Learning Italian, especially as an American who only speaks English, isn’t easy.
It takes a serious time commitment and lots of patience. You will fail frequently and at times it will seem like you are making no progress.
But don’t give up hope.
With these 5 keys to Learning Italian Fast you will be on your way to Italian fluency:
1. Begin With The Right Mental Approach
Having the right mental approach is probably the most important key to your success in learning Italian fast. Without a strong commitment to learning Italian and the proper attitude your chances of becoming fluent aren’t going to be high.
Here are some of the keys to have the right mental approach:
Have a “Why”
Your “why” or your reason to learn Italian is key to staying motivated and focused along your journey to Italian fluency.
Everyone has their own “why”. Perhaps it is to be able to speak with your “nonna” or relatives back in Italy.
Or maybe you have an Italian boyfriend or girlfriend. What is a better motivator than “amore”.
For others it may be their love of Italian music and wish to understand their lyrics.
For me it was my desire to connect with my Italian ancestry and love of Italian travel. When learning Italian became frustrating to me or I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue I would think about how great it would be to be able to visit my family’s homeland and communicate with my friends and locals. This helped pull me through those difficult times when I was struggling to understand the language.
“Forget about willpower. It’s time for why-power. Your choices are only meaningful when you connect them to your desires and dreams. The wisest and most motivating choices are the ones aligned with that which you identify as your purpose, your core self, and your highest values. You’ve got to want something, and know why you want it, or you’ll end up giving up too easily.”
– Darren Hardy
Don’t be Afraid of Making Mistakes in Italian
We have all heard a child try to speak when they are little.
Do they have perfect grammar? Do they use big words?
Of course not and you shouldn’t expect that from yourself either.
One of the most important things in learning Italian is to expect you will be making mistakes and realize that making them will help you actually learn the language.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We can learn from children here. They are aren’t afraid of making mistakes when they are learning a language. You shouldn’t be afraid either.
This study at the University of Haifa has found that under the right circumstances, adults show an intuition for unexplained grammar rules better than their younger counterparts.
Be Patient with Yourself
Unfortunately you are not going to master the Italian language in 3 months like some language “gurus” will tell you. Learning Italian is a longer journey that will test you patience at times.
Even still there will be times where you are frustrated and want to quit.
Some tricks to deal with the frustrations:
- Take a real look at your progress
Most likely if you are feeling overwhelmed you have been spending some serious time learning Italian already. Taking a look back at your actual progress can be helpful to overcome your current frustrations.
Remember when you could barely form a sentence in Italian. Look how far you’ve come now. You can do it!!!
- Redefine your short term goals
Usually we get frustrated when we expect too much from our progress. Instead try to examine your short-term goals. Instead of being completely fluent by the end of the month, perhaps a wiser short term goal may be to understand one verb tense or a handful of vocabulary words that day.
- Give yourself a break
Sometimes you just need to step away from learning Italian and allow yourself a chance to breathe. This shouldn’t be for long but even a day away from learning can be enough to give you the break you need.
You always hear people say “think big” but in the case of learning Italian “thinking small” will help you get to that BIGGER goal of Italian fluency.
Did you know that with as little as 250-500 words in your vocabulary you should be able to get through most tourist encounters in Italy?
Increase your Italian vocabulary to 1,000 Italian words and you’ll be able to be conversational in Italian.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the fact that you don’t know every word or get stuck on the idea that you don’t know the word for every item in a kitchen. Instead focus on the most frequently used words.
If you have the right mental approach, anything is possible. You just need to get started…..so what are you waiting for?
2. Listen to Native Italian Speakers Immediately
Get started immediately by listening to native Italians speak their language.
As a beginner I found that listening to short, simple, Italian language videos and audio clips over and over again was the best way to get started with the language. Don’t jump into a feature length Italian film on day one. Instead listen to simple phrases repeatedly to get started.
Remember: be patient with yourself.
As an native English speaker, some of the sounds won’t come naturally to you and you won’t understand every word. But with time and patience you will start to hear the same sounds and words and soon you too will be able to replicate them.
Try to understand the context first and don’t stress if you can’t understand every word of what you are listening to.
I found that listening to topics that interested me in the language were much more fun and easy to follow. For me this meant listening to videos on Italian travel, food and health/fitness often. Whatever your passion or hobby maybe there is sure to be content out there for you to watch or listen to.
YouTube has been an invaluable resource for me in learning Italian. There are countless hours of content ready for you to consume anywhere. I will listen to Italian in the shower, in my car, anywhere I can get internet access. All free to watch/listen at your convenience.
Here is an article I wrote about some of my favorite YouTube Italian Language Channels:
25 YouTube Channels to Help You Learn Italian
I’ve also had luck searching for Italian television programming and movies on YouTube. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Love Bugs (TV Series 2004–2007)
Sketch comedy featuring Fabio De Luigi, Michelle Hunziker and Elisabetta Canalis
The short comic routines are easier to follow and the chemistry between the lead actors is obvious and the scenes are funny even if you can’t understand every word.
