Want to try the zombie approach to language learning?
Yep, you heard me. Your Italian teacher’s got nothing on zombies.
Or if zombies aren’t your thing, how about hardened criminals? Thoughtful, talkative scientists? Hilarious YouTube pranksters?
Alright, so these characters might not teach you Italian themselves. But the videos, movies and TV shows they appear in can—you’ve just got to turn on those subtitles.
Learning Italian with subtitles is an engaging and often addictive way to boost your language skills. You’ll be picking up tons of new vocabulary and supercharging both your listening and reading comprehension skills at once.
But accessing reliable Italian subtitles isn’t always easy. How do you do it, and can you really learn Italian with subtitles?
(Spoiler alert: Yes!)
How to Prepare for Subtitled Italian Learning
Before you break out the popcorn and put on your jammies, there are a few things you have to know if you want to learn Italian with subtitles.
Study time isn’t rest time.
First of all, this isn’t a popcorn and jammy affair. Having zombies for teachers is pretty cool, but you still have to do your coursework (zombie teachers love brainy students).
You may be watching your favorite shows and movies, but remember that when you’re learning Italian with subtitles you should consider this study time and not leisure time.
Doing a mentally straining activity when your brain is in relaxation mode will lead you to dislike that activity, so make sure you keep your Italian binge watching separate from your free-time binge watching sessions.
A good learning environment is key.
Before you start watching, make sure you’re in a quiet space free from interruption. Learning with subtitles means you need to keep your eyes on the screen. Try putting your phone on airplane mode and telling any family or roommates to leave you alone for a bit.
Sit upright and keep a pencil and a notebook in front of you. You’ll want to write down any new words as they cross the screen. A good dictionary is also essential.
It’s not for the uninitiated.
And one last thing: learning Italian with subtitles isn’t recommended for absolute beginners. You’ll want to do a crash course in Italian before pressing play. Try one of these to get started.
Tips for Learning Italian with Subtitles
You’ll need more than open eyes and ears to get the most out of learning Italian with subtitles. Follow these steps and you’ll be sure to pick up and retain all the new words you encounter.
- Choose the right video: You might assume that going lighthearted would be the best way to start, but it actually isn’t so. Comedies and dramas contain a lot of fast talking, slang and wordplay. That’s great if you’re upper intermediate or advanced!
Otherwise, shoot for action or horror for simpler dialogue, or choose a video in a field that you know a lot about already.
- Watch with English subtitles first: This will give you some context and help you understand the unfamiliar words you hear. You’ll want to know what happens in the video so you can connect the dots once you watch it in full Italian mode.
- Watch actively with Italian subs: Now the fun begins! Turn on those Italian subtitles and watch closely, pausing when necessary to jot down new words.
Rewind if you need to and don’t hesitate to revert back to the English subs to find equivalent phrases for the parts you don’t understand.
- Watch passively with Italian subs: Now watch the same video again, but try to stop less often. If you’ve studied what you wrote down from the first viewing, it should be easier to understand this time around. If you get lost, go ahead and pause or rewind, but otherwise, try to forge ahead.
The idea isn’t to understand everything but to recognize what you wrote down before and start filling in some of the blanks.
- Watch without subtitles: You might have to repeat steps three and four a few times before getting here, but the goal of this exercise is to be able to understand without the need for subtitles. Don’t worry, it gets easier over time!
Watching the same video or movie again and again might seem daunting, but you don’t have to do it all at once! This process may last you a week or longer, but that’s okay.
If you want to move a bit faster, choose a half-hour TV show or a short video instead of a feature-length film.
5 Resources to Learn Italian with Subtitles
In a world dominated by English, it can be hard to track down quality Italian subtitles. Luckily for you, we’ve turned the Italian internet inside-out and consulted experienced Italian learners to find out where those subs are hiding.
Here are the best places to learn Italian with subtitles.
If you have Netflix, you’re already golden. This is probably the easiest way to access Italian subtitles on all your favorite shows as well as original Italian content.
Having trouble finding the Italian goods? That’s because Netflix is designed to give you content in your own language.
Change the language settings, however, and things get more interesting.
