With over 60 million native speakers, and the fact that Italy ranks as one of the top 5 tourist destinations in the world, it's no wonder that Italian is one of the most popular foreign languages for native English speakers.
On one hand this is great news for us Italian learners! There are literally hundreds of apps, courses, and programs to choose from, if we want to start learning the language.
The downside is, with so many options available, it can be difficult to tell which options are worth their salt and which aren't.
In this post we take a look at the best way to learn Italian and share our top 5 picks for Italian learning courses. But before we get into our list, we should talk about what exactly makes an Italian course or program good.
What makes a good Italian course?
It helps you learn the language holistically
Here at Live Fluent, we constantly stress the importance of learning all four aspects of Italian: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
These four skills build into one another so that what you read is reinforced by what you write, what you write is reinforced by what you speak, which in turn is reinforced by what you listen to.
If you focus too heavily on only one or two aspects of the language you will shortchange yourself.
A good course should give you the opportunity to practice and develop your skills in all four aspects of Italian.
It doesn't shy away from Italian grammar
Grammatically speaking, Italian isn't the monolithic beast that students encounter when they learn a language like Japanese, Korean, or Arabic. Italian comes from the Romance language family, which means that by and large it isn't too removed from English.
A brief intro to some of the unique aspects of Italian grammar
Still, there are some significant grammatical differences between English and Italian. A good course should point out these differences and help you understand them.
Here's a few of the grammatical differences you will encounter while learning Italian.
Flexible word order
The english language follows a fairly strict subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. If we change the order of words in an English sentence we will change the meaning.
For an example of this think of the difference between "The dog bit the boy" and "The boy bit the dog".
Italian word order is more flexible. Sometimes it will follow the SVO word order, and other times it won't.
Null-subject language (also verb conjugation)
Often times an Italian sentence will omit subject pronouns like "I, he, she, they, etc". This is because Italian verbs themselves can imply pronouns, thus the pronoun doesn't need to be explicitly stated.
A deeper look into Italian verb conjugation
Italian verbs are able to do this because they take different forms based on who or what is performing an action. This phenomenon is called verb conjugation, and it's a bit different from what most native English speakers are used to.
It helps prepare you for real life conversations
While grammar is immensely important in your Italian learning, many courses neglect to teach you relevant vocabulary that you can actually use in real life.
Many classical courses teach themed vocabulary that focuses on grammar only. Thus you learn lists of fairly useless sentences like "The cat drinks milk", "The ball is under the table", "The boy runs fast", etc.
A good program will help you find a balance between understanding the important aspects of grammar, while also helping you learn Italian you're likely to use in the real world.
Our picks for the top five programs for learning Italian
1. Rocket Italian
20+ minutes a day
Long story short, Rocket Italian does an excellent job of teaching practical vocabulary AND Italian Grammar. It may be the best way to learn Italian besides talking with native speakers.
The bulk of this audio course is built around two different categories of Italian lessons: 1) The interactive audio lessons and 2) the language and culture lessons.
The interactive audio lessons are built around a recorded native Italian dialogue between two speakers. These dialogues have English explanations and usually teach the language in "chunks" or phrases versus individual words (this is perfect for learning conversational Italian).
The language and culture lessons feature in-depth grammar explanations which help breakdown Italian grammar in a way that is easy to understand.
These lessons introduce grammar through Italian phrases and example sentences, so that users can see grammar in action. The language and culture lessons also discuss and introduce Italian culture.
In addition to the audio lessons and the language and culture lessons, Rocket Italian offers a range of activities and exercises which help you read, write, speak (via voice recognition), and listen in Italian. Some of these activities include role play with native audio, listen and write exercises, flashcards, and quizzes.
As an added bonus each course level includes extra lessons called survival kit lessons. These lessons are a sort of interactive audio Italian phrasebook. Lessons focus on a specific topic such as getting around the city, around the house, most common words, etc.
All in all this is one of the most comprehensive courses on the market, and will help even absolute beginners reach a level of core proficiency in the language.
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Italianpod101 features audio lessons in a podcast format. East podcast episode features a recorded conversation between two native Italian speakers (not unlike Rocket Italian).
Two hosts introduce each lesson and provide insight into Italian traditions, grammar points, and interesting vocabulary. They also help break down any new concept the lesson introduces.
Each lesson includes full transcripts in English as well as Italian. Users are also able to listen to slow playback on new words and phrases. Lessons are grouped into podcast seasons and are usually sorted by difficulty level and topic.
Whether your Italian level is absolute beginner or more advanced, you can easily find lessons to keep you busy and improve your Italian!
While Italianpod101 is not as structured as Rocket Italian it's still a substantial learning tool (it's also much cheaper too). The site features a learning forum, an in-site flashcard system, and many other useful features.
5+ minutes a day
Duolingo is an great way to learn Italian, and overall it's an app we often (but not always) recommend on this site. It's mostly free, effective, and fun to use.
The app is built around a game-like format and largely teaches grammar via example sentences and definitions. Users are required to listen, speak, read, and write while using the app. Each lesson is essentially a series of tasks that introduce new Italian words and helps the user practice them.
