You might be thinking: Where do I even start?
If you were thinking that because you want to learn Italian, we’re here to help.
If you’re not thinking that, that’s fine, too—but why not stick around and learn something new anyway?
Italian, like any other language, is full of rules and details that make it unique.
That’s part of the beauty of the language. But that can also make beginners feel overwhelmed.
It’s easy to take a glance at an Italian text or listen to a few minutes of conversation and feel like it’s all just too much, but don’t fear—it can be done! And you can do it too!
The key is to take apart the bigger picture into simple, basic steps. In this post, we’ll break down three vital building blocks to starting your journey to learn basic Italian—and beyond.
We’ll see how and what you should learn about Italian culture, what you need to know about the language itself and how you can successfully practice your newly-acquired skills.
Studying Italian isn’t the easiest hobby, but it’s certainly rewarding. If you put in the work (and follow some of these steps), you’ll find yourself ready to chat with the best of ’em in no time at all.
Learn Basic Italian in 3 Steps and Uncover the Building Blocks of Italian Mastery
Building Block 1: Culture
Understanding cultural context is a big piece of grasping any language.
The culture behind a language informs a significant amount of its content, and understanding Italian life is very important for a successful student. Big things like speaking formally versus informally can be more easily understood when you learn about being social in Italy but small things matter, too.
For example, knowing how the average Italian schedule works can help you figure out if it’s more appropriate to greet someone with Buongiorno (Good morning) or Buon pomeriggio (Good afternoon). No cultural detail is so insignificant that something can’t be learned from it.
But what can you do about it?
Immersion is the key here. It may be scary, but it’s an important step to fluency and it can help you grasp Italian basics quicker! So seek out ways to deepen your understanding of Italian culture. Here are just some ways you can achieve that:
- Check out Italian social media. With sites like Twitter allowing for the entire planet to communicate through one hub, it’s easy to get conversational, everyday Italian straight to your feed every day.
Following the accounts of Italian media organizations like Rai Italia and Yahoo Sports Italia can be a quick, easy way to get insight into the language the same way that Italians get it on their own phones back in “The Boot.”
- Read the information that Italians get at home. Follow Italian news outlets like ANSA or check out an account about the country’s film industry. It also doesn’t hurt to check out other forms of media like books and television (Rai is often available even in America).
Sources like these provide valuable insight into the daily goings-on of Italy and its pop culture. When you see what an average Italian sees, it helps you further understand not only the language, but the context it’s in.
- Food is always a great way to get in touch with Italian culture. If you want to sharpen your culinary skills while also learning some vocabulary, there are plenty of online resources like Chef Stefano Barbato’s videos.
Do you eat a little differently? Then check out a channel like Vegano Gourmand (Gourmand Vegan) for Italian recipes that follow a plant-based diet.
- Watching Italian films and television is a great way to brush up, and lets you absorb the language in a more realistic context. Much-loved favorites like “Cinema Paradiso” and “I Am Love” can be a great place to start.
As for television shows, a good place to begin is with programs geared towards younger viewers. While watching them may feel a bit silly at first, the language is usually simpler and helps you learn faster as a beginner. Don’t be afraid to check out a few episodes of “Winx Club” or check out the videos on Rai Yoyo.
Getting a look at normal life in Italy helps you understand Italian better and enriches your cultural perspective. Be bold!
Building Block 2: Learn About the Language
Okay, so this part’s a little harder but if you want to learn anything worth learning, it’ll take a little work.
There are obviously some big distinctions between Italian and English. For example, the Italian alphabet is fundamentally different. It lacks a handful of letters we’re familiar with: J, K, W, X and Y. These will only be found in foreign words. Anything that’s got a hard “k” sound will be found with a “ch” in Italian. You can see this in action with words like chiamo (call) or chiavi (keys).
With that much to figure out from the get-go, the only solution is to buckle down and work. Italian can be learned in many ways, but this doesn’t mean you can neglect basic studying. Things like vocabulary, conjugation and detailed research are a big part of learning.
The good news is that there are plenty of resources at your disposal.
Want to polish your vocabulary?
