See if this scenario sounds familiar to you:
You had started learning Italian, and it was going pretty well!
You could differentiate masculine from feminine and had learned your articles. Using the correct tense was feeling like second nature to you. Your vocabulary was improving every day.
Your teacher had you practice dialogues in class, and keeping up was a breeze. You were crushing that app that promises to get you fluent in Italian in a matter of months. Perhaps you even managed to read a couple of Italian articles without needing to check the dictionary.
All in all, you had started feeling pretty confident about your Italian skills… until you decided to watch an Italian movie and realized that real Italians speak way too fast.
You had neglected your Italian listening practice.
At that moment, you realized that you were a long way from mastering the language.
When learning Italian, most people start off by mastering their reading skills. This is a natural starting point, as it is often easier to learn basic vocabulary and grammar through reading.
However, even as reading skills progress, many new Italian learners feel lost when asked to listen to actual Italian conversations.
In this post, we are going to take a look at some awesome resources you can use to solve this exact problem, as well as some simple steps you can take to practice Italian listening.
Why You Need Both Italian Listening and Reading Practice
There is often a big skill gap between reading Italian and listening to Italian.
Reading is a fantastic way to expand your vocabulary and learn new things; however, listening can lead to better improvement in your ability to converse fluently. Improving one skill does not necessarily mean improving the other and they are both important when trying to master a new language.
Reading affords the brain time to process and absorb what is being learned. Listening, on the other hand, requires a more intuitive part of the mind that processes information on the fly.
Again, many people start learning Italian by working on their reading and writing skills. Unfortunately, they tend to lose hope when they realize that they are not able to keep up with conversational Italian.
So below is a complete guide to practicing your Italian listening skills, set up to take you from the beginning all the way through the advanced level.
Get Some Smart Italian Listening Practice with 4 Steps and 12 Tools
Step One: Start with Slow & Short Clips in Italian
When I first started learning Italian, people kept recommending movies for me to watch “for practice.”
My reaction was, “I get exhausted keeping up with a 10-minute conversation. How am I supposed to keep up with a two-hour movie?!”
When you are starting out, skip the two-hour movies and watch five-minute videos instead. Try checking out some Italian YouTube channels with clips designed specifically for beginners.
Here are some great channels to start practicing your Italian listening skills:
This channel has hundreds of videos covering a wide array of topics for all levels.
Lucrezia Oddone has been posting videos on YouTube for Italian learners for years and has built up a great following for a reason. You can start with one of her earliest videos on basic numbers or you can explore her playlists and vlogs for longer conversations and monologues.
She does not provide any translation for her conversations or vlogs, so her channel is good listening practice for those who have already built up some Italian vocabulary.
This channel was started on the foundation that the best way to learn a new language is to listen to it over and over again.
The videos on this channel are only two to five minutes in length and cover a variety of topics to keep things interesting. A huge bonus is that the videos come with both Italian and English subtitles.
The channel’s earliest videos begin in slow Italian, making them a great starting point!
As the name suggests, News in Slow Italian lets you kill two birds with one stone: You can practice your Italian listening skills while keeping up with current events.
Listening to the news requires a paid subscription, but the words are spoken clearly and slowly, and a subscription with interactive transcripts is available.
The best way to master your Italian listening skills with the above resources is to replay each clip several times until you understand and can follow the topic easily by ear.
Repetition is important, but think of it this way: Replaying a five-minute video three times is only 15 minutes of your day. Plus, you can play clips while doing other things, like driving or ironing.
It may take weeks or months, but eventually, you will find that you can keep up with slow conversational Italian without needing to hit that replay button quite as often.
Step Two: Speed Things Up with Real-world Content
After you have gotten comfortable listening to slow Italian monologues, it is time to kick things up a notch.
Italians are not always going to speak slowly just for your benefit. Sooner or later, you will need to start practicing Italian listening at speeds that native Italians are used to.
YouTube, again, is a great resource. But this time, instead of channels for learning Italian, try looking for native Italian YouTubers. They generally speak faster, as they are aiming their content towards native speakers, but their topics get more interesting. You can also try listening to some Italian radio podcasts.