The tasks can range from fill in the blank, listen and say, listen and write, and translating sentences. The speaking in Duolingo is on par with other popular courses that also use voice recognition (which means it’s good but not perfect).
In the more advanced parts of the course sometimes grammar concepts aren’t explained quite clear, and users have to hunt for themselves to find apt explanations.
The app does provide a user forum where learners can ask each other questions and discuss any troubles they are having while learning their target language. Often I’ve found the answers I’m looking for here.
Duolingo follows a freemium model, meaning that the app is largely free to use, but there are some paid features you can unlock. The biggest of these is your lives.
Every time you incorrectly answer a question in a lesson you will lose life, once your life is gone you have to wait twenty-four hours to use the app again (unless of course you pay).
Duolingo is easily one of the most popular language learning apps out there.
It's success and popularity pretty much speak for itself. It’s definitely worth checking out.
$14.95 per month
30 minutes every day
Pimsleur is probably the second most popular language course behind Rosetta Stone. Pimsleur is an audio course and is specifically designed to develop your conversational skills and teach you to read in your target language.
The course was once only available through a clunky and pricey cd rom format. Now the folks behind Pimsleur have made their courses available via their new mobile app for a monthly subscription.
Each course level (of which there are five for the Italian language), is a series of 30 minute audio lessons. These lessons use the signature question-recall-response technique perfected by Pimsleur.
This method requires you to reply to questions and prompts in Italian, just as you would if you were start speaking to a native Italian speaker in real life. There’s a kind of pressure in the lesson which makes the process exciting and more effective.
I’ve found I’m much more likely to remember words I learned with Pimsleur then with another audio course.
Pimsleur also sprinkles reading lessons throughout their course levels. At first you will learn the sounds of the Italian alphabet and start reading words by recognizing their sounds (with or without knowing the meaning of what you’re reading).
As you become more comfortable with the Italian sound system Pimsleur will start to give you texts with phrases from the audio lessons and you will start to understand what you’re reading.
With Pimsleur you will learn the foundational Italian you need to speak Italian, as well as be able to read in the language.
From $6.95+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Babbel Italian provides lessons in a quiz format. The course presents new material and asks users questions on the content to help it stick. Quizzes use multiple choice, matching, and fill in the bank questions to test your knowledge.
Once you work through the most basic words and phrases, Babbel starts including dialogues at the end of lessons so that users can see new words in the context of a written conversation.
Babbel works well as an introduction to the Italian language (or another language). The level of the course goes from absolute beginner up to low level intermediate. The course won’t necessarily get you to a level of conversational Italian, but it will leave you with a foundation in Italian grammar and vocabulary.
One of the most attractive features of Babbel is its price. The course is offered with a monthly subscription which is run as low as $6.95 per month.
$6+ per hour (varies between teachers)
30 minute or 1 hour lessons
Italki isn’t a learning program per se, rather it’s an online marketplace where language learners can find professional teachers and informal tutors for one on one paid language lessons via online video chat (Which is great because speaking with real people is the best way to learn Italian).
Italki offers credits which users can purchase to book a lesson with a teacher. Typically the lessons are done over Skype, but there are other options available too.
Two teacher types
There are two categories of teachers available on Italki: professional teachers and informal tutors.
Professional teachers have a degree related to languages and or certificates for teaching a language to non-native speakers. These teachers often provide their own teaching materials and offer a structured way to learn a new language.
Unlike teachers, Italki tutors do not hold a degree or certificate for teaching. More often than not they are native speakers who enjoy teaching. Tutors sometimes provide their own learning materials, but not always. Many tutors simply offer their services for conversation practice or help with a particular aspect of the student’s target language.
Italki offers more than just paid lessons, the site also has many useful free features that are available to users without buying credits.
There is a public notebook where the user can post journal entries in Italian (or in another foreign language), and have their mistakes corrected by native speakers. Similarly there is also a public Q&A forum where learners can post questions and get answers from the community.
The most valuable free resource on Italki is the language exchange. On Italki you can search the site community for Italian speakers who are learning English and set up a language learning exchange.
Whether or not you’re looking for paid online lessons for Italian, Italki is an excellent resource and it’s worth setting up a free account to check it out. Especially if your goal is to speak Italian.
*with a purchase of $20 or more. After your first purchased lesson a credit of $10 will be added to your account
15+ minutes a day
Anki is a free open sourced spaced repetition flashcard system available on desktops or as a mobile app. Anki wasn’t specifically designed for language learning, but it was created as a flashcard system to help review and remember information.
The flashcards are heavily customizable. You can add text, audio, video, or even a recording for yourself onto a given flashcard. All in all Anki flashcards are a free and awesome way to review Italian vocabulary.
This concludes our post on the best way to learn Italian.
There's a lot of options if you're looking for a course to help you learn the Italian language. Hopefully through this article you were able to find the information you need to help you choose the program that best suits your learning style.
Remember, there is no one size fits all, when it comes to language learning. Each of the Italian courses in this post include some sort of free trial. I recommend choosing the ones you're interested in and trying them out for yourself. Good luck in learning your new language!