I had an Italian flatmate when I was 21, and mamma mia, did he talk fast!
Even though I’d already been learning Italian for three years, the crash with the real deal, real Italian, was…painful.
It didn’t matter that my grammar and vocabulary were on fleek, or that I could read faster than the speed of light.
Real contact with native Italian was like an ice bucket challenge, and I failed miserably.
My ears weren’t trained for that. I knew I should’ve practiced my listening skills more, but damn!
It was then that I understood the real importance of listening, and that realization changed my learning path forever.
To save you from a shock like mine, I decided to create this guide.
It’ll teach you everything you need to know about Italian listening, why it’s important, how you can improve this skill and, most importantly, what resources are the best for it.
So grab a drink, open your ears and get ready for a trip to the Land of Perfect Pitch.
Why Is Italian Listening Important?
We know Italian listening is important. You’re here reading a post about it, after all.
So my goal isn’t to convince you, but rather to tell you about all the benefits you can get by practicing this skill.
Let’s look at a few:
- Listening is the skill we use the most when learning a foreign language. Just as babies learn their native language by listening, we mainly learn with our ears. Listening is crucial for pronunciation, intonation and rhythm. It’s present when we’re having a conversation, watching a movie or listening to a podcast, and it’s the main skill (together with reading) that gives us the input we need to later produce Italian correctly.
- Listening practice allows you to learn grammar and vocabulary faster. If you listen actively, you’ll be getting a lot of words you can understand from the context of the audio and grammar structures used correctly by native speakers. You can then take those words and structures and use them when speaking Italian.
- Conversations require sharp listening skills. I wasn’t ready for a real conversation with my flatmate because I hadn’t practiced listening enough. When we have a conversation, we aren’t speaking all the time. Actually, we mainly listen to the other speaker(s) and react accordingly. This is especially true for language learners because we’re normally embarrassed to talk too much. If you work on your listening skills by yourself, you’ll be much more confident when a real conversation takes place and will understand much more.
- Listening is the key to better pronunciation. As I mentioned earlier, we learn by listening and then we repeat. Listening practice teaches us how to pronounce words correctly so that other people can understand us. But that’s not all. Thanks to listening, we’ll also be learning about the whole melody of the language, the rhythm and the intonation native speakers use when speaking.
- Italian listening is important for proficiency exams. If you’re getting ready to sit an official exam like the CELI or the CILS, you know your listening skills are going to be put to the test. Besides, your listening comprehension will also help you during the speaking part of the exam. In other words: listening practice is a must.
The reasons for practicing Italian listening are clear, so let’s move on to the ways in which you can improve this skill.
How to Improve Your Italian Listening Skills Quickly
I’m sure you’ve heard about many ways to practice your Italian listening skills, but which ones are the best? Put the following tips and tricks to use and see your listening comprehension skills skyrocket in no time.
Practice with Italian listening exercises
Italian listening comprehension exercises are an awesome way to check and challenge yourself.
Practice makes perfect, and practicing with listening exercises is the best way to make that a reality.
Listening exercises allow you to improve your pronunciation and understanding of native Italian. Besides, many of the audio files include a transcription, so you can also practice your reading skills while you listen.
Once you’ve worked with the audio (and maybe the transcription), do the exercises. If you see you’ve made a lot of mistakes, listen to the audio again and redo the exercises.
Immerse yourself in Italian
Immersion simply means to surround yourself with the language. It’s like jumping into a swimming pool full of words, sounds and grammar rules.
Nowadays, there’s no need to go to Italy to immerse yourself in Italian.
Thanks to technology, you can now feel as if you were in Italy without leaving your home.
Home immersion isn’t only cheap but also super fun.
You can stick post-its around your house, listen to Italian podcasts and the radio, watch Italian movies on TV or use streaming services like Netflix, where you can switch on the Italian audio and subtitles.