- Online Italian Club provides plenty of word lists to satisfy all your basic Italian needs. Whether you need to learn about adjectives, food or the seasons, they’ve got you covered, and they even have exercises to help you practice.
- ItalianPod101 has an Italian Word of the Day feature that can add to your vocabulary daily. It’s a great way to supplement your practice, and it even provides sample sentences to give you a hand.
If you want to figure out verbs and conjugation, give these a look:
- Reverso helps you search for verbs in infinitive, conjugated and negative forms. It’s an all-too-important tool when trying to figure out Italian verbs.
- Italian Language Guide has a simple how-to for Italian verbs and how their conjugations work. It’s thorough but easy to understand, working through tricky parts like tenses and irregulars. It’s a great place to get your footing with verbs, especially as a beginner.
You can’t forget dialects, either. They’re a big part of Italian culture and language. Nearly every part of the country has a unique way of speaking, from Barese to Sicilian. While Standard Italian will get you far, it never hurts to explore the different ways people talk, especially if you ever find yourself in Italy.
Take a look at these resources to learn more about the diverse landscape of Italian dialects:
- 101 Languages features a historical breakdown of Italian dialects, giving cultural context and explanations for how Italian dialects got to be how they are today.
- Italy Bit by Bite has a comprehensive list of dialects, including where they can be found and some solid background information about their unique roots.
Finally, conversation. This is one of the most important pieces of figuring out a language. It gives you the real-world experience you need to use what you’ve learned, and helps train you in everyday speaking.
Italian can be pretty fast, so it might take a while to get used to hearing it in everyday chatter. There are, however, plenty of places where you can find conversation partners who are willing to take it slow with you.
- Tandem is a language exchange app that helps you get in touch with people who are trying to learn like you are. As a student, you can meet Italian students who want to learn English, and you can get Italian help from them.
It’s easily accessible from your phone, and has over one million members. Your chances of finding a solid conversational partner are good.
- Are you too shy for face-to-face chats? That’s okay. HelloTalk has a more impersonal way of getting to know people who speak your language. It provides a social media-like feed that lets you meet native speakers around the world who are willing to chat with you over instant message and correct your posts.
It’s easy, accessible and—most importantly—fun!
Building Block 3: Practice
Consistency is the best way to learn. Taking time out of your schedule to hone your language skills every day adds up to success. This might seem a little difficult, but it’s also doable. The age of the internet provides a ton of resources if you’re on the move but want to get an easy lesson every day, even when your day might be loaded with other things.
Studying isn’t just about cracking the books anymore. With the popularity of digital media and smartphones, apps have become a major tool for language study. The variety and number of different applications are increasing all the time so there’s something for everyone.
Here are some particularly useful places to get your daily study time in:
- FluentU provides a variety of effective methods for practicing your Italian.
You can get immersed in the culture and language with videos, which also gives insight into just how native speakers tend to communicate.
It can be accessed both at home and on your phone, so you don’t have to worry on missing out on your daily practice just because you had to go out.
- Duolingo is another go-to program for lots of language learners, providing a quick, solid way to hone your skills in your internet browser or mobile device.
The app lets your tailor your practice time to your own schedule, and keeps track of your daily streaks while sending reminders via mobile notifications and e-mail. It’s an easy, completely free way to stay consistent in your studies.
- busuu is an online language application that’s been getting its fair share of buzz. It teaches you useful phrases and helps with communication by giving practice conversations and sentence-building exercises.
Not only does it let you practice and review with native speakers, but you can also download lessons so you can continue learning even when you’re offline. Now you can make sure to get your work in even when you’re stuck in that tunnel on your train ride.
- One World Italiano is an Italian-centric website that allows you to study in a multidimensional format. The site gives students access to a wide variety of resources including videos, hands-on exercises, cultural information and dialogues. It’s like an Italian class packed into a neat little website, with the added bonus of everyday media and materials to provide immersion in Italian culture.
Learning Italian isn’t the easiest thing you can do for a hobby, but it’s definitely enriching and worth your time, so don’t hold back! Show no fear, study hard and watch it pay off!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.