becomes immediately apparent.
- Talk about pre-determined topics. Conversations with a language exchange partner don’t need to be completely free-flowing. You can actually coordinate with your partner before you talk with them to alleviate some of the pressure. This will allow you to plan certain aspects of the conversations by creating vocabulary lists and determining what grammatical constructions are needed.
- Keep a list of unknown words and grammatical constructions your speaking partner uses. Look these up after your conversation and incorporate them into your regular Italian practice to master them.
6. Perfect Your Italian Accent
I’ve touched on this previously 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.
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. Alternatively, you can repeat selected words and sentences. I suggest the latter for more advanced learners of the language. As you progress, you’ll come across words and phrases that are more complicated to pronounce, so spot practice will be necessary.
- Make sure to record yourself to analyze your pronunciation. You can even let a native Italian speaker listen to your recordings so they can give you honest feedback on your accent.
- Use smartphone apps and websites that focus on pronunciation practice. For example, Duolingo and Rosetta Stone make speaking and voice recognition a central part of their learning platform. There’s also Forvo, 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 be an arduous task, it can help you learn 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 talk about common conversation topics, and having this vocabulary in your long-term memory keeps it easily accessible when you speak Italian.
It’s also important to be intentional in your vocabulary acquisition. To grow vocabulary constantly:
- Write down and practice new words. These new words can come from everywhere: books, online content, films, music and smartphone apps. It can be hard to decide which words you should learn, so if you’re starting out, stick to common words and ones that are frequently repeated.
- Use the vocabulary actively and in context to internalize them. Write them in compositions. Use them regularly through speaking practice such as planned conversations or an audio diary.
- Try a vocabulary-building app. Popular ones include Duolingo and Memrise as well as vocabulary-specific flashcard apps like Learn Italian Words Free (available on Android).
8. Join an Italian Community
If speaking Italian one-on-one with a native speaker feels a little intimidating, a group can be a great option.
Group conversations allow for multiple points of entry as well as less pressure. This means you can add your thoughts to the conversation when they arise, and 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: For example, Discord was originally created for video game streamers, but it can now host written and audio conversations. There are even established groups of Italian learners on WhatsApp who practice speaking and writing the language.
- In-person groups: 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 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.
And One More Thing...
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