How I Study Italian: Updated for 2016

“…the thirtysomething student [who was Leonardo da Vinci] copied vocabi italiani (Italian words derived from Latin) into his notebooks, filling page after page of the Codex Trivulzianus, his earliest manuscript, which he referred to as “my book of words.” Even as Leonardo neared age forty, he was still working at conjugations, copying “amo, amas, amat” as diligently as a schoolboy.”

–From Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales 

When I first read this, I had the urge to jump through time and give Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance genius, a huge hug. Not for his contributions to science, art or engineering, but rather, an expression of simple gratitude from one language learner to another.

In da Vinci’s time most learned men knew Latin, but despite leading the way in so many different areas, “da Vinci described himself as an omo senza lettera —  a man without letters” (Becoming Italian Word by Word). It bothered him so much that he worked his entire life to learn Latin.

Something about that gives hope to regular old me, also working deliberately and constantly (not to mention slowly) to acquire a second language.

At the end of 2014, I published How I Study Italian, and it became the most popular post of that year. In 2015, it was still among the top viewed posts of my site. (Thank you, learners of Italian!)


Two years later, I still stand behind the recommendations found in that piece, but I have a few different tools (and many of the same) in my language toolbox.

Quick tips for language learners: surround yourself with your target language, in little ways, from morning til night.  Work at the language bit by bit every day, in tiny chunks of time (listen to a podcast while you’re walking, play a few minutes of a language app on your phone while waiting in the check out line…). Try to read, write, listen and speak in your target language every day. The latter two can be especially challenging, but necessary, in order to advance.

Most important: go easy on yourself. Learning another language, particularly as an adult, takes time. Maybe even a lifetime. Enjoy the journey.


Choosing from the following in the course of a week, here’s what studying Italian looks like for me now:

Italian at home

  • Prayers: Spazio Sacro, Bible Gateway (the latter has bible versions in several languages. I open two tabs side-by-side on my computer, one in English and one in Italian. It’s not an exact translation, but you can get the meaning of a passage this way).
  • Facebook: there’s so much here that it can be overwhelming. One page I especially like for advanced Italian is Imparo. I also chat with my cugini in Italian here from time to time.
  • Quizlet (Link takes you to the study set for my post series “Weekend Italian”)
  • Workbooks (My favorites are anything from the Practice Makes Perfect series)

I like to read aloud in Italian and write in Italian, even if I’m just copying text (like the sentences from my email-a-day sites). It makes me feel more comfortable and fluent in the language. 

Italian face-to-face

  • Italiano with Jodina – small classes for adults of all levels. Meeting in class, hearing and speaking the language on a regular basis really took me to the next level.
  • If you cannot attend class in person, there are several online options, where you can connect with a teacher via Skype or Google Hangouts. I recommend Dante-learning. Teachers are native speakers and customize the lessons to your specific needs, and you can take a trial lesson for free.
  • Meet up with friends (like the ones you meet in your Italian class).
  • If you happen to run into a stranger who speaks Italian (like, say, a waiter at your favorite restaurant…) fare un chiacchiere! Have a chat! If you’re like me, this might be intimidating and embarrassing, but if you can just brave up and jump in, it’s always fun and rewarding.

Sul telefonino (on the cell phone) e in macchina (and in the car)


(I just wanted to slip in those Italian words — I love the sound of macchina, and telefonino always makes me smile, as it translates to something like tiny little phone.)

Most of the sites below have an app for your phone and a website. They are great fillers for the bits of unexpected downtime that pop up during the day.

 A word on movies and music

Watching Italian movies and listening to Italian music is highly recommended by those in the know! This is still a growth area for me, as I find it difficult to follow the rapidly spoken Italian.

To get us all fired up, here’s a few resources in this category:

Italian Festive Songs at Learn Italian with Lucrezia. You’ll enjoy the familiar Christmas tunes sung in Italian. While you’re there, check out Lucrezia’s Italian playlist featured on the right side of her blog.

Musica and Movies, a great post from Italy Translated.

I Love Italian Movies is a blog I just now came upon in researching this post, and I’m looking forward to spending some time here.

And who doesn’t love this compilation from the beloved La Vita e` Bella:

Wishing you joy as you work to become one with la bella lingua! In bocca al lupo! Good luck! Other posts on learning Italian: How I Study Italian, Things I Learned While Learning Italian, 7 Reasons to Love ItalianRecentemente in Italiano, Questa Settimana in ItalianoWeekend Italian Series


You may have the universe

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. What a great list of ideas! Of course, to really learn a language, one must really live it and whatever can make the language come alive is individual for each person. If I may, can I add my FREE interactive dialogues to the list found on my website: They tell the story of an Italian-American girl, Caterina, as she travels to Italy, meets her Italian relatives and vacations with them.

    1. Grazie, Kathryn! Cerramente, immersion is best!

  2. jgroeber says:

    Beautifully written! I’m a languag-o-phobe (there’s probably a better latin word but I’m too afraid to learn it! ;P ) and I appreciate how you teach us to teach ourselves here. It’s actually how I encourage my kids to learn a new sport or the piano (believe it or not) so of course, language! Maybe we’ll have to try a language as a family. How fun would that be? Hmmm…
    Thank you! (Or danke, in my tiny little bit of German. Als ich kann.)

    1. Thank you, Jen! I love hearing from you and it especially warms my heart to have you comment on the Italian-themed posts. I highly encourage family language learning! It’s so fun and rewarding to see the kids acquire and use another language. Have them play around on Duolingo when you have a (fleeting) moment or two. It’s very user friendly and they can feel successful pretty quickly. If you do try it, let me know how it goes! xo

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