Need a little more structure to your Italian learning?
A useful and engaging textbook could be just the tool you need!
Whether in a class or in a self-study setting, textbooks can serve as the backbone to any successful language learning endeavor—Italian especially.
Textbooks offer a systematic look at a language, and often compile grammar with vocabulary as well as cultural tips, all in one place to streamline your language learning.
But you’ve got to use them correctly for efficient learning, which is why I’ll outline my 5-step method below before getting to my recommendations of the Italian textbooks that are actually worth your time and money.
How to Get the Most out of Your Italian Textbook
Buying a textbook is all fine and dandy, but textbooks are useless if you do not know how to use them properly. So, toss out those outdated textbooks blahs from high school.
This is how you treat a fine specimen of Italian-learning greatness:
Step 1: Make a word list
The first step to acquiring any language is to learn the words in said language. So naturally, the first step to getting the most out of your kick-butt Italian textbook is to start a word list.
Wait! Don’t roll your eyes. I’m serious. Every word you come across that you don’t know should be put in a word list. It’s not the most interesting way to learn vocabulary, but it’s essential. Organize your words by theme or chapter (i.e. house words, days of the week, etc.) as you come across them.
But don’t stop there! The fun is just beginning. Do you think you’d just write the words down and then ignore them? Not at all! Use these words often. Engage with them. Take the words from a given themed list and create sample sentences to help you remember them. (Write them and say them aloud.)
Make flashcards so you can learn new words. Or better yet, add them to one of your vocab lists on FluentU so that you can learn with multimedia flashcards featuring real-world videos. Label objects in your house to make these new vocabulary words recurring.
Step 2: Do the exercises
Oh, Michael… remember how much you disliked high school homework exercises? Isn’t it ironic now that you’re advising people to do self-assigned homework?
Well, this is what has helped me learn the most. The majority of textbooks come with exercises, so do them! Exercises reinforce crucial grammar concepts and even vocabulary (see step 1). Do each exercise given in the textbook so you can reiterate what it is that you’re learning.
Best of all, most textbooks also have answer keys. Use these to make sure your answers are correct, and figure out why your answers are incorrect when yours don’t match the key. No answer key? No problem. Find an Italian language buddy and see if they can look over your answers.
Step 3: Make notes on grammar
I know, I know: Grammar can be boring. But writing out grammar rules in your own words will help them stick and make sense.
Every time you come across a new grammar point, make sure to write your own notes on it. But that’s not all. Keep those grammar notes beside you when doing exercises, especially during free write activities where your grammar will really be put to the test, and review your grammar notes often.
By the time you reach the end of your textbook, you’ll be as much a grammar expert as the book is!
Step 4: Read out loud
Actually speaking Italian is crucial to developing your accent, confidence and competence in the language, no matter how beginner you are. If your textbook comes with an audio CD or online audio resource, great. Listen to the recordings and repeat after the speaker.
No audio? Not a problem. Read everything in Italian out loud—the readings, dialogues and exercises. You may feel silly at first, but this is helpful and necessary practice. You’ll be speaking like a pro in no time. Don’t forget to check out Forvo.com to fine-tune your pronunciation.
Step 5: Quiz yourself
Quizzes and tests are different from exercises because you’re not allowed to view your notes or other learning materials while taking them (no cheating!). This is a great opportunity to test your mastery of the language and see where you need improvement.
If your textbook has regular tests for grammar, once again, do them. Like the exercises, these tests will help you improve as well as gauge where you may need more practice. If your textbook has no tests or you need more, check out these websites: One World Italiano offers great online tests for grammar and vocabulary, and Online Italian Club has tests for all learning levels.
6 of the Best Italian Textbooks
Are you ready to really begin your Italian journey? Check out any of these six textbooks to start speaking like a pro!
1. “Italian Made Simple” by Cristina Mazzoni
Where are my spring chickens at? Being a beginner is one of the best phases of learning a language: the excitement, the inspiration! And what better textbook to guide you through the fun than “Italian Made Simple” by Cristina Mazzoni.
