How to Use Italian Videos with Subtitles to Hack Your Learning
When it comes to Italian language learning, videos are the bomb!
And when you combine them with subtitles… Well, then you’ve got a language hack waiting to happen.
In this post, you’ll learn how to avoid common mistakes that language learners make when watching movies with and without subtitles.
You’ll learn how to properly exploit both English and Italian subtitles.
Best of all, you’ll discover some amazing resources for Italian learning.
- Language Course
- BBC Languages
- The Way You’re Watching Italian Videos Is Wrong
When you’re first learning Italian, or any language for that matter, you’re really like a child in that language—somebody not yet well-versed with its nuances.
You may be 25 years old in English, but a total toddler in Italian. Naturally, you’re better off using content made for children.
YouTube has plenty of videos that are dedicated to kids your “age,” like children’s stories.
The great thing about kid stories on YouTube is that they contain the most basic vocabulary and they have the simplest of plots. There’s also lots of inherent repetition in them as characters (or even the narrator) tend to say the same line over and over (“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow this house down!”).
Using content made for children is no cringing matter. It really does work!
I’m sure you have a friend who’s confessed that she has a children’s song stuck in her head or know someone who’s memorized all the names of the seven dwarfs just because he’s been telling the story to his kid for weeks on end. Kid stuff is just catchy!
Why not employ this effect in your language study?
Just type “Italian children’s stories” in the YouTube search box and you’ll find tales like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker” and more in Italian.
What are you waiting for?
Italian movies are a great way to learn the language. But as I’ve said, you can’t digest them as single language lessons.
The first thing you need to do when dealing with movies is to watch them just like any other flick. It would be a great loss if you only see “Il Postino” (“The Postman”) or “Mia Madre” (“My Mother”) for their subtitles and not see the bigger picture.
After you’ve seen the movie a couple of times—you now know the story, and the twists become old news—it’s time to chop them into several scenes. By studying the whole thing one scene at a time, you get the benefit of context. Language gets its meaning from context and it’ll be that much easier for you to remember the lines.
Watch the scene with the English subtitles first so you can orient yourself better.
After doing this a couple of times, try the Italian subtitles.
And then, when you’re so familiar with the scene you’ve practically memorized the lines, lose the subtitles altogether.
Try talking along with the characters. Mimic the emotional tones of the actors, their pauses and the rise and fall of the volume. Compare your pronunciation with theirs. If yours fits theirs like a glove, then it’s time to move to the next scene.
YouTube’s movie clips give you the convenience of ready-made scenes. They often involve the high points of the movie or some pretty interesting dialogues.
And YouTube has loads of them. This one from “Life Is Beautiful” is fat with language content. And then there are some clips that can, well, simply make your day.
Music videos give you not only a visual story, they also layer it with some catchy harmony that then becomes very hard to forget. Italian language learners, even if they can’t differentiate a “DO” from “RE” or “MI” can really boost their Italian by studying music videos.
Have the lyrics in your hand so you can follow along. The subtitles on-screen often go by so fast you’ll barely know what hit you.
If possible, make sure your copy both the English and Italian versions. This’ll allow you to compare the two languages. Having the English right next to the Italian will help you notice the important differences between them.
But don’t just memorize the lines: memorize the song! Any text linked to music suddenly becomes very memorable.
That’s why you may need to sing your ABC’s when somebody asks you, “Hey dude, what comes after ‘P’?” It’s also the reason why you never forget the songs you learned in kindergarten, even if it was three decades ago.
Singing along also has the advantage of forcing you to actually practice the language. Speaking Italian is a physical act: It requires your mouth and tongue to move in very specific ways. Just looking at lines on a screen, without giving voice to them won’t get you to the promised land.
So get singing.
Why not start with the hit song “Let it Go” or even Il Divo’s “Ti Amero” (“I Will Love You”)?
