Learning Italian online can be more difficult than learning in a traditional classroom setting, but it is not impossible, as we would like to show you in this article.
The ability to learn a language online for free is a triumph of modern technology which makes language learning accessible for everyone. This article discusses how you can improve your Italian vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening comprehension and speaking, for free, online.
This article will take the old-fashioned approach of splitting language learning into vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening comprehension and speaking, to teach you how to learn Italian uncoventionally online. However, if you'd prefer something more modern, have a look at this article which discusses how to learn French online as a beginner.
Italian Beginners' Vocabulary Builders
The first step in learning Italian should be to learn the alphabet and basic pronunciation, then to pick up some basic vocab and grammar.
Vocabulary is a good starting point, because with a large enough vocabulary, you will be able more or less understand Italian even if you don't know all of the grammar. There are several different places you can go to learn vocab and also the very basics of Italian grammar.
Duolingo is a free app (and website) which can teach you basic vocab such as greetings and food, basic verb conjugation, and some pronunciation. It even allows you to practise a bit of speaking.
Alternatively, there is Memrise, an app and website providing a wide range of vocabulary courses.
As a complete beginner, Memrise's "Italian 1" course will give you a similar start to learning Italian as Duolingo (though it doesn't let you practise speaking).
After you have got past the beginner course, Memrise has plenty of useful Italian vocab lists to learn, such as The 500 Most Common Italian Verbs, or you can make your own course with the vocabulary you want to learn.
The app and the website differ in that not all courses are available on the app, and the official courses (like "Italian 1") are only complete on the app.
Speechling has five tools, which can be used even as a very beginner, that will particularly help you develop your vocabulary:
- Speechling's Vocabulary Flashcards will help you learn new vocabulary and test your existing vocab.
- Speechling's Fill in the Blank Excercises will test you more actively on whether you can remember and spell vocabulary items.
- Speechling's Foundations is the first module on the Speechling program and focuses on vocab. Foundations is split into modules of Numerals, Calender, Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives. You have to be signed up to Speechling to use this. After Foundations, the Speechling Core Curriculum will help you develop your vocabulary further.
- Speechling's Phrasebook contains a collection of key vocabulary.
- Speechling's blog article on Italian for Travel is a helpful list of esssential vocab if you want to visit Italy.
Wordreference is an online dictionary, which contains both the crowd-sourced Wordreference dictionary and an online copy of the Collins dictionary. Both dictionaries can be searched Italian to English and English to Italian
The website is very useful for looking up words you don't know, or finding the Italian translation for an English word. It is also easy to use, as you can click on words and get their Italian/English equivalent, and it offers pronunciation and example sentences for most words. As it is a crowd-sourced dictionary, you can even find slang and dialect terms, and there is a forum attached to the website for discussing difficult phrases and words with complicated translations.
There are other good online dictionaries you can use, such as those of the Corriere and Reppublica newspapers, the Treccani encyclopedia and Linguee.
Learn Italian Grammar
Learning basic Italian grammar, especially how to conjugate common verbs, is essential. A lot of people find grammar complicated, but understanding it is often simply the case of reading several different explanations and getting in enough practise.
There are several websites which have good explanations of Italian grammar, including:
- Thoughtco's Italian Grammar
- Collins' Italian Easy Learning
- One World Italiano and its youtube channel
- Italian Language Guide
- Wordreference will also give you verb conjugations (e.g. for essere), and is a useful place to check if a verb is irregular.
There are also some good channels on Youtube for learning grammar, such as:
- Italy Made Easy
- Learn Italian with Lucrezia
- Learn Italian With Me, which also covers a lot of vocab.
Practice Italian Listening Comprehension
Listening comprehension and listening practise is relatively easy to find online. Try to listen to native speakers where possible as this will help you pick up the correct pronunciation.
Speechling has several tools which will help you with your listening comprehension:
- Speechling's Italian Listening Comprehension plays you sentences in Italian and their equivalents in English.
- Speechling's Italian Multiple Choice Quiz can be used without also displaying the Italian sentence you are listening to.
