HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR ITALIAN THROUGH ITALIAN FILMS
Today I’ve invited a fellow Italian Language Coach Moreno Pontoriero to write his thoughts about the importance of using movies as an essential and exciting tool to enhance your Italian language experience.
Moreno is bilingual in Italian and German, who lives in Liechtenstein and does a terrific job in inspiring his audience to learn Italian through movies and comics.
If you have already a A2-B1 level and you are an Italian movie aficionado (or you want to become one!)
Benefits of learning with the Italian movies
1. Rich context
Studies have proved that we remember things better when there is a surrounding context we can refer to. The richer the context, the easier memorizing and remembering will be. However, what does context mean?
The Oxford Dictionary defines context as “the words that come just before and after a word, phrase or statement and help you understand its meaning.”
Therefore, we can say context is something that has a beginning, a middle section and an end.
Italian movies include by default rich context, because they always tell a story. If the story is engaging, you will likely establish an emotional connection and relationship. This connection helps you to remember words and phrases much more effectively. I bet you have better memories of your Italian vacation than to anything else you were not excited about. That’s the same principle.
One more thing. Movies provide you with visual context, too. It’s an excellent aid for guessing what the actors could be talking about. As the saying goes: A picture is worth a thousand words and movies even more.
So, we can undoubtedly tell that context is king when you want to improve your Italian listening comprehension.
2. Source of “authentic” spoken language
Italian films are possibly THE resources with the most authentic language you can find outside of Italy. If you live in Italy, it is obvious that you will listen to Italian conversations between people who speak naturally.
However, Italian movies are what comes closest to natural conversations of native speakers if you live abroad. So, if you are eager to set up an authentic Italian listening immersion at the ease of your home, you should consider movies as your first choice.
Besides, there is no need to mention that movies provide you with a massive amount of fresh and funky colloquial expressions your text or grammar book will never unveil to you. During your next trip to Italy, you want to sound more natural, don’t you?
3. Exposure to various accents
In most Italian listening comprehension content designed for foreigners, you will hear a “correct” standard pronunciation and accent. That’s perfectly fine, but you have to consider that in real life, you may be exposed to a myriad of other accents. Some of the words might sound very different compared to what you have learned so far.
For example, an Italian from Milan will sound different from an Italian from Rome. Even if both tell you the very same sentence, you can unmistakably hear a different melody and intonation in their speech. If you listen to them for the first time, it can surprise you.
A great way to improve this part of your Italian listening skills is to watch Italian movies starring actors from different places in Italy. For example, try to watch any Italian film starring the comedy trio Aldo, Giovanni e Giacomo to hear a Milan accent and compare it with Perfetti Sconosciuti. In this movie, you will listen to a lot of Roman accents. Even though it’s the same language, they will sound differently.
4. Motivation boost
Thanks, captain obvious, you will probably be thinking now. Never mind, this fact is an often-overlooked one, so it is good to make you think of.
If you love watching movies in your native language, what could be more fun than doing so in your target language?
Among all available Italian movies, you are bound to find some that you like and enjoy. As improving your Italian listening is instead a marathon than a sprint, you should better appreciate what you listen to or watch. It will keep you coming back again and again. Don’t waste your time doing things you are not eager to do just for the sake of learning.
5. Insights to culture and customs
Watching a movie in Italian will not just improve your Italian listening skills. A film that takes place in Italy can bring you home, at the ease of your couch, any cultural situation.
You could virtually go for a walk at Piazza San Marco, you could see Rome’s traffic jams, Fontana di Trevi and in old movies, there is even a chance to see an original FIAT 500.
While you listen to the conversations, you can also observe the body language, gestures, and another nonverbal language that Italians use — a real visual cultural immersion.
It’s not all peaches an cream..there will be come challenges too.
Now let’s move on to some challenges you will undoubtedly encounter down your road. Don’t worry it’s just part of the process.
Written language vs. spoken language
Do you know what one of the main issues among learners of Italian is? So many focus too much on just learning with their eyes. Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely read, but it’s not enough. The moment you start listening to Italian conversations, you will notice a big difference between written and spoken Italian, especially if you take movie dialogues.
Written language is well structured and correct (well, most of the time). Whereas Italians often don’t follow those rules when they speak. Spoken language is usually dirtier, shorter and direct in comparison to its written counterpart. Even though movie dialogues are scripted, professional actors will always be able to act if it was a real spontaneous conversation.
“Standard Italian” vs. “Regional Italian” vs. “Local languages/dialects”
Another challenge you might have to deal with are the different types and versions of the language.