You’ll also find Italian language lessons on YouTube that come with helpful subtitles, like the informative videos from Learn Italian with Lucrezia.
In these videos, Italian is used as the medium of instruction and you’re provided English subtitles as aid.
Don’t fret that English isn’t used to explain the lesson. This is actually a cool thing. Because you’re really learning the language on two levels here: First, there’s the language lesson itself, and then there’s the Italian used to teach the lesson.
Watch the video first for the language lesson.
Maybe the host is teaching you about some specific element of Italian grammar. So, watch the clip with that in mind a few times.
When you think you’ve learned the concept, you can then go a lot deeper and study the subtitles themselves. (Now, I must warn you that this really hard work and would probably be best for intermediate and advanced language learners.)
One way of doing this is transcribing what you hear on the video. Try writing on a piece of paper what the teacher is saying. This is a great way of attuning your ears to the rhythm of Italian speech. You can check your work by clicking the Italian subtitles to see how you fared.
Hey, you don’t have to be perfect. Just have fun with it. You’ll find that a few minutes of transcribing will improve your listening skills by leaps and bounds.
You can use these ideas to have some fun with your studies and learn Italian with “The Godfather.”
YouTube features Italian native speakers so proud of their heritage, language and culture that they take you into their daily routines and show you how they live. They, of course, speak Italian in the process and thus gift all language learners with authentic material.
Some of these vlogs, like the street interviews by Easy Languages and the adventures Lucrezia, have subtitles made especially for non-Italian speakers. Make use of them by studying the words being used and watching beyond what’s happening on-screen.
Just remember that these vlogs often use very conversational language and usually contain slang and informal words. Proper grammar isn’t always observed, and you’ll find the videos to be a rich source of idiomatic and everyday expressions.
It goes without saying, you’ll sound “very Italian” when you put your heart into this one.
If you feel that a whole movie is too much for you to take on, this program is a good entry point into the world of real Italian media. FluentU has authentic videos like movie clips, commercials, news segments and other content that native speakers actually watch.
These videos are presented in bite-sized pieces with accurate subtitles so you can more easily understand what’s being said in each clip. You can also hover any word and you’ll see contextual translation and grammar info, an audio pronunciation and even some usage examples. You can even see the word being used in other clips in the same context, so you can become more familiar with when to use each word.
You can also take tailor-made quizzes after each video, or study your saved flashcards with exercises that adapt to your level of understanding of each word.
Not sure where to start? FluentU lets you organize its videos by skill level, topic or format, so you can just dive into whatever’s interesting to you.
Netflix has its fair share of Italian series and movies that you can sink your teeth into. Subtitles, both in English and Italian, are almost a given on this platform.
You can study series like “Suburra: Blood in Rome,” a gritty drama that features rival gangs, organized crimes and a perilous land grab. Corrupt politicians and the Vatican even feature on this one. You’ll not only learn Italian, you’ll get that adrenaline of yours pumping for hours.
Movies in the Netflix vault include “Leopardi,” a film about the great Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. If unrequited love, despair and an honest look at life is your cup of tea, then have a ball with this one. Besides, the main character, Giacomo, is also into the study of languages, so this should be right up any language learner’s alley.
“Benvenuto Presidente!” (“Welcome Mr. President!”) is a comedy about a librarian who, due to some fortuitous event, finds himself elected president of the Italian Republic. It’s some kind of a “Wow… That happened!” kind of thing. Although you shouldn’t take this movie seriously, (it says so in the premise), do use the subtitles seriously—to learn!
And remember what we said about longer videos: You’ll need to break these down into chunks and watch them little by little in order to actually learn Italian from them.
The site curates Italian videos that you may have missed. You’ll find Italian songs with their lyrics displayed on your screen, some cartoon content for kids, movie clips and Italian video courses.
You can organize your videos according to the difficulty level. Then, when you’re done watching, do your part for others by giving your own ratings.
