Paper cuts are the worst.
How to avoid paper cuts, you ask?
Why, it’s simple: Leave your dangerous books on the shelf and embrace digital learning.
Music, podcasts and audiobooks are excellent resources for digital language learners, but if you’re looking for a more immersive experience, then nothing beats the adventure of diving into a captivating TV show.
Perhaps you’ve just finished binge watching your favorite Italian series and are on the prowl for the next great show?
Or maybe you’re a newcomer to the world of Italian television and don’t know where to start?
Look no further! To help you along, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best TV sites and shows that any Italian learner can enjoy for free.
How Watching Italian TV Will Boost Your Vocabulary and Language Skills
Watching Italian TV is like taking a cultural excursion from the comfort of your own home. TV shows give insight into new areas of the language and efficiently teach viewers unfamiliar terms by putting them into a visual context that’s easy to follow.
So if you’re looking for new ways to bolster your vocabulary, getting absorbed in an Italian TV show is the way to go. You might think that tuning in to one of your top shows is nothing more than a guilty pleasure, but there are plenty of benefits to learning a language through the nation’s favorite pastime.
Here are a few of the benefits of learning Italian by watching TV.
You’ll hear the same words repeated over and over
There’s no getting around the importance of drumming new words into your vocabulary when you’re learning a language.
Expanding your word-stock can be a tedious task, but catching some TV all’italiana (the Italian way) is a fun way to help you practice. Television shows contextualize words you’re unfamiliar with and tend to repeat them over and over, which makes them exceptional tools for getting those elusive phrases to stick in your head.
You’ll expand specific areas of your vocabulary
Whether you’re following a storia d’amore (love story) on a daytime soap or watching the interrogation of a spacciatore (drug dealer) on a crime show, TV shows are usually centered in a very distinct environment. Exploring different settings is a great way to expand specific areas of your vocabulary and create frameworks for the new words you learn.
You might have already picked up some medical and legal terms from watching Italian melodramas, so I’ve come up with a few suggestions below that will help strengthen your conversational skills and build up your vocabulary about other areas.
You’ll keep up to date on hot topics
Italians get a lot of their news from the small screen, which means that if you’re taking in the same shows they are, you’ll pretty much be up to speed on the latest Italian issues.
Keeping up with current events will give you a strong linguistic foothold for following what’s being discussed in big national media outlets, which in turn will expand your vocabulary even further.
You’ll pick up on current terms and concepts
From femminicidio (the murder of a woman or a girl) to instagrammare (instagramming), Italians love coming up with new terms to describe what’s going on in the world. Italian TV is ripe with talk shows that are ceaselessly taking the pulse of the latest fad, making them the ideal place for snapping up some newly-coined expressions.
Simple Steps for Learning Italian While You Watch TV
You’re firmly planted on the couch, freshly popped popcorn within reach—everything is in place for a night of Italian viewing, right?
There are still a few language learning hacks to remember before you set off on a streaming spree:
- Find your favorites. Don’t waste time on shows you don’t like. Maintaining focus is key when you’re learning a new language, so if you’re having a hard time getting into a show, just switch to something else. Learning a language through TV should be fun—don’t grind your way through something that, essentially, bores you.
- Hit rewind. When you’re watching a show in a foreign language, some things are bound to go over your head, but odd colloquialisms and loquacious dialogues are no match for the good ol’ rewind button. With today’s streaming services it’s remarkably easy to go back and rewatch the parts you missed as many times as you like. Pro tip: Looking up that one curious word often makes sense of everything, so make sure to have your translator on hand.
- Take notes. Jotting down new words and phrases helps you remember both how they’re pronounced and how they’re written. Make a personal glossary of useful and interesting words and terms you come across as you go.
- Repeat out loud. Understanding is great, but your ability to communicate is the cornerstone of learning a new language. Practicing unfamiliar sounds and pronunciations on your own will give you that extra bit of confidence to strike up a conversation the next time you stumble upon an Italian in the wild.
Go with the Stream: Learn Italian by Watching TV! Here’s Everything You Need to Get Started
Now that you know all the basic tricks for improving your vocabulary while you watch TV, it’s time to start browsing! Start out by visiting these top streaming sites.
And if you like learning Italian by watching fun, authentic videos, you’ll love FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons, as you can see here:
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.
Check out these awesome Italian TV resources for more learning!
Rai’s online streaming service Rai Play offers vast amounts of Italian entertainment, but be prepared to snoop around the site for a while as a lot of their shows are only available in Italy or through a VPN. To get you started, I’ve suggested a few iconic shows that can be seen from abroad in the list below.