- Speechling's Italian Audio Dictionary offers a list of common Italian phrases to help with your listening comprehension and pronunciation.
Youtube is very useful for listening comprehension. By using closed captions, you can put English subtitles on any Italian video.
There are channels specifically for Italian language learners which have some or all of their content in Italian, such as:
- Easy Languages
- One World Italiano
- Italiano Automatico
- Your Italian Teacher
Of course, Speechling and Youtube are not the only ways you can practise your listening comprehension. Listening to music or watching movies in Italian are fun passive ways of improving your Italian listening comprehension and pronunciation.
There are also some good free podcasts for Italian language learners, such as:
- Coffee Break Italian
- Fluent Simple
- 30 Minute Italian
Improve Your Italian Reading
Once you are past the beginner stage, reading news articles, articles on a topic you're interested in or Italian Wikipedia will help you improve your Italian. Try not to spend too much time looking things up (you don't need to know every word to understand what you are reading), though keeping Wordreference or another online dictionary open in another tab will allow you to check words you really don't know.
Speechling's Italian Multiple Choice Quiz can also help improve your reading comprehension, by exposing you to Italian sentences alongside their English translations.
Reading is a great way to passively learn vocab, as long as you don't start with anything too difficult. Lingq is a good website and app to practise reading easy texts, though the free version is limited. Lingq lets you can click on any word for definitions and has excercises to practise unknown words, making it perfect for learning new vocab.
Speak Italian Like a Local
Many people find speaking one of the hardest parts of learning a language, including Italian. This is because speaking is the aspect of language learning in which you are most disadvantaged for not being a native speaker or learning as a child: it is nearly impossible to get rid of your foreign accent and speak in the rhythms of a native speaker. Moreover, mastering speaking a language first requires competence in vocabulary, grammar and listening comprehension. Lack of confidence, often caused by these factors, also prevents language learners from practising their speaking.
Language Partner Exchanges
Speaking seems like the one element of Italian langauge learning that you cannot do online. However, the internet is a great place to find Italian language partner exchanges (i.e. people to talk to in Italian), such as on Meetup or Conversation Exchange. For more information, check out this article on language partner exchanges for learning French.
However, language partners will often not be willing or able to correct all your Italian pronunciation errors, nor will you always have an opportunity to find a language parter.
This is where Speechling comes in. Speechling gives you access to a native Italian speaking coach who can listen to recordings you have made and give you feedback on all your Italian pronunciation mistakes, which you can access with a free or paid account. Speechling also has a built in recording function where you can compare your recordings with recordings made by a native speaker.
The Speechling tools that offer speaking practise are:
- The Italian Dictation Practice Tool
- The Italian Multiple Choice Quiz
- The Italian Vocabulary Flashcards
Again, Youtube is useful for learning to speak Italian. There are plenty of Youtube videos on pronunciation, such as this one on vowels by Italy Made Easy. Practising your listening comprehension will help you improve your speaking.
You Can Learn Italian for Absolutely Free
Learning Italian online is hard, but definitely not impossible. When there are so many resources, learning Italian for absolutely free is just a click of a link away:
- Vocab websites (Memrise, Duolingo, Lingq)
- Dictionaries (Wordreference,Corriere, Reppublica, Treccani,Linguee)
- Grammar Websites (Thoughtco 's Italian Grammar, Collins Italian Easy Learning, One World Italiano, Italian Language Guide, etc.)
- Italian Wikipedia
- Youtube channels (Italy Made Easy, Learn Italian with Lucrezia, Learn Italian With Me, Easy Languages, One World Italiano, Italiano Automatico, Your Italian Teacher, etc.)
- Podcasts (Coffee Break Italian, Fluent Simple, 30 Minute Italian, etc.)
- Italian movies
- Italian books
- Language partner exchanges (Meetup, Conversation Exchange, etc.)
Then, of course, there is Speechling, where you can practise every aspect of language learning: vocabulary, reading, listening comprehension and speaking. You will even learn Italian grammar naturally through your speaking practice.