Let me explain. As a student, you usually learn standard Italian, the official language of Italy.
Then, there are the so-called regional Italian varieties. It’s still Italian, but some expressions, words, sentence structures and accents could puzzle you, as they can more or less differ from standard Italian.
Last but not least, the trickiest category: The local languages and dialects. Even Italians don’t understand all of them. A guy from Venice is likely to have a hard time understanding a girl from Naples speaking Neapolitan.
You see, Italy is a paradise for language-lovers. The bad news is, depending on the Italian movie you watch, there is a chance to hear all of those languages in the same film.
As a rule of thumb, in dubbed movies, you will usually hear standard Italian. In movies originally shot in Italian, it is possible to listen to any of them. Benvenuti al Sud is a great example where you can hear a few different languages.
Let’s be honest, how many times have you already listened to an Italian conversation and thought: Man, that was crazy fast. Well, we talked about spoken language being kind of dirty and direct before.
If you are not used to listening to Italian, you are bound to perceive natural dialogues as too fast. That’s totally fine because your brain might not be used to process the information in such a short time yet.
Movies are normally intended for a native speaking audience, so its conversations are undoubtedly one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding things you can listen to, as you try to improve your Italian listening skills.
How to watch Italian movies effectively and efficiently
First things first.
Maybe you’ve heard that watching movies is a waste of time when you learn a language. Different people have different opinions, and that’s ok.
It depends on your mindset. Do you feel better strictly following a classic “adult approach”, such as a sequential mainly grammar-based path with some quick reward? Then, Italian movies can be quite frustrating, as they go beyond your current level most of the time.
Are you kind of a curious, patient, brave and “baby-like” learner? Let’s dive into movies!
The primary thing to consider is:
Try to find a movie in Italian you really like. If you hate romantic comedies, it makes no sense to watch them just because you heard they have “easier” dialogues. It is crucial because you will be watching that movie more than a few times.
Now, let’s get more practical. The main key is finding a healthy balance between watching movies actively and passively.
What does it mean?
Well, if you sit down on your couch and watch a movie while you eat popcorn, you are watching passively. Even if you turned on the subtitles.
Active means you are working with the language. Your brain is heavily involved.
Both ways are relevant and useful to improve your Italian listening skills. However, I would dare to say active listening is the one that has a better return on investment ratio.
Let’s make a practical example of active listening.
Take any movie in Italian (on DVD, Youtube, Netflix, etc.) that comes with Italian subtitles (we will discuss subtitles later on).
Watch a short sequence (5-10 seconds) with no subtitles a few times and try to transcribe what you hear. If you can’t recognize the words, just write out the sounds you hear.
Now, it’s time to get instant feedback. Compare what you have written with the subtitles. What do you notice? Are there any words you know, but you didn’t catch? Are there any new words? Please take note and look them up in a dictionary afterward.
This kind of dictation is an intensive but powerful exercise you can integrate into your daily routine. 10 or 15 minutes per day is just fine, as it can be quite exhausting if you overdo it, and your brain can’t retain too much information.
Combining active sessions with passive Italian listening sessions will lead you to the healthy balance I told you before.
Don’t feel discouraged if you are just starting with this technique and you are not able to catch much.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you can create a more intuitive setup: Pick a movie you have already watched in your mother tongue and watch it in Italian.
Being familiar with the story and dialogues makes it easier to guess what the actors say.
We have seen before that subtitles in Italian play a significant role while practicing your Italian listening comprehension. Subtitles can and will be your savior. Especially when you listen to a phrase or a whole dialogue a zillion times, and still you are not able to catch it.
What about subtitles in your native language? Well, they can be useful if your level of comprehension is still very low. You can use them as a crutch during the first stages of your journey.
Subtitles in your native language have one big flaw, though. They keep you constantly in translation mode. Translation is the additional step you want to get rid of to achieve listening and speaking fluency.
So, try to reduce the time you use them. Use Italian subtitles as much as you can. If you really don’t get anything, you can always switch and check, but make sure you go back to Italian subtitles.
However, there is one issue with subtitles in Italian: They are not always 100% accurate. What you are reading could slightly differ from what the actor is saying. It really depends on the movie. Some subtitles are more precise than others.
Are you a movie lover?
Are you a journey to learn Italian the smart way?
Are you an intermediate or advanced Italian learner?
My friend Moreno has an exquisite self-paced course that will introduce you to some of the more iconic Italian movies while teaching you a great deal of interesting and useful vocabulary of your daily use.
The course is called “Film al Taglio”, visit here Moreno’s page to learn more about this course.