How to start learning Italian as an absolute beginner
Learn what type of learner you are
Do you learn better by reading, watching or listening? Out there there are visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners.
Where would you place you?
You can’t learn a foreign language efficiently if you don’t own this piece of information. If you don’t know it, think about your days as a student in high school or college. How were you more likely to sink the information in? Through listening, through reading? Through experiencing?
That’s critical information. There are tons of learning programs for absolute beginners in Italian; most of them are audio-based, which works great for auditory learners but is not the best fit for visual learners. Before committing to buying a method or signing up for a course, take a moment to think of your learning style and find a teaching approach that is suitable for you.
Be aware of copying best practices. Some students might have succeeded with a method just because it matched their way of learning, but it does not mean that it might match yours.
What topics you should learn as an absolute beginner in Italian
Let’s start by saying that learning a romance language (e.g., French, Spanish, Portuguese) is different from learning English as a foreign language. Romance languages are largely based on patterns or grammar rules (name them as you want) and few exceptions.
When they say you should learn Italian without grammar, run away. They are scamming you.
Knowing (a little) grammar will pave your way to fluency. Mastering the grammar foundations of Italian (or any language) will provide you with a solid framework to build up your long-term relationship with Italian.
Mastering the foundations of Italian grammar will be your doorway to fluency, and I’ll explain to you how.
Let’s use the example of the conjugation in the present tense of the verb viaggiare (to travel)
- io viaggi -o
- tu viaggi – i
- lui viaggi – a
- noi viaggi – amo
- voi viaggi – ate
- loro viaggi – ano
All regular verbs ending in “- are” follow the same pattern. Learn it once, apply it forever. Most Italian verbs are similar to “viaggiare.” If you learn the grammar pattern once, you can use it for endless time.
My two cents:
Knowing the grammar foundation of Italian or ANY language will make you an independent learner. Consider the grammar as bricks you need to put together to build a house. If you own your bricks (you master the grammar), you can create your own home (you can shape your own Italian language).
Knowing well the foundation will make you an independent speaker. Learning random sentences from one of the many Italian learning apps or course available will force you to repeat somebody else’s words or thoughts. Do you want to sound like a monkey or a parrot? 🙂
Italian grammar topic to master as a complete beginner
(masteting these topics will take your Italian a long way, promise!)
- How to build a sentence and ask a question in Italian
- How to conjugate regular verbs in the present and past tense, and so how to talk in the present, past and future tense
- How and when to use the articles
- The number and gender of nouns and adjectives and how to much them properly
- How to say I want, I need, I can
- How to say me, you, him, her, it, us, them.
- Common questions, e.g., asking about the time or the weather
Vocabulary topics for absolute beginners
- How to walk about your free time
- How to walk about your work
- How to talk about your family
- How to describe your neighborhood, house, city
- How to buy food or drinks
- How to shop for clothes
My rule of thumb here is, spend some time to browse a few different learning approaches or Italian online tutors and stick to the one and only that make your study time super efficient, effective and most importantly enjoyable!
Italian starter kit
Solo – learning is the right option for many. If it is your case, too, you want to be sure you surround yourself with the top-notch learning material that keeps your motivation high and gives a solid foundation to your Italian.
Don’t be eager to jump on the next thing every second day. Foundations are essential when it comes to acquiring a new language or any subject. With a solid framework, that path to fluency will be easier and efficient.
These are my recommendations for starters. All of them are tools I have used and recommended to my students.
Self- paced Italian learning methods
Assimil method is a great resource to start from absolute beginners and those keen on self-study. The core of the Assimil method is learning by intuition. You can learn virtually any language with Assimil and of course Italian.
The method comprises 100 dialogues presented in Italian and your native language (the most common language are available). The idea is that by reading and listening to the dialogues simultaneously, you will naturally internalize the language. The level of the content gradually will increase and you will learn intuitively and in context. The dialogues are short and pretty natural. The dialogue sections are followed by bite-size grammar explanations and (very few) grammar exercises.
My experience: although I find Assimil a viable way to access Italian as an absolute beginner, long term, it will prove not to be a sufficient resource to advance. I suggest starting with Assimil to get an idea of how the language works p and then pair it with other learning methods or a teacher and a grammar textbook.