You can also use an Italian software immersion program on your laptop or computer. This type of resource is normally available for different levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced), and will teach you vocabulary, grammar rules and pronunciation. They often include information about the culture of the countries where the language is spoken and audio files you can take with you everywhere.
Another way of getting really immersed in Italian is to use apps and online immersion programs.
The possibilities here seem to be endless, but there is one that stands out from the rest: FluentU.
Each video includes a set of contextual subtitles. If you don’t recognize a word while watching a video, just hover your mouse over it and you’ll get a translation, example sentences and related images.
Not enough info? Click on that word and an interactive flashcard will pop up. FluentU’s flashcards are out of this word. They not only include grammar info and a translation of the word, but also its pronunciation, sample sentences and even a list of other videos where the word is used!
Once you finish watching the video, you can access a full transcription of it and a vocabulary list. And do you want to know the best part? Each word and sentence includes its pronunciation. Listen to it as much as you want and let those listening skills go through the roof!
FluentU is an immersion program that adapts to you and your way of learning. It gives you exercises and quizzes that cover only the videos you’ve decided to watch. This way, you know you’ll be tested on the topics that really interest you.
Finally, if you’re feeling adventurous, use the video dictionary feature. Type a word or grammar topic into the search bar and you’ll get a list of videos and interactive flashcards that include it. Gorge on them until you’re feeling satisfied, and then move on to the next topic.
As you can see, FluentU is an exceptional immersion program that’ll allow you to learn Italian while you have a 100% personalized experience. Give it a free try and see for yourself!
Sing your lungs out
Italian music is simply delicious. And helpful!
Using your favorite Italian songs to improve your listening skills is easy, fun and efficient.
Print the lyrics if you feel like reading and listening at the same time. Take notes. Sing out loud!
Repeat the process a few times until you understand the whole song and are able to sing it without reading the lyrics.
The more songs you practice with, the easier the process will be. Your ears will get used to understanding Italian in music (which is normally more difficult than listening to normal speech). From that to understanding native everyday Italian conversations at full speed there’s only a couple of steps!
Write down everything you hear
Okay, not everything, but do write down every word, expression or construction you don’t recognize.
Make flashcards for them. Use them in sample sentences and make sure you know how to pronounce them correctly.
When you write, you’re unconsciously memorizing, and you’re also learning how the word is spelled. Next time you listen to it, you’ll immediately know what it means and how to use it.
Read out loud
It might sound silly, but reading out loud has a lot of benefits you can take advantage of.
When you read out loud, you’re more aware of what you’re reading. This will help you identify and learn more vocabulary, grammar rules and language structures.
Reading out loud is also an amazing pronunciation and intonation exercise. You can even record your voice and listen to it afterward (I know, I hate my voice, too). Listening to yourself will surprise you. You can compare your reading with native Italian audio and see how close or far you are to sounding like a native.
If you don’t feel like reading out loud, the second-best option is to read a book while you listen to its audiobook. This has all the benefits I just mentioned except for one: you won’t be practicing your speaking skills.
Use Italian media to your advantage
In a world where we’re all connected, one of the easiest ways of getting Italian listening practice is the media.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of Italian videos on YouTube, dozens of Italian movies on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO, countless websites with videos, live streams, audio files, audiobooks, etc.
You can listen to the news or the radio, watch TV programs while you practice active listening, use podcasts as white noise, etc. The sky is the limit!
Resources for Improving Your Italian Listening Skills
You know why. You know how. But you want to know the real deal. You want resources, and resources you will get.
Here you have a selection of the best resources to improve those Italian listening skills of yours and make the most out of them.
Videos are a powerful tool to improve your listening comprehension because they include images, which will help you understand more of what you hear because you have visual input to rely on.
You should pick videos that are interesting to you. There are so many options (Italian YouTube channels, Italian TED Talks, Italian cartoons, TV shows, movies and series in Italian, etc.) that it would be impossible not to find something you can really enjoy. Learning Italian has to be fun!
