Wouldn’t studying be so much more fun if you could learn everything by watching TV?
What if you could teach yourself math by watching “Numb3rs” or history with “The Crown”?
Granted, I learned a lot from Ms. Frizzle and the rest of “The Magic School Bus” gang as a kid. But unfortunately, textbooks, quizzes and assignments are usually necessities for learning new material extensively.
The one exception? Learning a language.
Yep, you can actually learn Italian with TV shows. No textbooks required!
Where to Watch Italian TV Shows
- Netflix. Believe it or not, Netflix is good for more than binge-watching “G.L.O.W.” and re-watching “Gilmore Girls.” You can also fit a little education into your viewing schedule.
Netflix is ideal for learners of all levels because you can mix up your audio and subtitle options. Many Italian shows on Netflix have the option to listen in either Italian or English, and you can usually select subtitles in either language or turn them off altogether.
- FluentU. It’s amazing to study Italian with TV shows because immersing yourself in authentic materials can be the best way to learn. However, do you ever wish you had learning materials to go along with those TV series so you could make the most of them? FluentU does exactly that.
Each video comes with annotated subtitles, so you just hover over a word to see details like a translation, part of speech and an associated image. After each video, try a FluentU quiz for interactive activities that build on what you’ve learned from the video.
- Amazon Prime. Your Prime account won’t give you access to a ton of Italian TV shows, but the ones that are on the site are classics.
Amazon Prime is a good resource for either beginning or advanced learners. You can only watch shows with Italian audio, and the subtitles are only in English—but you can turn off subtitles. So it’s ideal if you either need to read English to follow along, or you don’t want to use subtitles at all.
- RaiPlay. This Italian website is the best place to watch all types of shows in Italian. There’s a wide range of Italian TV shows and English-language shows translated into Italian.
RaiPlay doesn’t offer subtitles in any language but you can switch the video from veloce (fast) to lento (slow). This option makes the site useful for every level of student working on their listening skills.
How to Learn Italian with TV Shows
Just watching Italian TV shows won’t make you fluent in the language. You’ll need to do some active watching to really make that language stick in your mind! Here are three tips for optimal learning:
- Choose a show you’d watch in English. Do you prefer dramas or sitcoms? Do you like watching doctors or detectives? If a series doesn’t hold your attention, it’s going to be tough to learn anything with it.
Classroom learning can be boring enough. Make learning at home interesting by choosing a genre or show you’ll actually enjoy!
- Play around with subtitles. Use subtitles to your advantage. If you’re a beginner, watching with English subtitles could be beneficial.
As you progress, try switching from English to Italian subtitles. Or, attempt to watch a scene without subtitles to see if you can follow along, then re-watch it with subtitles to see how much you really understood.
If you use the subtitles to push yourself, you’ll become a stronger student.
- Keep structured notes. If you push yourself, watching a TV show can be like taking an Italian class. You can make a goal of how many vocabulary words you want to learn per episode, then keep a vocab list to study later. Then, create a separate set of notes for pronunciation and grammar notes.
By developing a note-taking strategy, you can develop your listening, speaking, grammar and vocabulary skills by watching Italian TV shows.
Learn Italian with TV Shows: 7 Thrilling Series for Students
Yep, there’s a Netflix original series in Italian, and the story takes place in Italy! Netflix has released two seasons of “Suburra: Blood on Rome,” and it’s perfect for Italian language students who like crime thrillers.
Follow rival gang members, mobsters, politicians and members of the clergy as they all fight over land in Ostia, a commune outside of Rome. “Suburra” is actually based on real political scandals, so watching the show could give you insight into the history and details of the Italian mafia.
By watching “Suburra,” you’ll learn vocabulary related to politics and crime. Specifically, you’ll pick up terms that refer to acquiring access to the land. Think about all the vocab you’d hear about local laws if you learned English by watching Leslie Knope try to build a park in “Parks and Recreation.” That’s the kind of Italian vocab you’ll grow familiar with. Get ready to hear terms you never thought you’d have to know in Italian, such as il piano regolatore (zoning plan).
This Netflix drama is filled with emotion, so you’ll benefit from hearing characters yell, whisper or speak quickly. Once you start to understand Italian spoken at natural rates and volumes, you’ll become all the more proficient.
Ready for another crime drama? Watch “Gomorrah” to learn about members of a crime organization in Naples, specifically Pietro Savastano, the leader, and Ciro Di Marzio, a loyal member. There are four seasons in total, and you can watch the first two on Netflix.
“Gomorrah” actually sets itself apart from similar series out there because, well, it’s just plain scary. The setup feels very realistic, which makes the violence, betrayal and emotions harder to swallow as a viewer.
As with “Suburra,” you’ll learn vocabulary related to crime and the mafia. However, the plot heavily centers around family, so you’ll also pick up terms for family members and become familiar with dialogue you might hear between them.
There’s plenty of dialogue in “Gomorrah,” but the show also excels at telling a story without using words. In each hour-long episode, there are several completely silent scenes, because you watch characters carry out a crime or reflect on their actions while alone. These silent stretches keep the show from becoming too overwhelming for someone learning Italian.