Just follow these two steps to Italian binge-learning:
- Log into Netflix and make a new profile. This will be your Italian language profile.
- Go back and select “Manage Profiles” from the menu. Choose your new profile, then choose “Italian” from the drop-down menu as your preferred language.
It’s that simple!
When you log back in, you’ll now see the strange and wonderful place that is Italian Netflix. Many videos will be in Italian and will include the option to add subtitles. Others will be in English with Italian subtitles, and others still will be dubbed in Italian.
Choose an option best suited for your learning level, then simply watch and learn.
The Internet Bookshop is an online book, film and music shop that makes the best of Italian media available to the rest of the world. This is a great place to find a wide variety of Italian DVDs and Blu-rays that come pre-packed with Italian dubbing and subtitle options.
The site is easy to use, has a lot of great offers (some under 10 Euros, or about 12 USD) and ships worldwide.
Start by browsing the Italian and international film selection on the site.
When you’ve found a movie or show you’d like to buy, click the title and read the information on the next page. Make sure to click Maggiori Dettagli (More Details) near the top of the page to display the language and subtitle information.
Here, you can check under Lingua audio (Audio language) and Lingua sottotitoli (Subtitle language) to make sure it has Italian listed in both spots.
When you’re ready, click aggiungi al carrello (add to cart) and your choice will automatically go into your cart. Just click the familiar cart icon in the top right corner of your screen to check out.
Internet Bookshop Italian also makes it easy to browse. Even if you only know one Italian actor or director, you’ll be able to search for their name and find all their films. This site also gives you recommendations based on your searches, so you’ll be able to delve into new content even if you’re a newbie.
We recommend searching for Matteo Garrone, one of Italy’s finest modern directors and winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
(Warning: If you’re purchasing DVDs, make sure your player is able to play DVDs from other regions.)
Gain access to the web’s best Italian video content with FluentU. This language-learning app uses videos and subtitles like you’ve never seen before.
FluentU’s videos aren’t the cheesy, scripted kind you see in online video courses. You’ll get authentic Italian videos like informative talks, music videos, movie trailers and more that’ve been transformed into interactive learning tools.
Here’s just a small sample of the variety of authentic videos available:
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!
TED Talks is a series of remarkable videos featuring some of the most brilliant minds of our time explaining how we can make the world a better place. The TED organization is at the cutting edge of science, technology and thought, so it only makes sense that they’re on the cutting edge of language, as well.
All talks are available with Italian subtitles, though they are presented in English. This provides a unique opportunity to learn Italian with subtitles by comparing the grammar used by the speakers with the verb forms in the subs.
TED Talks presenters use more complex grammar to describe their hopes for the world, which means the verbs in Italian will change to describe probability, possibility and conditional ideas.
These more complicated structures can be difficult to pick up in an Italian-only video, so these talks are very useful in providing a baby step to a more difficult level.
There are a lot of videos to choose from, but if you don’t know where to start, try John McWhorter’s “4 ragioni per imparare una nuova lingua” (“4 reasons to learn a new language”).
Maybe you already have a bunch of subtitle-less videos that you love on your hard drive. Or maybe you’ve tracked down an awesome Italian movie to watch, but it doesn’t come with subtitles.
Worry not. There’s a super easy way to turn all your movies and shows into fresh Italian content. All you have to do is download the subtitle file and add it to your existing video file.
It works like this.
- Type the name of the movie or show you want to watch with subtitles in the upper lefthand search bar. When you’ve found it, click it to download (it’s free and legal).
- Find the video file on your hard drive and drag it to your desktop. Create a new folder and drop the video and the new subtitle file into the folder.
- Open your preferred video player and drop the file inside. The video should start playing with the subtitles. If the subtitles aren’t showing up, look for a subtitles button or menu and select them.
This is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to rapidly go from having no Italian videos to a full library.
Learning Italian with subtitles is a great habit to develop, but with all this newfound knowledge and culture, it would be a waste not to join the conversation!
Take your studies to the next level by joining a Facebook group like Recensioni di film (film reviews) or a site like tvblog.it where you can review, discuss and comment on your favorite movies and shows.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.