A guide to overcoming the intermediate learning plateau in Italian

I am often asked by my students what is the best way to learn in terms of breaking the intermediate plateau and bridge the gap between what they know and what they speak, when you have little time to spend learning a language, and you can’t attend lessons regularly.

There is no secret recipe, and there is not a single solution for everyone. However, there are some powerful techniques that have prooved to work well in my experience, as a polyglot and avid language learner.

I put together five ideas I like to share with my students in my sessions and from whom I received very positive feedback on.

I promise you these “secrets” will work, if you form a tiny little habit, to spend time with Italian, in a consistent and fun way.

What the “secrets” are about

  • Focus on listening through authentic conversation material
  • Combine Italian learning with hobbies
  • Learn Grammar on your own
  • Immerse yourself in the culture
Which one is best for you?

Try all of them and stick to one for a while. Once you feel like you have learned enough by using that technique, pick another one

If you have any questions, feedback or any relevant idea about all things Italian languages that you would like to share with me, please, contact me at serena@italianpills.com


Improve your listening skills dramatically by active listening. Listening to Italian songs can be an enjoyable pastime, but you don’t really internalize the new combinations of words until you listen to it actively.

How can you do it?

Go to www.lyricstraining.com

How does it work?

  1. You pick an Italian song
  2. You set your level of Italian (beginner, intermediate or advanced)
  3. As you watch the music video that you have picked, the lyrics are presented below

You can just listen to the song and read the lyrics. Nice…and boring. The most fun and productive approach is to fill the gaps with the missing words in the lyrics.

This is a killer method, that other than helping you to reinforce your Italian grammar and learn new expressions, will help you to better your ability to recognize sounds.



I know becoming conversational in Italian is your goal. And, it is beautiful when you enter a local coffee shop in Naples and can strike up a conversation with the barista.

Overcoming that language barrier is not for the faint of heart. It takes work and dedication. But wait, the reward is great!
Conversation is a combination of speaking and listening skills. Training your Italian listening is as vital as training your speaking.

Listening to authentic Italian interviews or Podcast will give you a better idea of how real conversation flows, the use of Italian filler words, the most frequent interactions in the real spoken language.

Using Italian Podcasts is the best way to get acquainted with the real language and passively catapult you towards Italian fluency.

How to use a Podcast a learning tool?

  1. Browse iTunes and pick a Podcast of a topic of your interest, in Italian.
  2. Listen to an episode at least three times. You will understand more and more as you listen to the episodes repeatedly.
  3. Start a Google Doc where you write down new Italian words or combinations of words.
  4. Talk about the episode with your Italian tutor or coach by using the new words and expressions.

Tip beginner learners!!

If you don’t have yet a level allowing you to catch an entire conversation, I recommend you to use Yabla or Podcast 1o1, where you can find plenty of beginner dialogues with translations, grammar explanations and the option to slow down the pace of the audio.



Cafebabel is a European news magazine translated into six different languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. What makes it a perfect learning tool for every language learner? You can read on a specific topic in Italian first and then in English (or other languages of choice) or vice-versa.

How to get the most out of it?

  1. Pick an article that sounds interesting to you or about a topic that you want to learn about.
  2. Go through the article in Italian
  3. Look for the article in your native language or English
  4. Do a back translation*

Back translation is one of the most powerful methods to transform passive vocabulary into active usage.

When you translate from a different language into Italian, you are forcing your brain to look for the right words and string them together in a harmonic way in a sentence.

By repeating these exercises regularly you will come to the point where you won’t need to translate anymore, but words will come out naturally.



Do you dream of speaking Italian well or do you mumble? Can you engage in a conversation with locals, without putting a burden on your conversation partner?

Stringing correct sentences together will improve the quality of your overall Italian conversation experience.

Make sure you learn the pillars of Italian grammar once, well and forever, then it is just a matter of piling up new words to achieve fluency.

Grammar is not boring. It gives your language structure and harmonyand eventually will make you a great Italian speaker.

While you should practice your conversation skills with an Italian teacher or coach, grammar is something you can do on your own, saving money and time.

All you need is a good drill book and a plan to complete one or two units per week. Use the time you spend with your Italian tutor to actively use what you have learned on your own and get feedback on that.

The best available grammar books in my opinion:



The way we speak is the result of our culture and lifestyle, and the language we use shapes our thoughts and actions. Understanding a language is way easier when you know the culture.

Last week I was at an International Language Event and and someone came over to say “come stai”? I was a little bit taken aback, as I was not sure whether he was talking to me or someone else in the room! If you are not new to Italian culture, you already know that you can’t ask “come stai” as a way to greet and say politely “hello” in Italian. “Come stai” means indeed “come stai” and is the kind of question that you want to reserve for friends and family, not random strangers.

This is one of many of examples I could give you on the topic. The gist of the matter is that, language goes hand in hand with culture. As living in a foreign country implies learning the local language, learning a foreign language means learning the connected culture.

To get a grasp of the Italian culture and lifestyle, I would recommend reading in Italian or your native language some excellent books that have been written by foreign authors with a strong connection to Italy. I love learning about Italy through the eyes of foreign writers because they can easily detect what Italians take for granted.