A crime series featuring the charming Father Matteo.
Netflix is another resource I use frequently to watch/listen to Italian programming. Netflix isn’t free and it doesn’t have a huge selection of Italian movies or series but if happen to already have a subscription why not use it to watch something in Italian.
Some Italian shows and films currently available on Netflix include:
Happy as Lazaro
“Purehearted teen Lazzaro is content living as a sharecropper in rural Italy, but an unlikely friendship with the marquise’s son will change his world.”
“Story of Roman teenagers on their journey of self-discovery.”
“When frustrated politicians name a historical figure as the next president, an honest, humble man by the same name suddenly becomes Italy’s leader.”
“In 2008, a fight over land in a seaside town near Rome spirals into a deadly battle between organized crime, corrupt politicians and the Vatican.”
“In this documentary, a centuries-old horse race in the city of Siena, Italy, is the forum for a showdown between a young jockey and his former mentor.“
If you really want to get more Italian language programming from your Netflix subscription you can get a VPN such as ExpressVPN.
With the VPN you can log into Netflix Italia and open up hundreds of more hours of Italian content.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video is included as part of the Amazon Prime subscription. Typically Amazon Prime Video has more Italian language films and television shows than Netflix. The films tend to be older but there are some classics too.
- Mid August Lunch (English Subtitled)
“An utterly charming tale of great food, feisty ladies and unlikely friendships during a very Roman holiday.”
- Salt of Life
“A middle-aged retiree (Gianni Di Gregorio) has become invisible to all the women of Rome. He contends with a demanding mother, a patronizing wife, a slacker daughter and a wild party-girl neighbor who uses him…as a dog walker. Watching his friends snare younger girlfriends, Gianni tries his best to generate some kind of extracurricular love life with hilarious results.”
- It’s Better In Italian
“A charming look at the “doppiatori”-the Italian voice over actors that dub all English-language films into Italian.”
Italian public broadcasting’s radio app RaiPlay Radio is free to download and listen to. The app features 12 stations ranging in topics from news, sports and music.
Listen to Rai Radio 1, Rai Radio 2, Rai Radio 3, Rai Radio Tutta Italiana, Rai Radio Classica, Rai Radio Techetè, Rai Radio Live, Rai Radio Kids, and Rai Isoradio with your phone anywhere you go.
Tune In Radio
This free app allows you to search for channels and podcasts by language or location. Simply search for Italian language programming or for programming in Italy. There are hundreds of stations to choose from covering various topics like news, sports, arts, comedy, science and much more.
Podcasts are another great way to listen to Italian no matter where you are.
Do you commute to work each day? Are you an avid runner or love to go to the gym?
Instead of spending that time listening to music you could load up an Italian podcast and be one step closer to Italian fluency.
Here are some Italian Podcasts I’ve enjoyed:
- Radio Feltrinelli
- Ad Alta Voce
- SBS in Italiano
- Italiano Automatico Podcast
- Coffee Break Italian
3. Speak Italian Early and Often
As soon as possible, jump in and start speaking Italian.
You aren’t going to be perfect and you may sound silly at times but you have to get started speaking.
Don’t make the mistake of saying “I need to completely finish all the levels of Duolingo before I would feel comfortable speaking Italian”.
Here are some ways to jump into the deep end and start speaking today:
If you are serious about learning Italian I highly recommend that you consider hiring a private tutor to help guide you through your learning process. Specifically hiring a native speaker. This is extremely helpful and surprising affordable.
This was especially true for me.
I’ve had several online and in-person tutors over the years and they have helped me tremendously. Some I’ve hired for conversation only and others to help me with my grammar and speaking alike.
There are many excellent websites that make finding, scheduling and paying for your tutor easy and fast. While this list is growing here are two of my favorites:
Finding an Italian tutor is really easy and affordable with iTalki. Simply visit the site, choose Italian, and within seconds you are able to browse through the profiles of over 280 Italian tutors.
Each tutor on the site has an introduction video about them which is great and each tutor offers a trial lesson usually at a reduced rate.
Once you have selected a tutor you can schedule your first lesson online through their scheduling software.
All of my lessons through iTalki were completed on Skype so you will just need to be sure you set up a free Skype account prior to your first lesson.
Wyzant’s interface is a little different as it will ask you a series of questions in the beginning to better match you with the right Italian tutor for your needs.
If you like the idea of in-person Italian lessons it will really depend on where you live.
A simple Google search for “Italian Tutors” in your area will hopefully work.
For example, here in Connecticut where I live, Learn Italian with Lucia is a local tutor.
Lucia, originally from Vico Equense in Italy, conducts lessons in-person and online via Skype to students across the globe.
