Life in Italy

Five Practical Ways I’ve Improved my Italian

Learning another language is an incredibly stimulating, yet challenging experience. The beauty (and pitfall) of language learning, however, is that you’re never really quite done.

In my case, for example, my family began to teach me to count in Italian at the tender age of two. During my formative years, I took Italian courses all throughout high school, eventually majoring in the language in college. After graduation, though, I was no longer considered an “Italian student”; it was, then, entirely up to me and my will to continue learning Italian. While I have significantly improved since college, I still commit basic errors every day–using the wrong indirect object pronouns, conjugating verbs incorrectly and forgetting when it’s appropriate to use ‘inviare‘ versus ‘mandare‘.

This process is tiring and frustrating as f*ck. As I said before, it’s a never-ending journey because, just when you think you’ve mastered one tense, your memory somehow blocks all the others you’ve learned. I am constantly learning new vocabulary words and incessantly reviewing grammar rules that I learned over ten years ago. However, it’s such an indescribable thrill to come across new phrases and idioms, then know when to apply them in actual conversation. What a joy it is to also be able to communicate and convey your feelings with loved ones who do not speak your native language!

For these reasons, and many more, I have upped the ante and maximized various resources regarding my bilingual capabilities throughout the past few years:

1.) TRANSLATING MUSIC LYRICS–A trusty method among language enthusiasts, and a favorite of mine since my teenage years! I remember returning home from Italy at the end of August 2008, a most memorable vacation, and immediately downloading a bunch of songs from that summer. I spent weeks memorizing the lyrics, perfecting the pronunciation and then translating them to English. A few that come to mind are “Non ti scordar mai di me” by Giusy Ferreri, “Dicono di me” by Cesare Cremononi and “In Italia” by Fabri Fibra. Even to this day, hearing these songs still gives me goosebumps because A.) they remind me of such a wonderful summer and B.) I’m amazed at my own brain that it still recalls nearly every single word and what they mean, LOL.

2.) WATCHING FAVORITE SHOWS/FILMS WITH SUBTITLES–This is a recent one for me, actually. Since we don’t have a TV in Milano, I log into Netflix much more often now. One show that I have been watching and re-watching, and know like the back of my hand, since the nineties is Friends. I never tire of it, and will casually restart the series once it finishes–even if it’s for the 200th time. Recently, though, I decided to add Italian subtitles and, I kid you not, it has helped tremendously with my Italian! Now, the reason this works so well for me is because it is my native language; so, I understand certain jokes or cultural references when others do not. However, as long as you have a good command of the original language of a series/film, this technique can even be beneficial to those who aren’t mother-tongue speakers.

I’ve also been asked why I don’t just use Italian audio when watching Friends and other American shows in general. The truth is because–for me–it sounds unnatural in another language. Since I already know what will happen in every episode, I anticipate everything the characters both say and do. Also, the Italian dubbing of Joey’s “How you doin?”, Chandler’s rebuttals, frequent references to American pop culture and many others are just…..awful.

3.) READING ARTICLES AND BOOKS–When I moved here for the first time back in 2016, I–every so often–would force myself to read aloud an article on either ‘la Repubblica‘ or ‘The Huffington Post Italy‘ websites. Sometimes it took me two minutes; other times, a quarter of an hour. However, I was able to sharpen my comprehension and pronunciation skills and–as time passed–I became a quicker reader. I have to be transparent here, though; I have never read a book in Italian. Sad, I know; but, I’m working to change that! I recently set up my Kindle Paper White, and–since it was bought in Italy–the majority of the e-Book selection is in Italian. While it was disappointing and annoying at first, I began to view it as a great opportunity to gain some new vocabulary. Committing to reading a book in another language is scary (it was for me, at least!), but it is an invaluable tool in language learning!

4.) SWITCHING LANGUAGE ON DEVICES–This might scare some beginner/intermediate level speakers, but–if you already know the way around your devices in English–this is a fantastic way to learn some technical words in another language! For a long time, I had the language on my iPhone set to Italian. While unfamiliar at first, it became easier to navigate with every passing day, and my vocabulary was constantly expanding. I actually first learned of the words ‘impostazioni‘ (settings) and ‘rete‘ (network) during that time!

5.) CONSISTENTLY CHATTING WITH NATIVES–I know, I know; exceptionally innovative and something you definitely did not think of before. Living in such a [growing] international city, for months I have taken for granted the many opportunities I have had to speak Italian here. I usually begin with good intentions, initiating the conversation in Italian; but, then, it suddenly transforms to either English or some sort of Italian-English hybrid. Sometimes it’s easier for me; other times, it’s easier for the other party. Recently, however, I have been consciously making the effort to stay consistent with Italian when chatting, whether it be in person with a stranger at the bar or via SMS to my boyfriend. I’ve gotten him into the habit of correcting me whenever I make mistakes typing or speaking, and–whereas I used to become frustrated years ago–I now welcome criticism from other native speakers as well.

While chatting in Italian is great, it’s equally crucial to be on the receiving end of the communication. Receiving texts and emails from natives are all extremely helpful in improving your writing and speaking skills. Just in these past few months, I have finally learned how to properly construct formal emails in Italian (once the bane of my existence) just by corresponding with many different companies and agencies during my job search. Even voice messages are wonderful tools in language learning. Emulating the exact lingo, pronunciation and accent of your Italian friend will be impossible; so, try to just focus on the overall content instead. If you don’t understand a certain word or phrase, ask to clarify, then write it down. In a future conversation, try to use and apply what you just learned. Rinse, wash and repeat!

Hope this was helpful for anyone learning a new (or old xD) language! What techniques or resources do you utilize when learning a language? Feel free to share them below!



  • Blue

    Awesome tips! There are a few more things I would add to this list:
    1- using an interactive app like HelloTalk, where you can post in Italian with words and/or audio and/or photos and native speakers can correct you. I have made awesome friends and learned a lot this way.
    2- watch and listen to YouTube tutorials. It’s a great, free resource with excellent tips such as common mistakes and suggestions for apps (that’s how I learned about HelloTalk).
    3- write in Italian! Whether it be a fiction letter, workbook bought from a store (that was my first Italian book purchase), or real letters to friends, or simply your journal. I highly recommend writing! And at some point, having a native speaker look over it to correct your inevitable errors.
    4- listen to Italian audio books! There are many available for free on Spotify, for cheap on and free on YouTube. It helps to train your ear, and improve, even when you don’t realize it. I’ve listens to one series at least 3 times and understand a little more every time.
    5- watch cartoons or children’s shows in italian on YouTube. Also, start off reading children’s books. It’s a great way to ease into the language. One of the books I’m reading in Italian is for a 10 year old. I love it.
    6- iTalki is a great website to hire teachers to help with private lessons.
    7- social media, such as instagram. There are so many helpful people there who post in Italian. I got excited yesterday when I understood a woman’s entire paragraph post in Italian without clicking the “translate” button. Many post memes to help others learn as well as countless photos of the food, holiday events, travels and sayings that otherwise I would have not known. It’s great reinforcement for what you know as well.
    Brava e grazie mille!

    • Rosa P.

      All great ideas:)

      YouTube is a wonderful resource, absolutely. I often watch some Italian YouTubers every now and then as well! It’s interesting that you turn to writing to improve your Italian. That’s awesome! Regarding cartoons or children’s shows, those sound like great learning tools, especially for beginners!

      & YES! Social media is fantastic. Definitely can learn a lot from there!

      Thanks always for your input!

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