Pros: excellent to learn from day 1 the correct Italian pronunciation, working on your listening skills, and familiarizing yourself with the most common vocabulary.
Cons: a bit expensive, not sufficient to become fluent, lack of extensive grammar instruction.
Audio books for learning Italian
Michel Thomas is a great self-learning tool for auditory learners and English native speakers. This method has been defined by The Times as “The nearest thing to painless learning.” The reason is that the course is all in audio and breaks the Italian languages into digestible bites for those who have little knowledge or no passion for learning Italian grammar. It’s comprehensive of all the levels of language learning, and the audio tracks are short enough so that you can virtually listen and study one to three of them every day. It can use a self-study Italian tool or support for your formal Italian course.
Like the Assimi that I mentioned above, Michel Thomas’s courses are one way out to grasp the basics of Italian and become acquainted with the language’s logic. I recommend it for those who need to learn through repetition and don’t have much time to do the homework or take a formal course.
Pros: learn at your pace, little grammar, a lot of repetition, useful to understand the logic of the language an absolute beginner or English native speaker
Cons: Not enough to become fluent, little grammar, not a lot of variety in the vocabulary presented
Italian Grammar textbooks (A1-B2)
You can’t help but learn the foundations of grammar when flirting with a romance language, like Italian. By this, I am not saying you should study just grammar. Still, I strongly suggest coupling your main learning content with a solid Italian grammar textbook that helps you understand the logic behind the conjugations, gender and agreements number shortly and sweetly. The book I use for my course, specifically for English native speakers, is this Italian Grammar in Use. It covers Italian grammar from zero to the intermediate level. Each unit tackles a specific grammar topic and is paired with a page of drills. If you are looking for a more integrated approach, I recommend Colloquial Italian: the Complete Course for Beginners with dialogues, cultural insights, and grammar.
Italian classroom textbooks
In my typical absolute beginners’ classroom, I enjoy using Un giorno nuovo in Italian A1. Although it is not designed for solo learning, it can still be used as an excellent source for learning helpful vocabulary for everyday situations and audio tracks. Unlike any other textbooks I have used in my classes in the past, this is a rocking book for setting you on the right way and providing you with all the foundations and basic vocabulary you need as an absolute beginner learner.
Tuning up your listening skills from day 1
Being exposed to the correct pronunciation and the sound of words, the intonation of sentences is vital to speak a language *well* long term. I recommend Italian Pod 101 as a valuable resource for listening to short tracks tailored from absolute beginners through upper-intermediate speakers. I recommend Italian Pod 101 as a valuable resource for listening to short tracks tailored from complete beginners through upper-intermediate speakers.
Reading Practice for beginners
Reading at any level is the number one way to activate your passive vocabulary and grammar. On this subject, I have written many articles regarding the importance and effectiveness of using short stories as a beginner to learn Italian vocabulary and grammar naturally and painlessly. I recommend reading my post here with a comprehensive list of Italian short story books I like using for beginner Italian students and a guide on how to effectively use them
Learning Italian solo, in group lessons or with private tuition
Pros: cheap, you can learn at your pace
Cons: lack of feedback, structure and sense of direction
If you are short on time and don’t have a big budget or simply like learning at your own pace, solo learning is the way to go. Independent Italian learning has never been more accessible. The internet offers infinite chances to get what we want almost immediately. Some great online courses for absolute beginners online will help you build a solid Italian foundation.
In my experience as an avid language learner and polyglot, I have also learned some language solos as a beginner. However, I must say I had to hire a teacher to advance and get feedback or get unstuck from a learning plateau.
For those who want to jump into Italian language learning independently, I recommend to use some of great resources I mentioned above in this post (starter kit part) that will give you a bit of structure, a sense of direction and foundations. They are also a great support if you are learning with a teacher or in class.
Italian private classes
Pros: personalized instruction, constant feedback, faster results
Cons: price, it requires high commitment
Leaning with a private language instructor is like going to the gym and hiring a personal trainer. How bad do you want to learn Italian? Do you prefer formal instruction on a casual approach? Undoubtedly, learning with a private instructor is a luxury for many and requires the steam to commit to weekly meetings and homework. At the same time, it can save you a lot of time and can help you to reach your goal faster.