The good thing about this stage is that you can explore all kinds of topics that you find personally interesting.
Here are some resources you can use to start hunting down authentic Italian videos:
Already stressed at the thought of tracking down your own videos? FluentU to the rescue!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons, as you can see here:
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 have 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 are on.
FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you have learned to recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know.
Plus, it will tell you exactly when it is time for review. Now that is a 100% personalized experience!
The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a free trial.
Start using Fluent on the website, or better yet, download the app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
Jacopo and Daniel are some of Italy’s more popular YouTubers with their channel iPantellas. They come up with humorous parodies and their channel is a hit with Italian youth.
Those looking to keep up with Italian pop culture will enjoy this channel.
Willwoosh has gained popularity in Italy with his videos of one-man skits and parodies. He takes seemingly mundane, everyday things and blows them out of proportion in the funniest of ways. His channel gives a hilarious peek into modern Italian humor and culture.
Those who love to cook may find the videos on Chef Stefano Barbato to be a great way to practice Italian listening.
Plus, you get to learn new recipes. Italian cuisine does not get more authentic than when following recipes from native Italians.
Learners interested in news and current events should check out the Corriere Della Sera video feed.
Corriere Della Sera is a popular Italian daily newspaper. On their video feed, you can find news-related videos covering Italy as well as the world at large.
As before, hit replay a few times until you can follow and understand with ease.
Step Three: Converse in Italian with Others
A great way to improve Italian fluency is to have conversations in Italian.
Chatting with someone in Italian forces you to pay close attention to what is being said, as you need to formulate proper responses to keep the conversational ball rolling.
Of course, unless you actually know someone who speaks Italian, this is easier said than done.
Fortunately, we live in a world that has made great progress in connecting people!
Meetup is a great platform to find other people in your area that might want to get together and practice Italian. If you cannot find any active groups for this, you could just as easily start one (and it’s free!).
Do not just limit yourself to the physical world, though. Websites like MyLanguageExchange.com allow you to meet people from all over the world who are interested in practicing other languages.
You can exchange emails and texts with them, but if you are looking to improve your listening skills, try starting a call or video chat.
Do not worry if your Italian skills are not up to par. People in language exchanges are incredibly patient when speaking with a person who has to really work the brain juices to come up with proper sentences.
Plus, there are always loads of Italian translator apps to help you in case you get stuck.
Step Four: Time to Stretch Things Out
In the beginning, it may be difficult to keep up with an entire movie or audiobook without pausing or replaying some parts. Just keep at it, though, and in time, you will find that you can sit through an entire movie or book with ease.
Start with movies that pique your interest. Watch what you already like. Are you really expecting a classic Italian romance movie to hold your attention when you love watching mystery thrillers in English?
With audiobooks, do not dive straight into heavy literature. Try building up to it with translations of children’s books you are already familiar with in English, such as “The Jungle Book” or “Alice in Wonderland.”
It can also be helpful to compare the translation differences between English and Italian. Try listening to the Italian audiobook version of an English book that you have already read and note the differences.
Books cannot be literally translated from one language to another, and to keep things culturally and linguistically relevant in a way that does not ruin the plot, sometimes a translator needs to get creative. The same can be said for English subtitles in Italian movies.
Here are some resources to get you started with full-length, native-level listening:
11. Il Narratore
This site has a great collection of Italian audiobooks available for purchase. The website is completely in Italian, so it will be a pretty immersive experience right from the moment you begin browsing their books.
Fandor is a movie-streaming website that has a fantastic selection of Italian films. You can even filter them by sub-genre, year and duration. I find this very helpful, as many websites tend to lump Italian films under the single genre heading of “foreign film.”
As You Practice Italian Listening, Be Persistent!
So, there we have it.
It is important to remember that improving Italian listening skills is not something that can be done overnight and that it requires consistent practice.
Be aware that while the above may look like a few steps you should be able to complete quickly, actually getting from step one to step four could take months or even years—and that’s okay!
It is easy to lose your motivation, especially in the beginning when even five minutes of slow Italian tests the limits of your concentration abilities.
Do not be too hard on yourself.
Just keep on practicing your Italian listening skills by listening to subjects that you enjoy.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.