You skim the headlines of the Corriere della Sera over a hot espresso every morning.
You’ve perfected your mamma mias!
You keep a verb book in your back pocket and are stringing Italian phrases together like a conjunctive cowboy.
Now you can’t wait to get out there and improve your Italian listening comprehension.
But as soon as you open the door to the real Italian world, a barrage of verbs, prepositions and adjectives come flying toward you rapid-fire. You try to catch them, but they’re gone before you know it. Then a heavy assault of slang and reflexives come in, reroute you and push you back into your safe space.
“Provo di nuovo domani… o dopodomani…” (I’ll try again tomorrow… or maybe the next day), you say to yourself in a vanquished tone, as you wonder if it’s even possible to decipher a fraction of this lyrical language.
Never fear! With a little work and focus your ears will be trained to take in the sweet sounds of the sunny peninsula in no time, and if you follow these helpful tips, you’ll have a blast doing it!
Why Listening to Italian Is Half the Battle
Many Italian learners fall victim to the classic mistake of devoting their time to speaking and reading without giving adequate time to listening comprehension. Why? Let’s not beat around the bush, here—listening is hard!
Getting your head around different accents, regional dialects, noises and slang is a mental workout that makes many want to throw in the towel.
But if you ever want to learn Italian effectively, listening is a must. Listening is key to understanding, and improving your listening comprehension has a lot of benefits. It exposes you to a ton of new vocab and grammar, provides practice with a variety of accents and introduces you to new topics of interest within the Italian world.
It even improves your pronunciation. When you hear a word spoken a number of times, you eventually mimic the way it’s pronounced. Just like a baby learns! So get up, dust your shoulders off and get back on your horse. You can do it! Take these tips to heart and don’t just learn to speak, learn to communicate.
How to Improve Your Italian Listening Skills Over Your Daily Espresso
1. Sing Along
English songs can be very difficult for foreign learners because all the words tend to run together and things get a bit messy. In Italian, this isn’t the case.
Italian is loved around the world for its musical lilts and hooks, so why not do what native Italians do best to improve your skills? Sing!
Pronunciation and enunciation of each syllable is quite important in Italian music, so songs can be a great way to hear words as they’re meant to be spoken. To make things even better, Italy has a rich musical culture, so you’re guaranteed to find something you can tap your foot to sooner or later.
Head to Radio Italia’s YouTube channel to get started, and watch some videos with Italian subtitles. Once you get to know the tune, start singing along! You’ll be amazed at how fast your understanding improves.
If you’re driving and can’t look at a screen, replace your radio stations with Italian ones (as found on Italia.FM) and you’ll get a perfect mix of international and Italian hits. One catchy tune after another will get stuck in your head until you find yourself singing in the shower in perfect Italian without even realizing it.
2. TV Is Good for You
And movies, too! Now there are more ways than ever to experience the world of Italian cinema and TV.
If you’re not taking advantage of it, you’re not only missing out on a great learning resource but also some of the most exhilarating, heart-wrenching and gut-busting entertainment out there.
As an Italian student, there are a variety of reasons why movies and TV are especially important.
The first reason is cultural. Italians are obsessed with cinema, and Italy watches more TV than every other European country, save Greece. So if you want to get in the Italian mindset, you’re going to need a comfortable couch.
Another reason is because Italy has an especially large range of accents and dialects, and Italian film and cinema represent this accurately. If you watch the series “Romanzo Criminale,” you’ll hear the authentic Roman dialect and accent, whereas if you indulge in the modern classic “Gomorra“ you’ll be exposed to the Neapolitan language.
Watching TV and movies from around the boot will give your ear the training it needs to decipher all the eccentricities of the Italian language.
And if you love learning with TV shows, you’ll enjoy strengthening your listening skills with the authentic videos on FluentU.
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.
3. Pick a Podcast
When you get confident and are ready to take things to the next level, find a podcast that fits your interests and start listening.
This will be more difficult than listening along with TV and movies because you won’t be able to see the speakers’ mouths moving. This removes an important contextual element and gives your brain an extra challenge. Remember to keep a notebook handy so you can jot down new words and expressions.
You may not understand much at first, but try to stick with it and listen continuously without pausing too many times. When you finish, look up the words and phrases you’ve written and study them. The next day, listen to the same podcast again and keep taking notes. Once you’ve listened a few times, your comprehension will have improved greatly. I wouldn’t recommend listening to the same podcast more than three times, though. Move on to keep things interesting!
4. Challenge WordReference to a Duel
There may be hundreds of dialects and accents scattered from the Alpine peaks to the shores of Sicily, but there is a correct way to pronounce each word in Italian. You gotta have standards, right?
For this reason, using WordReference can be a great tool for improving your listening and pronunciation. Here’s the way it works.
Head to WordReference and choose a random word. Next, rack your brain and try to guess the correct pronunciation (remember to say the word out loud!). Once you think you’ve got it, click the button labeled “ascoltare” (listen) and see how close you got. If you nailed it, pat yourself on the back and move on. If your version sounded like you invented your own Italian dialect, then make a note of the word and come back to it the next time you play.
5. Study Up on Slang
To really get to know a language, you have to study what they don’t teach you in textbooks, and I’m not talking about all the flamboyant hand gestures! I’m talking about slang, of course, and maybe even a few parolacce (bad words) to spice up things up.
Slang is a big part of the Italian language because in many cases there’s not a clear consensus about what is and isn’t grammatically correct. That means that the Italian in your book and the Italian you hear on the street could be much different.
Italians are also quite liberal with their use of bad words, and you hear them often on TV and in everyday life. The only ones which really cause offense are the dreaded bestemmie (blasphemies) which are known to make Italian grannies faint. You could buy a book like “Hide This Italian Book” and start drilling slang to pick up where your studies leave off.
6. Carry On, My Wayward Figlio (Son)
Improving your Italian listening comprehension ain’t easy!
It’s by far the thing that students struggle with the most, so if you’re having trouble, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re for some reason incapable. All it means is that you have to fork an extra helping of pasta on your plate, pull your bootstraps up and keep at it.
Try to practice daily, if even it’s for just a few minutes, and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day! Use online resources along with the tips above to vary your practice. This will keep you interested and engaged. If you feel like you just can’t keep up, it might mean that you’ve chosen a difficulty level just a tad too high. An appropriate level will leave you feeling challenged, not lost.
Armed with these tips and your newfound courage, you’ll surely forge ahead, breaking through the language barrier before you know it. When you arrive on the other side, you’ll find that what was once a stressful challenge has become nothing short of music to your ears.
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