ItalianPod101 Review: Well-Rounded Lessons That Lack Speaking Practice and Spontaneity
ItalianPod101 presents itself as a well-rounded Italian language course that combines audio podcasts, videos and written language tutorials. Their website promises “fast and easy” learning that will have you speaking Italian from your first lesson.
ItalianPod101 definitely offers up a plethora of authentic Italian learning content that is sure to satisfy those looking to make real progress in Italian, but learners may need to seek speaking and writing practice elsewhere.
- ItalianPod101: The Basics
- How ItalianPod101 Works
- Can You Learn Italian with ItalianPod101?
- ItalianPod101 Vs. Competitors
- Is ItalianPod101 Worth It?
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ItalianPod101: The Basics
ItalianPod101 is a course from Innovative Language, a big company that has created other language courses including those for learning Hindi, Russian, German, Spanish and more. They advertise themselves as the “fastest, easiest, and most fun” way to learn a language.
Innovative Language launched its first learning program, JapanesePod101, in December 2005. ItalianPod101 was launched in February 2008.
ItalianPod101 provides five learning levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. When you create an account, you have four subscription options: free, basic, premium, and premium plus. A free subscription plan comes with a 7-day trial of premium services, so you can make an informed choice about what type of plan will work for you.
How ItalianPod101 Works
You can’t be the fastest, easiest and most fun way to learn Italian if you aren’t a well-thought out program. Luckily, I did find ItalianPod101 to be straightforward and easy to use.
After signing up for the free trial, I started by choosing a level. This level determines what courses you can access based on your perceived level of proficiency in Italian.
Even though I’ve studied Italian for many years, I chose the “Absolute Beginner” pathway to see what things would look like from the beginner stages. ItalianPod101 then showed me a stream of courses known as “pathways” that were accessible in the “Lesson Library.”
I saw various courses such as “3-minute Italian,” “Level 1 Italian” and “Essential Italian for Emergencies.” There were even specialty courses such as “Extensive Reading in Italian for Absolute Beginners” and “Going Out in Italy.”
I chose the “Level 1 Italian” pathway since it seemed to give a more general introduction to the Italian language. The course included 78 lessons, 61 assignments and almost 15 hours of audio and video content.
The lessons in each pathway start with an audio clip or video about a specific topic. These are rather straightforward and informal tutorials with clear Italian speech and simple explanations.
Audio and video clips often feature native Italian speakers and revolve around a dialogue with an explanation of what is being said by the Italian teacher. Video dialogues include subtitles in Italian as well as an ability to adjust the video’s speed.
Some lessons have a native English speaking teacher, but only when things are being explained in English and Italian. In any section that is Italian-only, the teacher is a native Italian speaker.
Lessons also include a written transcript of the Italian dialogue used in the lesson. This transcript includes English translation if you need it and even includes audio and a feature that allows you to record yourself repeating the dialogue.
After the dialogue, there is a list of vocabulary that contains the most common and useful words from the lesson. Like the dialogue, each word or phrase comes with a microphone for recording your own audio as well as a native Italian audio clip that can be slowed down.
To master these words, I looked at them in a slideshow and then took a short vocabulary matching quiz. I could also add the words to a custom flashcard deck or word bank for added practice.
Lastly, I found a short section with lesson notes. These include tips and further explanations about the grammar and vocabulary present in the dialogue and lesson. Sometimes there are also culture notes that explain specific cultural quirks present in Italy or in various regions of the country.
At the end of the lesson, I found a full transcript of everything said in the audio or video—including the English parts.
Aside from the basic structure of the core lessons, there are also assessments scattered throughout the pathways. These occur every three to five lessons or so, and they recap previously learned material.
From what I saw, these are simple multiple choice tests that are automatically graded by the ItalianPod101 program, but they are only available to premium users.
While ItalianPod101 has some great features, they do come with a price.
You can have a free lifetime account for the program, but it is quite limited. Free users can only access a couple of lessons at a time, and their use of vocabulary-building tools is extremely restricted.
A basic subscription gives you access to all of the ItalianPod101 lessons as well as some of the vocabulary-building tools such as the Italian word-of-the-day feature, vocabulary lists, Italian key phrases and a dictionary.
After that, there are two types of premium memberships.
With a Premium subscription, you get more language lessons, quizzes and transcripts alongside vocabulary-building flashcards with Spaced Repetition System technology as well as word lists.
With a Premium PLUS subscription, you get 1-on-1 access to a teacher, hand-graded assessments and a personalized learning plan.