Mediaset On Demand
You have to sign up to use Mediaset’s streaming services, but membership is free. Mediaset is home to popular talk shows and cooking shows that can be seen in puntate intere (full episodes) online.
Another major Italian television station, La7 offers everything from the latest Miss Italia competition to political talk shows like “Otto e mezzo” (“Eight Thirty”). La7 has a selection of shows that can be watched on demand, and also provides live streaming. Check out their TV guide to catch a dubbed late-night film.
If you’re just in the mood for some light viewing, YouTube is the undisputed go-to place for short clips. Discover hundreds of episodes from popular skit shows like “Carosello” (“Carousel”), “Love Bugs” and “Camera Café” (“Coffee Camera”), and look up that one episode from your favorite series that you can’t find anywhere else.
Press Play! Here Are 8 Great Shows to Get You Started
Before you get lost in the jungles of Italian entertainment, here’s my personal list of suggested viewings to set you off on the right foot.
“Non dirlo al mio capo”
When Lisa Marcelli (Vanessa Incontrada) struggles to find a job after her husband’s death, she’s forced to break her mantra of sincerità, serenità e sicurezza (honesty, tranquility and security) and lie to a prospective employer about having children. A series of complications follows, and her situation isn’t made any easier when sparks fly between Lisa and her new boss.
“Non dirlo al mio capo” (“Don’t Tell My Boss”) will win over anyone from beginners to advanced learners with its charming cast and lighthearted tone. Head over to Rai Play for the entire first season.
If you’re interested in learning about Italian pop culture history or simply feeling sentimental, “Raccontami” (“Tell Me”) provides a series of throwback moments and nostalgic reflection.
As seen through the eyes of their youngest son, the show follows a Roman family and their television set through the first half of the 1960s. “Raccontami” suits any language learner who is ready to take the plunge into viewing without subtitles. Make sure to check out the episode La notte del Piper—a colorful ode to the era’s bustling nightlife.
“Un posto al sole”
Italy may not be as famed for its soap operas as it is for its gritty dramas, but you shouldn’t underestimate the Italians’ flare for passion and intrigue. “Un posto al sole” (“A Place in the Sun”), Italy’s longest-running soap opera, offers boatloads of drama, mysterious murders and tense love stories, along with lush panoramas of the Neapolitan coastline.
The last two seasons of “Un posto al sole”—in other words, hundreds of episodes—can be seen on Rai Play and are suitable for intermediate learners.
“Reazione a catena”
I can’t stress enough what a great tool this show is when you’re learning Italian. “Reazione a catena” (“Chain Reaction”) is a word-guessing game show that runs every night all summer.
Unfortunately, the full episodes can only be seen in Italy, but Rai always posts the last segment, L’ultima catena (The last chain), on their YouTube channel.
In L’Ultima catena contestants have to figure out which word ties in with two other given words, and even though getting it right takes nothing short of a divine intervention, it’ll get you churning through your Italian vocabulary and teach you some new terms to boot.
“Camera Café” is an office sitcom made up of 10-minute episodes that capture conflicts and mix-ups among company employees in the office break room. The dialogue-driven episodes best fit intermediate to advanced learners looking to improve their professional repertoire.
Before heading off to the office tomorrow, check out the episode Nemiche per la pelle (close enemies) for some over-the-top workplace rivalry to keep you company as you sip your morning espresso.
Loosely inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” “Le Iene” (“The Hyenas”) is an edgy talk show that dives deep into national and international issues. “Le Iene” is known for their agenda-setting investigative reporting and for having one of the strongest online presences of all Italian shows. Do as the Romans do and add it to your weekly must-watch list.
Get an Italian take on Trump or watch the latest vaccine debate on this morning talk show famous for its studio debates.
“Omnibus” (meaning “For All” in Latin) is the perfect viewing choice for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the Italian political spectrum and learn some political terms. Talk shows can nevertheless be a little hard to follow if you’re just starting out, but they probably offer the biggest takeaway for intermediate to advanced language learners.
“Chi l’ha visto?”
Something of a cultural institution, “Chi l’ha visto?” (“Who Has Seen Him?”) reports on missing persons and la cronaca nera (crime news).
If you want to find out the latest about the famous case of Emanuela Orlandi, ogle at some colorful characters or hear riveting stories of disappearance and despair, “Chi l’ha visto?” has got you covered. 2-hour-long episodes can be found in Rai Play, so you better get your snacks out for this one.
Now that you know what Italian TV has to offer, it’s time to start streaming! Get out your notebook, cuddle up and don’t forget to have some fun along the way. Happy viewing!
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