This textbook offers a beginner’s look at grammar and vocabulary. Learn Italian with common expressions and a selection of contemporary Italian readings on culture and history. All the grammar and vocabulary acquired in this textbook is reinforced with exercises, language games and puzzles.
Best of all, this textbook offers a pronunciation guide, an Italian-English dictionary and answer keys to exercises and test questions. This textbook really is a great beginner-Italian package for a very reasonable price!
2. “Living Language Italian, Complete Edition” by Living Language
Boasting a method that is backed by linguistic science, this textbook really is the complete course for your Italian self-study needs.
Besides the 46 comprehensive lessons, exercises, cultural notes and grammar summary guide, this textbook is more than a textbook—it’s a course! In addition to the three books, “Living Language Italian” comes with nine audio CDs complete with vocabulary drills, dialogues and audio exercises to help you speak Italian like a native.
“Living Language Italian” also comes with a fantastic online tool to give learners the ultimate route to success. Flashcards, games and online quizzes for days!
3. “Italian Grammar: Barron’s Grammar Series” by Marcel Danesi
The next textbook on our list is one for learners who already have some base in Italian. While a little lacking in audio and pronunciation, this textbook is ideal for learners looking to hone their grammar skills and get a systemic look at all of Italian’s intricacies.
Stylized as a “fast-reference” book, this one has you covered for mastering parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, verbs tenses and moods. This guide is also loaded with exercises to practice and test your fluency, as well as useful day-to-day vocabulary that beginner textbooks may omit.
Let the Italian flow through you beautifully with this concise, elegant textbook.
4. “Practice Makes Perfect Italian Vocabulary” by Daniela Gobetti
We’ve covered the grammar—so now for a complete vocabulary guide.
“Practice Makes Perfect Italian Vocabulary” is organized by themes and focuses exclusively on building vocabulary so learners can populate their grammatically-correct sentences with useful and topical words.
In particular, this textbook encourages vocab acquisition by having learners focus on word-building (the process where prefixes, suffixes and even other words are added to a word to give it a new meaning) and analyzing new words based on context in order for learners to “discover” new vocabulary on their own. It’s not just word lists anymore—it’s an adventure!
Additionally, over 250 exercises and an answer key allow learners to practice their newly-learned vocabulary, and there are even grammar explanations to assist learners with using vocabulary properly.
Aside from Amazon, you can also find this book on VitalSource, a convenient and affordable e-book store where you can rent or buy a variety of Italian learning materials and access them on the Bookshelf app with a Kindle or other electronic device.
5. “Italian Verb Tenses: Fully Conjugated Verbs” by Marcel Danesi
This comes as no surprise, Italian learner, but I love verbs!
That means it’s no surprise either that I am recommending this textbook. It comes to you from the same author who wrote “Italian Grammar: Barron’s Grammar Series,” so this is the perfect companion to that grammar guide.
In this textbook, each chapter focuses on a different verb tense or mood, so it’s not just a book with tables on each verb individually—it’s so much more. This guide allows you to learn and perfect the complex rules of Italian verb conjugation, and it features in-depth analyses of all every verb tense imaginable.
Topic reviews, grammar tips, crossword puzzles and exercises let you practice, and fun spoken dialogues allow you to see verbs in their natural habitats!
6. “Dirty Italian: Everyday Slang from “What’s Up?” to “F*%# Off!” by Gabrielle Euvino
Our final Italian textbook is a little risqué, but it offers you a chance to acquire phrases and words that you definitely wouldn’t learn in a classroom or a traditional Italian textbook.
This textbook covers Italian insults and modern slang for situations including food, fashion and fun! Vocabulary is sorted into themed chapters ranging from “Howdy Italian” to the more bold “Horny Italian.” If you’re interested in losing rigid textbook formality and would rather flout your chic Italian in a place like a dinner among friends or a happening party, “Dirty Italian” is the textbook for you.
So whether you’re a beginner looking for a well-rounded textbook or an advanced learner looking to enhance your grammar or *gasp* Italian curse words, there’s an Italian textbook for everyone!
And One More Thing…
Want to take a closer look at those multimedia flashcards and videos we mentioned?
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’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 with a 15-day trial.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.