Don’t be discouraged if the videos are a bit too fast for you to understand even with the subtitles on. Just don’t be shy to hit those “Pause” and “Replay” buttons, and over time, you’ll get the hang of it.
BBC Languages has a collection of Italian videos that are perfect for language learners.
First, they have awesome multimedia courses that take you by the hand and teach you the basics of the language.
Then they have authentic video programs, like Rai TV, that immerse you in the language itself.
Witness Italian as it’s used by native speakers. Watch programs regularly consumed by Italian speakers. And these babies come with awesome subtitles, so let’s all take a moment to thank whoever donned their headphones and took the time to transcribe them.
BBC Languages is, of course, famous for their interactive language learning course “La Mappa Misteriosa.” Go on an adventure and solve a mystery, learning Italian along the way.
Each of the 12 episodes has a set of vocabulary terms and learning focuses, paired with drills and exercises. Complete an epic quest and take your Italian to another level at the same time!
The Way You’re Watching Italian Videos Is Wrong
First, we’ll address the most common mistakes you might be making with Italian movies and subtitles, whether those subs are in Italian or English.
You’re biting off more than you can chew.
If you’re going to mine videos for their subtitles, it’s ideal for them to be bite-sized. That means watching a full Italian movie from beginning to end in one sitting isn’t the best way to go about it.
When you do that, you become more concerned with keeping up with the twists and turns of the plot rather than the language itself. You go:
“So the old lady who was the family help for two decades was actually his mother?”
“Ah, that mean old dude was actually the hero and not the killer?”
“Whoa, that’s one good-looking substitute teacher!”
A full movie (or a 20-minute vlog) is just too much, even if you pinky-swear to really concentrate on the subs. A three- or four-minute video clip is long enough and can be chock-full of language lessons. That’s all you need.
Work with short clips so you can dive deep into what the subtitles are all about. Chop up the whole movie so it becomes more manageable.
And once you’ve done that, make those short clips your world. Concentrate on them and nothing else.
(This is one of the main principles of the FluentU Italian learning program, but more on that later.)
You think you’ve repeated it enough.
This one’s a biggie.
Italian language learners just don’t repeat the clips enough. They move on to some fresh new material as soon as they become familiar with the content.
Do you really think watching a video twice is enough?
A language learner’s eyes and ears, yet unattuned to the nuances of Italian, will miss out on a lot of things. Believe me, you’ll have to watch the same clip over and over (and over) for the exercise to really mean something.
In a scene where there’s dialogue, for example, it’s not enough that you’ve memorized the words, phrases or lines in the scene. You have to get a feel for the cadence of the lines, the rise and fall of tone, the rhythm and rhyme of Italian.
So even if you think you know a clip like the back of your hand, watch it a couple more times. That’ll help embed it into your long-term memory.
How many times should you repeat a clip? There’s no magic number, but it’s definitely more than you think it is.
Watch that thing until you get sick of it. Then watch it again.
It never dawned on you to take notes.
Working with subtitles doesn’t just involve your eyes and ears. You should be working with your hands too!
Subtitles on the screen disappear the next second. It’s really important to have something on hand that’s a little more permanent.
Besides writing the actual subtitles on a piece of paper (which we recommend!), be prepared to write down your thoughts, questions and even the mnemonics you’ve developed to remember vocabulary.
Add plenty of arrows, pictures and even colors to your notes.
It’s not just so you can conveniently review the contents of the video without actually seeing it. Studies have shown that the act of writing itself makes the thing you’re writing easier to remember. There’s a link between the kinesthetic writing act and memory centers of the brain.
So, as much as possible, write the subtitles manually instead of using the copy-and-paste option. It may take a little more time, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
So, there you go! You now have five splendid sources of subtitled Italian videos. Trust me, you won’t run out of clips anytime soon.
Keep in mind the three most common mistakes discussed in the first section and you’ll be on your way to making the most out of these super useful subtitles.