Although the audio is in Italian, the subtitles are only available in English. This makes “Gomorrah” ideal for either beginners who’d like to learn with English subtitles or for advanced students who feel comfortable turning off subtitles and relying only on their ears.
That’s right, yet another Italian TV show about crime! But, come on, the Italian mafia is pretty well known… are you really that surprised?
You’ll find both seasons of “Romanzo Criminale” on Amazon Prime. This show tells the tale of Banda della Magliana, a real crime organization in the 1970s. Magliana is a neighborhood in Rome, which is where the story takes place. If you prefer a little history with your drama, you might enjoy this show.
You’ll hear a lot of words related to crime, politics and laws, similar to what you’d learn watching “Suburra” or “Gomorrah.”
The Italian vocabulary is a bit unique here because there’s a lot of slang and curse words in the “Romanzo Criminale” script. The actors also speak fairly quickly. So if you can learn to follow the fast dialogue, slang and swearing, you just might be fluent by the end of season two!
On Amazon Prime, you can either choose English subtitles or turn off subtitles completely. The audio setup is a bit confusing—the only option is English audio, but the “English” sound is actually in Italian. So don’t worry, you’ll get your Italian language practice!
This is yet another drama, but we have good news: It’s a medical drama, not a crime drama! If you like English-language shows like “Private Practice,” “ER” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” this show could motivate you to learn Italian.
Alice Allevi is finishing up med school when she has a life-changing realization: She doesn’t want to be a doctor. She can’t stand watching her patients suffer, and she knows she doesn’t want to deal with these emotions for the rest of her life.
A shocking turn of events in her personal life makes her realize that she wants to go into the field of forensic medicine, instead. (OK, so there is a little bit of crime involved in this plot!) Watch Alice adjust to a new career path while juggling her own personal life.
Watching two seasons of “L’allieva” will introduce you to a wide range of vocab, from words regarding medicine and crime to school and family.
Finally, a more lighthearted show!
If some of the shows on this list seem too dramatic for your liking, watch “Only You” on Amazon Prime to get your fill of romance and comedy.
Carlo and Valentino are two people with completely different (but equally chaotic) lives who fall in love. He’s a florist and single dad, and she’s a biologist whose father is a lawyer prosecuting the mafia. Not exactly a recipe for an easy romantic relationship, is it?
As with “L’allieva,” you’ll gain access to a ton of vocab by watching this show. You’ll hear Italian phrases about floristry, biology, law, family and, of course, love.
Because this show is less dramatic than most of the others, a lot of the dialogue is slower, clearer and even more theatrical than the other series’. This can make it easier to understand at times.
Unfortunately, “Only You” only aired for one season, or six episodes total. On the plus side, the limited amount of content makes this an ideal series for any Italian student who feels overwhelmed committing themselves to multiple seasons of a show in a foreign language. You can stick with six episodes, right?
Maybe watching only one season of a show feels like a waste of your time. Maybe you follow shows like “Parks and Recreation” or “Modern Family” that you can watch for hours on end. If that’s the case, then create a RaiPlay account and start watching “Un medico in famiglia.”
When I say you can watch for a long time, I’m not exaggerating. The series ran for 10 seasons, with 26 episodes per season. Oh, except for season one, which included 52 episodes.
In this dramedy, a widowed doctor (Lele) moves with his three children and father to a small Italian town. As they start a new life, Lele is often conflicted between his work and being there for his family.
As you might expect, you’ll learn a lot of vocab related to medicine and family life, as those are the two main topics of the show. The most confusing thing about the series is that there are a lot of characters, and a ton of people go in and out of the show over the years. But if you can follow along, you’ll get to enjoy one of the most famous Italian shows out there!
Do you like animated shows like “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Rugrats”? Then check out “Geronimo Stilton,” a cartoon about a mouse journalist named Geronimo Stilton who goes on adventures to chase stories around New Mouse City.
There are three seasons of “Geronimo Stilton” in total. Unfortunately, only the second season is on Netflix—but as with many kids’ shows, it’s easy to follow along with the episodes of the second season without watching the first.
You’ll hear Italian vocab about animals and family. But because each episode tells a vastly different story, you’ll pick up different types of Italian vocabulary depending on which episode you watch.
For example, in the episode “The Great Jellybean Adventure,” the Stilton family travels to Egypt, so you’ll learn words such as cammello (camel) and faraone (pharaoh). But when you watch “The Creepy Cowboy of Cactus Gulch,” you learn words like fantasma (ghost) and ferro di cavallo (horseshoe).
“Geronimo Stilton” may be a children’s series, but the script is super clever and funny. Plus, the concepts aren’t too complex, so beginners or intermediate students shouldn’t be too overwhelmed.
Whether you like dramas about the mafia, romantic comedies or animated kids’ shows, there’s an Italian series waiting for you.
And when you’re done learning Italian with TV shows for the day, maybe you’ll feel inspired to re-watch an episode or two of “The Magic School Bus” to brush up on your science knowledge.
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer based in Nashville. She writes about language learning, travel and personal finance. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.