I read “La Divina Commedia” (“The Divine Comedy”) in Italian once.
I remember it took me three whole weeks of intensive reading and a lot of dictionary work.
I was lucky. I’m Spanish, and a lot of my native vocabulary is identical to Italian.
Still, I kept on thinking: How on earth is anyone else going to read this book?
With a lot of practice, of course!
You simply can’t read Dante after your two-week intensive Italian course, or after learning the 100 most commonly used words in Italian.
You need to practice. You need a lot of reading other types of texts before handling “The Divine Comedy.”
You need an incredible guide that’ll tell you everything you need to know about reading in Italian and how to approach Italian texts from the very beginning of your language journey.
This is that guide. Welcome.
Tips and Tricks for Reading in Italian
We all know that reading is crucial and unavoidable if we want to reach fluency someday, but many of us focus on grammar and vocabulary and avoid reading as much as possible.
Over my many years of teaching languages, I’ve come to understand that language students don’t like reading because they don’t know how to make “first contact” with this skill.
They think reading is boring, hard to digest or simply unnecessary, so they get frustrated easily and give up.
Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid that. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Choose the appropriate resource for you
Choose reading material that fits your language level. If you want to learn Italian through reading, you need to go step by step and be patient. Pick readings that give you room for improvement but aren’t too difficult.
Also, remember that reading has to be a fun activity. There are many different types of resources available. You can learn Italian reading with comics, short stories, poetry, graded readings and many other resources, as you’ll see below.
Use more than one sense at a time
The best way to make the most out of your reading sessions is to use more than one sense at a time.
This can be easily achieved by reading a text and listening to it at the same time. For instance, you can read a book while you listen to its audiobook version.
FluentU is a language learning system that’ll help you boost all your Italian skills, reading included!
All FluentU videos allow you to practice different senses at the same time, improving your four major skills simultaneously.
Each video contains a set of contextual subtitles. If you read a word you don’t know, just hover your mouse over it and you’ll get a translation that fits the context of the word in the video. That way, you don’t have to wonder which one of the multiple definitions of the word is the appropriate one.
If you still want to learn more about the word, just click on it and an interactive flashcard will pop up. FluentU’s flashcards are out of this world. They include grammar information, the native pronunciation of the word, translations, sample sentences and even a list of other videos where your word is being used.
When you finish watching a video, you can further practice what you’ve learned by doing exercises and quizzes. You’ll have many sample sentences with missing words that’ll require you to sharpen your reading and detective skills.
If you prefer to read and watch à la carte, you can always use the video dictionary feature. Search for the word or grammar topic you want to watch and read about and you’ll get a list of all the flashcards and videos related to your search.
Summing up, if you want to improve your reading comprehension while boosting the rest of your language skills in a fun and efficient way, FluentU is your best friend. Give it a try for free and see for yourself!
Take notes while you read
While reading, you can write down words you don’t know or grammar structures that are interesting or new to you, copy sentences that catch your attention, summarize paragraphs as you read… The possibilities of combining writing and reading are endless.
By adding writing to your reading sessions, you’ll be transforming a typically passive activity into an active learning process, which will allow you to engage with the text and, thus, learn more while you read.
Learn vocabulary and grammar
Vocabulary and grammar, on the one hand, and reading, on the other hand, are closely interconnected.
The more words and grammar rules you know, the easier it’ll be to understand Italian when you read. Likewise, the more you read, the more words and grammar rules your brain will be bombarded with.
Learn reading, vocabulary and grammar in tandem to create an infinite learning loop that’ll quickly lead you to fluency in Italian.
Set achievable goals
I like to set small reading goals even when I read in Spanish.
You can choose the type of goal you want to achieve and how much time you want to spend reading, but having goals will make you accountable and will motivate you to read in Italian even when you don’t feel like it.
Some examples of small goals can be: reading Italian texts for 15 minutes every day, reading five pages of any Italian book, newspaper or magazine a day, reading actively and taking notes for one page every evening or anything else that suits your study schedule.
Practice every day
As with every other major language skill, reading has to be practiced often in order to get the best results.
You don’t need to read one book a week to improve your reading skills, though. Just 15 minutes every day can be enough if you’re really systematic.
Summarize what you read
Writing a short summary of what you read each day is an awesome exercise that’ll force you to think and write in Italian.
Your summaries don’t have to be more than 100-200 words. The goal here is to use the words and grammar constructions you’ve learned while reading. This will help you recognize and understand them easily the next time you find them while reading.
Read out loud
Reading out loud has many benefits not many of us are aware of.
When you read out loud, you’re reading actively. This means you’re more focused on the task you’re doing, which in turn helps you learn and remember new words and grammar constructions more efficiently.
At the same time, you’re listening to yourself (and engaging different senses), which makes you aware of your pronunciation and intonation. By improving these skills, you’re also improving your speaking competence and getting one step closer to fluency in Italian.
Re-read your way to fluency
Reading is crucial to Italian fluency. Re-reading is like getting in the fast lane.
Revisit past readings to make sure you remember what they taught you. Re-read books to see how much you’ve progressed over time.
Go back to Italian texts that were once challenging for you and read them again.
If practice makes perfect, practicing reading and re-reading is definitely not an exception. The more you read, the better you get. Simple!
Talk about what you’re reading
Find a friend who also speaks Italian and tell them about the book you’re reading.
If you don’t know any person who can speak Italian, join a language exchange group or search for other Italian students on the Internet.
Talking about what you read will not only improve your speaking skills but also help you get a better understanding of the text, motivating you to keep on reading.
Tell the story to yourself in your mind
You know you’re reading Italian correctly when you’re able to tell yourself the story (also in Italian) in a few sentences without much hesitation.
