There’s a huge misconception that in order to speak and understand Italian (or any language) you must know a ton of vocabulary.
This is wrong!
Native speakers—of any language—across the globe know and use approximately 15,000 to 20,000 word families (also called lemmas) in their native languages.
Because your native language is the language you were born learning, it stands to reason you’d have the most vast vocabulary lists in your mother tongue.
But those who take on second—and beyond—languages get by with substantially less vocabulary. And they’re successful at communicating using their more streamlined sets of words and phrases.
If you go into learning Italian thinking that you have to learn every Italian equivalent word to every word you know your native language, you’ll surely get overwhelmed. This mindset will also likely leave you counterproductive.
A better approach to your Italian vocabulary journey is to realize how much vocabulary you actually need to learn to be proficient in the language, and more so what specific type of vocabulary is essential to your Italian needs and goals.
How Much Vocabulary Do You Really Need to Learn?
So, how much vocabulary can you get by on?
Hold on to your hat because you might be surprised to learn that a basic vocabulary of approximately 2,000 words is sufficient for rudimentary exchanges. And that’s probably a lot less than you thought you’d need, right? Me, too!
The next two questions then become:
How to decide what Italian words to learn first?
What’s the best way to build a core vocabulary?
The truth is, there’s a big variable here. There’s no predetermined set of essential words that’ll satisfy every single Italian language learner.
The goods news is there are a lot of resources available for Italian learners that make building a foundational vocabulary in this beautiful language not only possible, but enjoyable.
How to Choose Your Essential Italian Vocabulary
First things first, we all don’t use a language identically. We all have different reasons for learning, so an “essential” vocabulary is not the same for everyone. The necessary vocabulary each of us needs is dependent on how we plan to use those core words.
Before we can decide what type of words and phrases we’ll utilize the most, we need to identify the purpose of our Italian language journey.
Is learning Italian a business decision? If so, there are profession-orientated terms that’ll probably need to be part of your core vocabulary list.
If the reason for embarking on the Italian journey relates to just that—a travel–related journey—then basic travel terms should be considered when choosing what vocabulary to study. This might includes vocabulary related to transportation, accommodations, health, food and basic personal exchanges.
Italy is also widely known as a very romantic destination. Perhaps your purpose for tackling Italian is romance related—and if so, you’ll want to get some smooth phrases in your wheelhouse.
Whatever your reason for wanting to learn Italian, there are excellent resources and tips that’ll help you gain an Italian vocabulary that perfectly suits your needs.
6 Italian Vocabulary Resources to Successfully Learn the Right Words for You
This site compiles lists of essential words in languages spoken across the globe.
Language experts offer input on the common words they consider most important for learners to acquire. These lists of the most common words are curated from the opinions of those who make learning or teaching languages their life’s work.
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is cited as a fundamental guide for working with these word lists. The thought is that even if you only acquire and use 80% of the words on a list, you have enough material to build a solid foundation in any language.
The Italian list is pretty comprehensive. It includes Italian nouns, pronouns, verbs and tons of adjectives.
Want a fast tip for using this master list?
Scroll through and pick out words that apply to your particular reason for learning and focus on learning them first. Use what’s pertinent to your situation.
FluentU’s Italian learner program offers authentic real–world video and audio resources. Want to see a language come to life or feel as if you’re in an immersive setting? This is the spot to do that!
Since native speakers are featured in all of the Italian content, this is an excellent resource for hearing the language spoken in its natural form. Also, this the perfect place to pick up vocabulary. Words, phrases, lingo and even slang are part of these videos and audio clips.
Each video is accompanied by interactive subtitles and video-specific vocabulary lists.
There’s even an option to search for specific themes. So, if you’re looking for travel, business, food, health, culture, everyday life and more, a quick search puts appropriate vocabulary at your fingertips.
Want a sweet tip for using this program’s vocabulary resources?
Search for the theme that either applies best to your specific reason for learning Italian (travel, business, et cetera) or satisfies a personal interest (culture, anyone?) and grab onto those vocabulary words first.
Jot them, use them and see how quickly they become part of your conversational skills!
You can also save vocabulary that you want to remember or continue studying for later in your own personalized vocabulary flashcard lists on FluentU.
Quizlet is a versatile resource. You can search for already-made vocabulary flashcards sets or you can make your own and add to your list as you come across new vocabulary words.
There are various study options in addition to the flashcards, so that you can practice writing and spelling, too.
Currently the main Italian list on Quizlet consists of just over 600 words but as a work-in-progress, it’s continually being updated and added to.
Want a super tip for using these ready-made flashcards?
Use the test feature on the site. It’ll help identify what words you’ve already mastered and what words need further review.
Transparent Language offers language programs in a multitude of languages. Their focus is on helping government agencies, libraries, private industry, schools and universities teach languages rapidly. Fortunately, they offer materials to individual learners, as well.
Their Italian Survival Phrases section is an excerpt from their larger Italian program. It has a sufficient amount of material to get any learner through a meet-and-greet situation or an uncomplicated conversation.
The basic phrases are absolute essentials that are perfect for travelers!
The takeaway tip from this site?
Saber Italiano offers an incredible list of Italian vocabulary lists. That’s right—this site has organized words and phrases on a multitude of topics into individual lists.
Want to learn about body functions? There’s a list for that. Sports? Vegetables? Politics? Lists for all of those topics—and many more.
Honestly, you might be surprised by the sheer number of items on each list. I know I was!
This list of lists could be overwhelming, especially for beginner learners. But look at each list individually to make the material more manageable.
Want the best tip for dealing with all of this Italian vocabulary?
Choose the topics that are most essential for your personal Italian learning journey. Focus on learning those words and phrases first. Then move on to the next list or two and work with those.
Vocabulary is the backbone of any language learning program. Remember, though, that’s it’s not necessary to have a huge vocabulary in order to communicate effectively. Choose wisely and build a vocabulary that’s right for you.
With the right resources, practice and a bit of memorization, it’s possible to grow an Italian vocabulary that’s sure to take you through whatever reason you’ve embarked upon this adventure.
Soon you’ll be speaking like a pro! You’ll be ready to take that trip, say yes to an employment opportunity or even venture into a romantic Italian relationship.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.