Whatever type of video you choose, make sure you follow these tips to maximize your results:
- Choose videos appropriate for your level. A good rule of thumb is going for videos that you understand about 60%.
- Start with shorter videos (like the ones at FluentU Italian) and build your way to full movies. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself when you’re just getting started, or make Italian practice feel like a three-hour study session.
- Try to watch videos in native Italian with Italian subtitles on. This will improve not only your pronunciation and listening skills, but also your reading comprehension and your spelling.
- The first time you watch a video, pretend there’s no pause or rewind button. Imagine the video is happening in real life. By implementing this technique, you’ll force yourself to practice active listening, which will make you pay more attention and hence learn more.
- The second time you watch a video, pause it as much as you need to take notes. If there’s a word you don’t know or an expression you’ve never heard of, you can now pause the video and write them down. Next time they appear you’ll have no problem catching them.
Not many of us can afford to buy an immersion course in Sicily and spend a few weeks there learning Italian.
The next best option is to use an Italian immersion program and bring a little bit of the Sicilian sun to our houses.
How can you do that? Use FluentU, obviously!
The greatest advantage FluentU has over other immersion programs is that it uses authentic videos to help you learn Italian in the most natural way possible.
Your listening comprehension skills will go from zero to hero before you can say buongiorno (good morning).
There are many ways you can use FluentU to your advantage, and really improve your listening skills with it:
- Take advantage of the contextual subtitles to know the meaning of words in context.
- Work with the interactive flashcards to know everything about a word or expression.
- After watching a video, check the Dialogue and Vocabulary tabs to make sure you’ve understood everything.
- Do the exercises and quizzes related to each video at least twice.
- Search for keywords and topics in the video dictionary to personalize your learning sessions completely.
Podcasts are another great resource to get your daily Italian listening dose.
There are two main types of podcasts: the ones devoted to teaching the language and the ones aimed at native speakers. And both are equally amazing!
The advantage of podcasts over other types of resources is that they show Italian as it’s spoken by natives. They come in handy to get you ready for conversations in the real world and make a perfect companion when you’re commuting to school or work.
So, how can you use Italian podcasts to improve your listening comprehension skills?
- Use both main types of podcasts (for learners and for native speakers). The former will give you info on words and let you understand grammar rules, while the latter will allow you to listen to real Italian as it’s spoken by natives.
- Listen actively to every podcast. No matter the type of podcast or the topic you’ve chosen, always engage in active listening with this type of resource.
- Try shadowing. This is also called “parroting.” It’s when you try to repeat everything the speaker says, even while they’re still talking. If you’ve never done this before, it’s okay if you have to pause and instead repeat each word or sentence verbatim first.
- Listen to the same podcast for seven days in a row. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can understand by the end of the process.
- Print the transcript if it’s available and work with it. Find words and expressions you don’t know and write them down, then try to repeat them out loud until they sound natural.
Audiobooks are your best friend if you’re a busy person.
Not only can they be taken around wherever you go, but they also allow you to practice two skills at the same time (listening and reading) if you use them with the corresponding book.
Audiobooks are read by native speakers of the language. This means you’ll be getting perfect pronunciation and intonation while you learn new words and enjoy a story. What else can you ask from a single resource?
Improve your listening skills with Italian audiobooks by doing the following:
- Start with short stories and work your way to full books. Once again, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself.
- Try to get the book or ebook for the audiobook you’re going to listen to. Two senses are better than just one.
- Pause the audiobook whenever you get lost. Go back as many times as you need, and take notes on difficult words or constructions you don’t recognize.
- Try audiobooks with different accents and, if possible, experiment with different audio speeds. Listen to the same passage at different speeds to train your brain to hear different kinds of speakers. Listening to different accents and different types of voices (teenager, male, female, etc.) also helps your brain get ready for real-life conversations.
Radio and news in Italian
Yep, the radio and the news can be used to boost your listening skills!
