All work and no play makes for a very grumpy and discouraged Italian language learner.
But learning Italian does not have to be all about putting your nose to the grindstone (or in your Italian-English Dictionary).
You can have fun with it too!
One way to do this is to try watching Italian cartoons. They are not as hard to follow as drama series, comedies or news broadcasts, so even if you are a beginner at Italian, you can still benefit from watching them.
Plus, how do you think genuine, native Italian kids learn to speak Italian? That’s right, through cartoons! So by watching cartoons yourself, you are not only finding a lighthearted way to entertain yourself as you learn, you are learning in a natural way, just like a native speaker would.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why learning Italian with cartoons is beneficial, and which cartoons you should check out.
Why Learn Italian with Cartoons?
- They use simpler language. As I mentioned in the introduction, the language in Italian cartoons is much simpler than the language used in other television shows, because it is geared towards children.
If they use a more complex word in a cartoon, they subsequently explain it in a way that a child can understand, which is exactly what an Italian language learner needs when they are still working on their vocabulary!
- It is a natural way to learn. Italian cartoons are made by Italians for Italian children. Aside from interacting with their parents and other family members, it is the way that young Italians learn to speak Italian in the first place! So when you watch an Italian cartoon, you are learning Italian the way Italian children learn Italian, which is a more natural, immersive way.
You don’t have to think of it as converting Italian words into English words and back again because usually the material is presented in a way that makes it simple to follow along with just the basic Italian explanations.
- They are educational. Piggybacking on the last bullet point, Italian cartoons were designed to educate children. Not only do they help kids improve their language skills, they also teach them about science, math, reading and many other important subjects.
They are specifically written for someone who is still learning about the world and everything in it, and by watching Italian cartoons as an adult, you can learn more about Italian culture and how they teach various subjects. (Maybe if you’re lucky, you can even catch that lesson about multiplication you missed when you were in third grade!)
- The lessons stick with you. Anyone who has ever seen an animated Disney movie knows that cartoons are notorious for being catchy. The lines of dialogue stick in your head, the ideas stick in your head and lord knows those darn, delightful songs stick in your head!
This is actually a gimmick employed by cartoon companies to make their shows more memorable, but it helps you retain the lessons and vocabulary you learned while you were watching as well.
Just like American cartoons, Italian cartoons are full of songs and exciting dialogue, so do not be surprised if you find yourself humming a song by Topolino (Mickey Mouse) long after the cartoon has ended!
- They are short and sweet. Dramas and sometimes even comedy shows can be too long or heavy to watch when you are still trying to hone your Italian skills. This makes it hard to build up the motivation to watch them because you do not always want to devote an hour or two to watching something online.
Cartoons, though, are short and sweet. They rarely pass the half-hour mark and are usually only five to 20 minutes long! You can surely fit that into your busy schedule, right?
- They are fun to watch. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, cartoons are just fun to watch. No matter how old you are, it is impossible not to be charmed by the bright colors and the cheerful atmosphere of a cartoon.
Cartoons put you in a good mood, and a good mood ensures that you will feel good about yourself and your language learning skills, which, in turn, makes you want to work on them even more.
Now that you know why you should learn Italian by watching Italian cartoons, it is time to find out which cartoons you should watch. We will start by taking a look at some of the different categories of cartoons, and you can narrow down your choices from there.
Types of Italian Cartoons
- Italy’s classic cartoons are, in most cases, the same classic cartoons you and I grew up watching in English in America. These cartoons consist of greats like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, and were translated into Italian (and other languages) decades ago.
This is a good choice if you want to watch something familiar, but with a new spin. You might know what happens in the cartoon, but you have probably never heard it happen in Italian!
- Educational cartoons are, as the name suggests, cartoons meant to teach children something. Usually, it is spelling, reading, science or math, and the cartoon characters spend a lot of time explaining concepts and occasionally breaking the fourth wall to speak to you, the viewer.
For an Italian language learner, every Italian cartoon is an educational cartoon, but in this case, you would also be learning more vocabulary, or how to do math in Italian, which is an interesting experience!
- While most cartoons are very short, you can also find full-length animated features in Italian. You can watch the classics like Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” translated into Italian, or you can watch something like “La gabbianella e il gatto,” a charming Italian film about a little seagull who befriends a cat.
These cartoons may be longer, but they have more time to develop the stories they contain, which could lend itself to a more immersive (and sometimes surprisingly emotional!) experience for you.
Luckily, all three of these types of cartoons are fairly easy to find on the internet. Here are three of the best places to look for them.
Where to Watch Italian Cartoons
- YouTube is the number one place to find Italian cartoons or animated films. Sometimes they may be a bit grainy if the cartoon is old, but it is almost always easy to find the cartoons you are looking for on YouTube.
Just type in the name of the cartoon you want to watch in the search bar, along with “italiano” or “episodi complete” (“complete episodes”), and you will get all kinds of results. You can also simply type in “Italian language cartoons,” if you are not sure what to watch yet.