Find a Tandem
In fact find 3 or 4 or 5.
If you don’t know what a language tandem is it is a language partner whose native language is the language you are looking to learn. In turn the language partner is looking to learn your native language.
But how can I find a tandem partner?
It’s actually a lot easier than you would imagine.
First, you are lucky because many Italians want to learn English. It is one of the most useful languages to learn in Europe so you will never find a shortage of Italians looking to learn English.
Second, there are several apps and websites that make finding a tandem match easy. Usually these apps start as chat apps where you can send text or audio clips. Eventually you can graduate to Skype calls to really work on your Italian.
Here are two of my favorite apps to find a tandem
Free to download, this app allows you to find Italian native speakers and communicate with them immediately via text and voice chat. The app also has features to translate messages and allows people to correct your messages as well so you are learning Italian as you go.
Keep in mind the Italian native speakers you are meeting are looking for help in English so you will usually need to split time between both English and Italian.
Similar to HelloTalk, Tandem is also free to download. Once downloaded you can easily find Italian native speakers willing to help you in exchange for assistance in learning English.
On Tandem you can instant message, send audio clips, share pictures and video chat with your new Italian friends.
Become Friends with Italians
Ok, this may not be easy for some people. Especially if you don’t have Italians living in your hometown or are not able to travel to Italy frequently. That said, if you happen to have local Italian native speakers that live and work in your area make it a point to start to use Italian with them. They will really appreciate the effort and you will feel a rush of success when you are able to even say the smallest things.
I am truly blessed to have Italian friends that live locally and abroad. Without their assistance I would never have progressed with the language.
Go out and meet some Italians 😉
4. Read Italian Content
While I’ve found listening and speaking Italian are the best methods for me, reading Italian content has also helped me in my journey to Italian fluency.
My visual memory is stronger than my audio memory so seeing a word written out helps me remember the word later.
If you are a beginner in Italian start will short, easy-to-read material. Novels or long newspaper articles may be your goal but they can be frustrating in the beginning.
Instead opt for a children’s book or short story.
Ideally it would be great if the book or story had an audio track to follow along with.
The Italian Experiment does just that. The site features several children classics like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. With the text in both Italian and English it also includes video with playful illustrations and professional narration.
The Italian Experiment is a fun way to start reading in Italian.
Switch Your Reading Material
Want to get serious about learning Italian?
Try switching your reading material from English to Italian.
Do you need to get your news fix each morning with your coffee? Instead of CNN.com goto an Italian news source.
Is Facebook, Twitter or Instagram more your thing? Start following Italian companies, celebrities, or social media stars.
Have a favorite book? Try finding it in Italian and re-reading it. Having a book you are familiar with will help you understand the full story.
5. Immerse Yourself In Italian
Some people will say that you need to fully immerse yourself in a language in order to become fluent.
Unfortunately, for most of us, taking 6 months + to live in Italy just isn’t an option.
Most of us have families, jobs, or other commitments that prevent us from being able to live in Italy for any extended period of time.
So how can you immerse yourself in Italian without actually being there?
Here are a few suggestions to convert your normal day-to-day life into “La Vita Italiana”
- Change your phone
Most modern phones have the ability to change your language. Once you are ready, switch your phone’s language to Italian. It is a little tricky at first but in no time it will become second nature to you.
- Write a daily journal in Italian
Keeping a journal in Italian will help you improve your past tense verbs in Italian as well as your vocabulary. For me writing words on paper helps me learn and remember them later. What better way to do that then with a daily Italian diary/journal
- Write your shopping list in Italian
This is another helpful vocabulary builder. Especially when you are at an Italian restaurant.
- Get your news from Italian sources
Read Italian Newspapers sites, Listen to Italian News
- Watch/Listen to only Italian programming
This was discussed previously in this article but should be repeated. If you are serious about learning Italian stop watching or listening to programs in English and immerse yourself in only Italian programming.
Wherever you are you can easily replace that English broadcast with something similar in Italian.
Italians are famous for their dubbing.
I am a big fan of Stranger Things and found out I can rewatch episodes in Italian on Netflix!!
- Talk to yourself in Italian
Ok you this may sound crazy but I can’t tell you how many times I have had “pretend” conversations with myself in Italian just to practice.
- Follow Italians on social media Facebook/Instagram/Twitter
- Watch Italian Movies
Find Out What Methods Works for You Learning Italian
Some language experts will claim they have the best method to learn Italian. They will swear that the fastest way to learn Italian is by using their software or taking their online courses.
While these will certainly help you there is unfortunately no magic plan that works perfectly for everyone.
Each of us learns faster using different techniques.
Part of learning a new language like Italian for the first time is actually learning what methods work best for you learning a language.
For most of us the best methods aren’t obvious at first.
Learning what works for you will help you to Italian fluency faster.