On one hand, listening to Italian radio can become an amazing listening exercise because you rely solely on your ears. It also gives you access to different accents and speaking speeds while still giving you real Italian as it’s used by native speakers. It also helps you build your vocabulary and grammar up.
The radio is also a window to the culture and the music of the language you’re learning, and an endless source of free listening material for you to gorge on.
On the other hand, watching the news in Italian is a way of getting to know what’s happening in Italy and the world while you improve your listening comprehension skills by having direct contact with the language as it’s spoken “in the wild.”
The news will also help you boost your vocabulary on topics such as politics, business, economics, society and even weather. And if you’re watching a local station, you’ll also get to know about spectacles, festivals and local entertainment in general.
Learning Italian with the radio and the news is an easy and effective way of getting a taste of what real immersion feels like.
Italian audio courses
Italian audio courses are normally designed to improve your listening comprehension skills and hone your pronunciation.
There are audio courses available for every mastery level, from beginner to advanced, and many of them can be yours for free online.
Audio courses are a useful tool to learn Italian while driving to work or commuting. You can just press play on your device of choice and start improving your listening skills. Besides, they also include vocabulary and grammar tips that’ll only make your Italian get even better.
Even though the main way of using audio courses is by just listening, there are other things you can do to juice them up.
- Interact with the audio whenever it tells you to. Repeat what you hear, do the comprehension exercises, practice your new words. Listening and speaking are closely interrelated, so the best way to get better at both is to practice them at the same time.
- Listen to the same fragments twice. Your first listen can be passive, or you can just close your eyes (if you aren’t driving, of course!) and absorb what you hear. The second time around you can take notes, write down newly-learned words and create flashcards or sample sentences for them.
- Revisit past audio sessions to see how your listening comprehension has improved. If you feel there’s no difference, go back a couple of sessions and listen to them once again.
- Use audio courses while you sleep. It’s been scientifically proven that you can improve your language skills by listening to a foreign language while you sleep, so there’s no excuse not to practice your listening skills anymore!
Italian music and songs
Music isn’t just a nice melody hypnotizing our brains. It’s also words and a fun way of practicing listening comprehension.
Think about it: music will allow you to learn vocabulary from different parts of the Italian-speaking world. It’ll also teach you grammar and help you review topics such as the tenses or the plural, and it might even inspire you to write lyrics in Italian!
We love catchy songs when we’re little babies, and growing up, most of the programs we want to watch are those which include songs.
By listening to Italian music and songs now that you’re learning a new language, you’ll feel like a little kid again. Your Italian learning sessions will automatically become more enjoyable, and you’ll have the time of your life while improving your listening skills.
Use the following techniques when listening to Italian songs and let them boost your listening comprehension skills to new melodic heights:
- Choose the genres you enjoy. You’ll enjoy your music sessions much more if you enjoy the type of music you’re using.
- Print the lyrics or, better yet, write them down yourself. You’ll get a first gist of what they say, plus practice your Italian spelling along the way.
- Translate the lyrics. Translating and working with the lyrics before, during and after you listen to a song is very important because you need to know what they mean in order to really understand them while you listen.
- Memorize the lyrics. Memorize the lyrics by listening to the song repeated times. Pay special attention to pronunciation while doing this.
- Use different audio speeds. Find the song on YouTube and listen to it at different speeds until you can remember it without looking at the lyrics.
- Sing out loud. When you’re ready, become a singer for a few minutes and sing along. This will also help you improve your pronunciation.
Listening is one of the four major language skills (together with speaking, reading and writing), but it’s possibly the most important when it comes to getting our language knowledge to the next level.
We start learning our native language by listening to our family, and just as a baby gets their first and most important language lessons through their ears, we language learners can do the same.
With time, patience and a lot of practice, our listening skills will improve massively, bringing the other three major skills up with it.
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He is a proud language nerd, and you will normally find him learning a new language, teaching students or just reading in a foreign language. He has been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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