Choosing the right instructor is a fine art too. These days, the internet is full of teacher marketplaces where you can find tutors for cheap. You should know that most of these marketplaces ask a high margin to teachers or hire barely qualified or ill-prepared ones. My rule of thumb: look for an independent t teacher and ask for a program with a clear structure and goal, not individual meetings.
Italian group lessons
Pros: price, structure, learning in a group
Cons: large groups, lack of individualized approach, long fixed hours in most schools
Group lessons delivered by language institutions are the right compromise for those who need structure and like interactive learning and have a smaller budget. Committing to weekly classes gives you a sense of structure, progress, and of course, accountability. I don’t have a lot of experience with group lessons, unless like a student myself. The only cons is that your classmates might be as not motivated as you and slow down the learning approach. You won’t be exposed to the correct accent as you will hear repeatedly Italian used and pronounced by the other students and little time by your teacher.
Get into the habit of learning
“learning is a marathon, not a sprint”
My number one piece of advice for fresh Italian learners is: start fast, get a grip of the language, then slow down. You start slowly, you will never build up.
After coaching hundreds of students, I have realized that it gets frustrating to move slowly as an absolute beginner or beginner. If you are taking up something new, you want to see the first results soon. Language learning is still one of those things you can’t get instantly. It requires time, consistency, and effort. When you start something, you are excited and motivated, but if you don’t see any results coming fast, it’s easy to lose steam and slowly let it go.
That’s why I believe that putting a little more effort as an absolute beginner or beginner in Italian is a smart way of learning Italian.
I always say to my new students: start intensively and slow down once that language makes sense for you. Advancing very slowly as a beginner will be frustrating.
My rule of thumb:
Study intensively for two or three months (three or four times a week) – Slow down when the language becomes easier and starts making sense.
Set a smart goal
As a seasoned Italian online language teacher, I know that most students are fueled with plenty of motivation when they start Italian. Still, after a while, they lose the steam to progress. Why? As a teacher of Italian and avid language learner, I find the reason lies in the lack of learning structure and a clear goal. If you don’t have a clear vision of your learning goal, you will hardly know the proper measures to implement to pursue it. Think about what you want to do with your Italian: plan a trip, commit to getting certified, or organize immersion trips in Sicily or Tuscany. I have jotted down my creative ideas on using Italian as a foreign speaker in this post.
Seek for honest and helpful feedback
Make sure to get feedback from and track your learning progress. Learning without knowing at one stage you are, or without being pointed out to recurring mistakes, can result in frustration. Most independent learners end up hitting a plateau or lingering on the beginner level for months or years because they didn’t have anybody addressing their gaps or learning to unlock their Italian.
Get regularly assessed. Getting feedback, it’s the most efficient way to advance.
Activate your Italian
Let’s get this clear, you don’t need to live in Italy to get a good grip of the language. I know people that have spent years in Italy and don’t master the language. Seemingly, I know people that haven’t yet set foot in my country, or they have done it sporadically and speak Italian fluently.
The key is to integrate Italian into your routine, no matter what your Italian level is.
Immersive learning ideas for beginners
- Use the Italian short stories: reading and listening to Italian in the shape of short stories – reading and listening to short stories tailored to your level is vital to activate your passive vocabulary and grammar. When you hear or read, you dig into your long-term memory and reactivate bits and pieces of vocabulary and grammar that have faded in the background.
- Listen to my Podcast in easy Italian
- Use the language Apps Tandem or Hello Talk to find language exchange partners
Immersive learning ideas for intermediate/ advanced students
- Use Italian language online tutors or find a conversation partner
- Listen to original Italian audiobooks – listen to original audio content through audible
- Use advanced Italian short stories – if your level is not adequate to listen to original content, use the short stories for intermediate learners
And finally as you might have seen, In this post, I am not touching on YouTube based video courses or learning apps. The reason behind it is that I discourage complete beginners from using content that might also be good, but in most cases, it lacks structure, orientation and goals. As I mentioned above in this guide, you won’t regret spending a lot of time building an excellent foundation for your Italian. A solid framework is a milestone to language fluency
don’t spread yourself too thin by using an endless number of learning tools, methods, or strategies. Pick one or two, get into the habit of using them for a consistent period, and move on. Most students that have come to seek my guidance after hitting a learning plateau for months made the mistake of lingering on the same unstructured content for way too long.