By doing this mental exercise, your brain will have to search for words and grammar constructions it has seen in the text. You’ll solidify your Italian knowledge and, consequently, set the foundation for better reading sessions in the future.
Where to Find Amazing Italian Practice Texts
Now you know what you should do to juice up your reading sessions and get closer to fluency in Italian.
But where can you find the perfect Italian texts to indulge in?
The number of Italian text resources available can be overwhelming.
Some people like learning Italian with ebooks. Others search the Internet for graded readers. And there are those who love reading short stories online.
Whether you’re looking for Italian reading for beginners or a more challenging text for advanced learners, this next section will tell you where to look so that you find exactly what you’re looking for.
Italian textbooks and books for learning Italian are quite an obvious place to find excellent reading material.
If you’re learning Italian, regardless of your level, and you like having things organized and dissected step by step, Italian textbooks are the perfect tool for you.
Using textbooks to practice Italian reading is an awesome way of learning new vocabulary and grammar constructions.
The reading passages included in textbooks are normally adapted to or selected for a specific grammar topic, so when you read them, you’re also seeing how the theory looks in practice.
Besides, you don’t even have to use physical books! You can use your Kindle to learn Italian, or read e-books on your phone.
Remember also that there are textbooks to practice only reading. These are books that include many short reading passages and exercises to help you improve your reading comprehension skills, so take advantage of them if you can.
Make use of Italian textbooks when you want to have a short reading session with grammar and vocabulary added to it, or when you want to read about Italian culture in Italian.
Italian bilingual books
Bilingual books are a great asset for Italian learners of any age who are just taking their first steps into longer readings.
Since Italian-English bilingual books include the original and the translated versions of the text side by side, they’re very easy to read and amazing to work with.
Use this kind of book when you want to read something more challenging and at the same time practice your translation skills, see Italian grammar in use or learn new words in context without having to use a dictionary.
Italian short stories and children’s books
Easy Italian short stories and children’s books aren’t only for kids.
Any beginner learner of Italian who wants to start reading in a fun and easy way can use this kind of material to take their first steps.
Italian children’s books are wonderful for learning easy vocabulary and simple grammar structures. These books are created with kiddos in mind, so they tend to be short, easy to read and not very challenging, which makes them perfect for complete beginner learners.
Beginners and pre-intermediate students can benefit from reading easy Italian books like picture dictionaries or easy readers, as well as easy Italian short stories, which will expose them to natural Italian without being too demanding.
Use these types of books when you’re starting your Italian reading journey and you want to practice reading in short, repeated intervals.
Italian blogs and online forums
Italian blogs and online forums are a superb way to read Italian as it’s really used by native speakers.
Even though they’re not a very difficult read, blogs are recommended for learners who already have a basic knowledge of Italian.
There are many great Italian bloggers on the Internet that write about practically any topic. Just choose a couple of blogs you’re interested in and start learning Italian slang and “wild,” natural Italian like a pro.
Forums are also a good place for intermediate learners to improve their language skills.
Out of the thousands of forums out there, I find Reddit one of the best ones. You might be surprised, but learning Italian with Reddit is absolutely possible! The community of Redditors is very helpful and always eager to answer questions. You can practice your Italian writing skills by contributing to the conversations and, above all, you have possibly hundreds of hours of Italian reading on almost every topic under the sun.
If you want to improve your core vocabulary, learn some slang and blogging jargon and be in contact with the Italian language as it’s naturally spoken by its native speakers, blogs and forums are where it’s at!
Italian news and magazine articles
Many students, when they hear the word reading, think about long hours staring at a boring book and internal cries for help.
But reading doesn’t have to be boring. Or painful!
There are many Italian pieces of news and Italian articles for beginners that have been written especially for these types of learners. They’re not only interesting and approachable but also super helpful if you want to practice active reading and note-taking.
Learning Italian with magazines is another awesome option that not many students think of. Magazines have the advantage of including short readings and lots of pictures to contextualize what’s written. Besides, they can be taken with you anywhere you go, and they allow you to read for a few minutes each time.
If you’re the type of learner who’s still not ready to fully commit to reading, this kind of resource is perfect for you. You’ll still be practicing your reading skills, but you won’t feel the stress that comes with having a full 300-page book in your hands.
We’ve finally arrived to the real deal: novels!
If you’re like me, you probably read everything that comes into your hands, from shampoo labels to instructions on how to switch on the five-dollar radio you just bought in a local bazaar.
Reading novels sounds like something only advanced learners of a language would be able to do, but the truth is that there are many Italian novels for beginners you can enjoy from the early stages of your learning.
Treat novels for beginners as a prelude to more difficult works that may seem out of reach for you right now.
Italian books for beginners will allow you to challenge yourself without having to give up halfway. They’ll teach you a lot of vocabulary in context (just like FluentU and its contextual subtitles), and plenty of grammar constructions, collocations and word patterns you’d rarely be able to find in a grammar book.
Once you’re done with Italian novels for beginners, you’ll be ready to read “La Divina Commedia” or any other masterpiece of your choice.
But as you’ve been able to see in this post, the trick to improve your reading skills is practice, practice and a little bit of practice after that.
If you don’t feel like reading a whole book or you’re not a huge fan of the written word, remember there are many other options available that are equally effective. From children’s books to magazine articles, the best thing about reading is that you get to choose what you want, and you can easily switch from one resource to the other whenever you feel like it.
Reading is essential if you want to become fluent in any language, and the sooner you start, the faster you can become an avid reader of Italian.
Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy reading!
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, reading or teaching his students. He has been writing for FluentU for many years and has recently become a Staff Writer.
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