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5 essential tips to learn Italian

Italian is a difficult language to learn but not impossible. Here are 5 useful tips that will help you succeed.

1. Find similar words between your native language and Italian (thank the French and the Romans!)

We already know that Italian is easier to learn with some knowledge of French or Spanish, but if you are an English speaker, you can take advantage of some similarities between your mother tongue and Italian. You might already know that English is a Germanic language (sharing linguistic ties to German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish), but over 30 percent of English words have French origins. For this reason, you shouldn’t have problems understanding Italian words like castello, architettura, caramello, autore and others. But it’s not only this French influence that helps you decode Italian. Let’s not forget that also Latin left its mark in English language. Because of this historical precedent, you’ll be able to understand words like centro, memoria and energia before you even start your first Italian lesson!
The rule here is to find similar words between Italian and English and add them to your vocabulary. This will be easy and very, very productive.
How do you find these words? Here’s a good starting resource for you!

How do you find these words? Here’s a good starting resource for you!

https://www.italianpod101.com/blog/2021/05/13/english-loanwords-in-italian/

2. Start loving irregular verbs

This is something no language learner wants to hear: The most common Italian verbs are almost all irregular. The auxiliary verbs essere (to be) and avere (to have), the modal verbs potere (can), volere (want) and dovere (must), as well as the common andare (to go), dire (to say) and fare (to make/do) are all irregular.

But is it all bad news? Not at all! Learn these conjugations as you would any new vocabulary — with some daily practice. Even 15 minutes a day can be enough. Find a rhythm that you can apply to the conjugation, repeat it aloud as if it were a mantra, and then commit. There’s also some good news for those who accept this meditative challenge: subject pronouns (I, you, she, he, we…) are almost never used in Italian. Once you know these most common verbs, you’ll be able to manage in many situations.

3. Understand the secrets of proper pronunciation

This tip to learn Italian is a simple one: Italian is spoken like it’s written. Maybe as a native English speaker you’re not aware of what a blessing this is, so let’s explain it the other way around: How would an Italian know that “daughter” and “laughter,” which only differ in one letter, are pronounced so differently?

With Italian that’s a different story — any single letter has a specific pronunciation, and it’s not up for interpretation. For example, the letter A is always pronounced like the A in “bar.” The only exception is that some letters change their pronunciation according to the letter following them. G has two different pronunciations depending on its nearby vowels: It sounds like the G in “goat” when it’s followed by A, O or U — words like gatto (“cat”), gorilla and gufo (“owl”) — or it can be pronounced in a softer way, like in “gentle,” if it’s followed by an E or an I. Examples include genio (“genius”) or giro (“tour”).

The R is always clearly pronounced, but doesn’t always have to be rolled. There are many ways of pronouncing the Italian R (more than 10!), so don’t feel weird if you can’t do it at the beginning. Too easy for you? Try to say this: trentatré trentini entrarono a Trento tutti e trentatré trotterellando (“33 people from Trento entered Trento, trotting along, all 33”). Got it?

Resources:

The Italian alphabet and its sounds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF1nqgmXwew

The Italian pronunciation of the letters C and G

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC7bTqgxH9k

4. Remember that Italian grammar is very different from English

Divide your learning into chunks and take it slow. Let’s start with gender. Many of the nouns in Italian end with -a or -o, which means that they’re feminine or masculine, respectively (with some small exceptions). Nouns ending in -e can be feminine or masculine, so here comes the next trick: the ending -zione is always feminine. The final piece of advice we can give on Italian grammatical gender is that adjectives use exactly the same endings as the words they are describing! Isn’t it easy?

Now let’s look at some articles. The article THE in Italian is translated in 7 different ways. Don’t be frightened and learn the rules slowly. For example, la is the feminine (singular) article for all nouns except those starting with a vowel. Those words just use l’. Meanwhile, le is used for feminine plural nouns. Masculine definite articles have similar rules, but we’ll let you figure the other half out.

5. Don’t Forget your motivation

It’s important to remember why you started on this journey to learn Italian and to focus on your goal.

Dive deep into the vocabulary that will help you understand the topics you want to be able to discuss. Start speaking from the very beginning, maybe with someone that you can talk with in Italian. Read books, watch television and movies, and never stop pushing towards your goal.

Resources:

Useful Italian books divided per level

https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/italian-books