Can You Learn Italian with ItalianPod101?
Thousands of lessons
ItalianPod101 offers access to hundreds if not thousands of Italian lessons for all levels of proficiency. With so many options, you have a great deal of freedom in choosing what you want to learn.
In my opinion, this vast collection of material is pretty impressive, and it is one of the biggest highlights of the program.
Lots of vocabulary practice
I was impressed that ItalianPod101 provides plenty of tools for growing and practicing vocabulary. On a basic level, these include an Italian word-of-the-day, vocabulary lists, key Italian phrases and a dictionary.
Premium users pay a higher fee but have enhanced vocabulary-building features. For example, they can turn words from the lessons into flashcards, access a word bank and see lists of the most common Italian words.
There’s nothing worse than learning a new word in Italian and forgetting it instantly, so it’s awesome that all your vocabulary practice can be done in-app.
Use of native speech
ItalianPod101’s use of native Italian speech is crucial for Italian learners. From my experience, Italian fluency comes from listening to high quality authentic Italian, and ItalianPod101 delivers just that.
Not to mention, ItalianPod101’s content is useful and actually applicable to your conversations in Italian.
Lack of speaking and writing practice
I was disappointed that there was no opportunity to practice spontaneous writing and speaking in Italian. Sure, I could write a comment in the ItalianPod101 forum, but that’s not the same as writing to an actual Italian speaker.
The feature that allows you to record your own audio for different words was neat, but it doesn’t allow you to actually have a real-time conversation or receive feedback from a native speaker on your pronunciation
As such, I would need to seek out opportunities to write and speak spontaneous Italian through another program or app.
Not enough exercises
There are not many practice exercises on ItalianPod101 compared to how much content there is. Exercises are present—such as the “Assessment” activities scattered throughout the lessons—but they are multiple choice and automatically graded. At times they feel a bit superficial.
Considering the vast amount of content that is available, there need to be more exercises to actually practice what you learn.
Other programs use exercises much more robustly, often after every lesson. For example, FluentU includes a quiz after every video to reinforce what was seen in the video lesson.
In fact, I’d recommend FluentU as a supplementary resource because it contains loads of native content that will only further your Italian comprehension.
Lack of human feedback
ItalianPod101 has a huge lack of human feedback, which doesn’t allow users to be corrected as they go.
Considering most of the exercises are graded by the computer, it is difficult for a learner to catch on to their mistakes early, leading to big errors and bad habits. This could easily be remedied with some kind of interaction with native speakers where users could receive feedback and guidance along their learning journey.
Misleading advertising for Premium Plus
ItalianPod101’s Premium PLUS is not worth it. While it does sound promising, I’m afraid it’s an empty promise.
The subscription is advertised to have 1-on-1 access to a teacher, a professional evaluation and a personalized learning plan. In reality, many users have expressed their dissatisfaction with this subscription level.
There is no opportunity for meaningful lessons with a teacher, and the learning plan is already built into the ItalianPod101 program when you use the other subscriptions.
ItalianPod101 Vs. Competitors
When comparing ItalianPod101 to other Italian learning programs, it does quite well. It is more well-rounded than a flashcard-based app such as Duolingo or Memrise, and it is more interactive than a simple textbook.
ItalianPod101’s biggest competitors—Babbel and Rosetta Stone—opt for picture-based learning. I believe that video and audio-based tutorials are better for long-term learning and for making in-depth connections with the lesson content, so ItalianPod101 definitely has the competitive edge in that respect.
The price point for ItalianPod101’s Basic and Premium subscriptions is cheaper than both Babbel and Rosetta Stone, so I believe that ItalianPod101 would be the best choice if you are deciding between these programs, but only when considering the Basic and Premium subscription.
In any case, I would not recommend the Premium Plus subscription.
Is ItalianPod101 Worth It?
I believe that ItalianPod101’s wealth of Italian learning content, authentic Italian and vocabulary building tools does make it worth it to purchase a basic or premium subscription.
There are some shortfalls when it comes to speaking and writing, but you could easily find an Italian exchange partner to practice conversation and writing. I would also purchase a grammar exercise textbook to get more practice on grammar topics.
All in all, Innovative Language’s slogan rings mostly true. ItalianPod101 has proven itself to be a fast, easy and fun way to learn Italian. It can be a great resource with some support from elsewhere to balance out the speaking and writing aspects of learning Italian. The only thing left to do is dive in!