Don’t learn harder, learn SMARTER

There are two types of people: bad finishers and good finishers.

Most of us are good starters when it comes to learning a foreign language and terrible finishers.


It is not a lack of talent. It is not a lack of time. It is not a lack of strategy.

Most often is a lack of structure, good materials and accountability. 

Many learners would think that I will learn more if I study more

The good news is that this is wrong.

What I keep starting with my private clients is in fact to study SMARTER, not harder.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re welcome to keep reading to learn (and possibly steal) some of the best practices that have helped my students to become better students and speakers of Italian.

How is my S.M.A.R.T method different?

S like “short stories”

My teaching method is based on the use of short stories, among other things. 

Learning vocabulary from a list, a post, or a game app is not the most efficient way to learn, in my opinion. 

I use short stories to help English native speakers learn how to build better Italian phrases and speak more naturally.

Words are essential.

But they’re nothing on their own.

Over the course of my almost 10-year teaching career, I’ve met a lot of students who have the same problem, and they would come to me and say: “I keep learning new words and sentences and throwing them into my flashcards , but when it comes to speaking, I don’t know how to put them all together.”

That’s all right. I took the same path when learning languages, only to discover that I was doing it incorrectly.

Because your flashcards are just words and phrases with no context or visual situation, you won’t be able to bring them to life. 

Learning through simple Italian stories and dialogues written by me or others will help you connect the dots between a visual situation and the phrases used to describe it. 

That, in my opinion, is the simplest (and most enjoyable) way for adult learners to learn new words and phrases in Italian.

Learn with my short stories 

Practical tips 

  • Pick a new short story book every month (choose from my recommended list)
  • Read it, read it out loud if you need to perfect your pronunciation skills. 
  • Read and listen to it at the same time to improve your beginner or intermediate Italian listening skills. 
  • Summarize each chapter in a few written sentences. 
  • Talk about the story and throw in your opinions. 
  • Use this approach if you’re learning Italian on your own, with your teachers or practice partners. 

M like “measurable learning”

My teaching method emphasizes structure, allowing me to measure my students’ progress. 

My students know exactly where they are and where they are going.  When they first start, they are assessed, and they know exactly what they will be working on and why. 

This is important for one reason. Allow me to explain why. 

When we begin something new, we are energized and excited by the unknown and possibilities that lie ahead of us. 

However, as with many things in life, consistency, rather than anything else, will get you where you want to go, whether it’s being Italian, learning a new language, or getting in great physical shape. 

Structure is what will make your Italian journey worthwhile and, more importantly, what will make you a bilingual person in Italian or any other language. It’s easy to fall out of the learning routine without a learning structure. 

All of my courses and books are structured to help students develop a study habit and follow a learning itinerary. 

Actionable tips 

How can you measure your progress in Italian?

  • Use a course which is organized in a logical manner and structured (I think Rocket Italian is a decent self-paced course). Avoid courses or teachers who throw in too much information or notions without any logic behind them.
  • Commit to passing an Italian certification exam. 
  • Sign up for a learning challenge.

A like “accountability”

Accountability is at the heart of my teaching approach. 

As a teacher and a student, I place a high value on accountability. You’re umped and motivated when you start learning Italian or another skill. But, don’t we all know that motivation has a short life span? We’re all great starters but terrible finishers, in a certain way. 

Every step of the way, my students are held accountable. How? All of our courses are built around weekly assignments that students must complete before attending class. This is in stark contrast to the traditional classroom setting, in which students arrive and wait for the teachers to elaborate on a new topic . I make sure that my students arrive well-prepared for their lessons, so that they can focus on making their Italian shine rather than feeling lost or unprepared. 

R like “repetition”

My teaching method is based on repetition.

Most students spend most of their time going from one piece of content (podcasts, Instagram posts, YouTube videos, etc.) to the next, but they rarely devote enough time to studying and going over it again and again. And, while it appears to be learning, it is simply information consumption without internalization. As a result, many students know a lot of Italian but are unable to communicate in it. That’s the feeling you get when you’ve been exposed to a lot of information but haven’t had enough time to digest it.

In my method, I make sure to spend enough time on one topic, so that they can eventually master it and use it with confidence.

Actionable tips 

  • Ask your Italian teacher to give you extra time to revise.
  • Plan a strategy for reviewing your notes on a weekly or monthly basis.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin, learn just from one or two sources at a time.

T like “theme-related”

My teaching method uses culturally relevant themes.

Like you, I’m a language aficionado who studies German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Slovak. I live in Rome, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I believe that knowing and learning a foreign language gives you the superpower of being able to travel without leaving your home. That’s why I do it, and I learn languages online with live teachers or self-paced courses in the same way you do. 

Having taken hundreds of online language classes myself, I know exactly what I don’t like and what doesn’t work, which I define as “casual speaking,”   That is, talking about trivial stuff without a structure or plan, without expanding one’s vocabulary in a specific area, and without learning. 

As a result of my personal experience, I’ve learned that topics addressed in a class, podcast, or short story should be relevant. 

Fortunately, Italy, being such a beautiful and interesting country, provides a wealth of topics to discuss. 

As a result, all of my lessons and books are culturally relevant, allowing my students to learn not only the language, but also the culture, lifestyle, story, and cuisine.

Actionable tips 

Bonus tips
  • Use short stories as the primary method to expand your vocabulary and improve your Italian sentence building skills.
  • Work on your listening from day one. You can do it through listening to podcasts or short stories narrated in slow Italian.
  • Watch Italian shows on Netflix or use Lingopie for a more educational version.
  • Use it or loose! Use Preply to find affordable native speakers and tutors to speak Italian and put to the test what you have learned (get a 50% OFF your first Italian class here).
  • Join my newsletter and follow us for top-quality learning content and monthly stories for Italy.

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

Join my 6200+ people learning italian list ♥

Ciao, I’m Serena! I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

What people read the most in this category