- Rai Gulp is the number one television network in Italy. It has an entire channel devoted to children’s shows and cartoons. Some of the shows are not available to watch in the U.S., but if you take a look through the list on the website, you will surely find something you can watch and enjoy.
- Netflix is also a great place to find Italian cartoons. It has an international section, where you can find cartoons that were originally in Italian, or you can simply change the language setting on many cartoons and animated movies so that they are dubbed in Italian.
This is especially handy if you want to switch back and forth between English and Italian, if you need an explanation for something or if you want to use subtitles.
- FluentU has tons of Italian cartoon clips and plenty of other authentic video content, adapted specifically for learners.
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’re learning, and give you extra practice with difficult words.
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!
Start using FluentU on the website, or better yet, download the app from iTunes or the Google Play store.
Once you know why and how to watch, it is time to decide what to watch. Here are eight Italian cartoons to start with, each of which has something different for everyone.
8 Italian Cartoons That Are Childhood Favorites
“Benornato Topo Gigio” (Welcome Back, Topo Gigio)
“Bentortato Topo Gigio,” or “Welcome Back, Topo Gigio,” is an Italian language anime cartoon (made through a collaboration between Japanese artists and Italian voice actors) from the late 1980s that features a talking mouse astronaut who returns to Earth from the future. He is adopted by a little girl named Gina, and the two go on various fun, adorable adventures.
You can currently find full episodes on DailyMotion.com, YouTube’s lesser known cousin, but be careful of the ads.
“Lupo Alberto” (Albert the Wolf)
Lupo Alberto is a blue wolf who lives on a farm with a large cast of strange and eccentric barnyard companions.
Based on a comic strip created by Guido Silvestri in 1974, Alberto spends his days quarreling with his “nemesis” (a sheepdog named Mosè), as he tries to run away with Marta, a yellow hen who also just so happens to be his girlfriend.
You can find episodes of “Lupo Alberto” on YouTube.
“Zorro: La leggenda” (Zorro: The Legend)
If you are a fan of the old American Zorro movies, you will love “Zorro: La leggenda.”
Foppish rich boy by day and mask-wearing, sword-fighting hero by night, Zorro combats injustice wherever he finds it. This show is full of adventure and suspense, perfect for keeping the attention of even the most grown-up of cartoon viewers.
You can find the full series of “Zorro: La leggenda” on Rai Gulp.
“Le nuove avventure di Pinocchio” (The New Adventures of Pinocchio)
Pinocchio is hugely popular in Italy (especially in Florence) because he was created there in 1883 by children’s book writer Carlo Collodi. This 1972 series tells the classic tale of the puppet whose nose grew when he told a lie, and whose only goal in life was to become a real boy.
You can find full episodes from the entire series on YouTube.
“Il formidabile mondo di Bo” (Bo on the Go)
Translated into English as “Bo on the Go,” “Il formidabile mondo di Bo” (which really means something more like “The Wonderful World of Bo”), is a cartoon about an enthusiastic little girl with blue hair, who solves various educational puzzles with her best friend, a cute little dragon named Dezzy.
Similar to America’s Dora the Explorer, Bo spends a lot of time talking to the viewer, which gives you the chance to work on your vocabulary and comprehension skills when she asks you questions to help her solve her puzzles.
You can find plenty of full-length episodes of this series on YouTube.
Do you miss Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Yosemite Sam from your childhood? Well, you can find them all over again by watching “Looney Toons” in Italian.
Just as entertaining as they were in English, these cartoons are timeless, and there is something about watching Elmer Fudd speak to Bugs Bunny in italiano that makes the whole thing that much funnier…
You can find full episodes of “Looney Toons” on YouTube by searching “Looney Toons in italiano.”
Although it began in 2014, this series is just as faithful to good ol’ Charlie Brown as Snoopy is.
Following the adventures of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and all those other familiar faces, this cartoon is short and sweet, with each episode topping out at around seven minutes long, making it perfect for Italian language learners who do not have a lot of free time on their hands.
You can find the entire series on Rai Gulp.
“Topolino” (Mickey Mouse)
There is not one grown up in the world who did not love Mickey Mouse as a kid. Recapture your youth with Topolino (Mickey Mouse), Topolina (Minnie Mouse), Paperino (Donald Duck) and Pluto by rewatching all of your favorite Disney cartoons in Italian.
There have been so many different versions of Mickey Mouse over the years that you can find dozens of different types of cartoons at various levels of complexity.
Begin your search on YouTube, where they have tons of complete episodes available for free.
Keep in mind that these are just eight of the hundreds of possible Italian cartoons you could watch to improve your Italian. If these are not what you are looking for, you can easily find other cartoons by doing a quick search on the sites I listed above.
No matter what you decide to watch, though, there is one thing that is certain: learning Italian can be child’s play if you do it by watching cartoons!
Jessica A. Scott is a novelist from Louisville, Kentucky. While her first love is writing, her second love is learning Italian, a goal that she has been pursuing since her sophomore year at the University of Louisville. You can find out more about Jessica and her work at www.jessicascottauthor.com.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.