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Italian for Beginners | How to Learn Italian in 3 Simple Steps

Want to learn Italian? 🇮🇹 From top tips to best resources. Here's everything you need to learn Italian as a beginner.

by Michele
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Italian for Beginners - How to learn Italian
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One of the biggest challenges in taking the first steps in learning Italian is figuring out how to, well, get started! How hard is it going to be? How do I approach learning it? What are the best and most important things to learn first with? How do I push past plateaus and continue to develop my Italian language skills? What is the best way to learn Italian?

Faced with these and other questions, beginner Italian learners often feel anxious and that can spoil their language learning experience and even put them off ever learning at all! 

The solution to this challenge is simple: if you want to speak a foreign language, get advice from those who’ve done it!  Whether you’re learning Italian on your own or reading about other people’s experiences and following their tips on how to learn Italian faster and more effectively, this can help you answer those pesky questions that will help you avoid many mistakes, common beginners pitfalls and Italian words you should never mispronounce. 

With that said, cominciamo! (Let’s begin!)

Getting started with learning Italian 

Are you planning to start learning Italian? That’s amazing! You are in for a lot of fun. And with the following tips on how to learn Italian, you’ll start off on the right foot.

But first, let me quickly answer the question that many future Italian learners have: is Italian hard to learn? Fortunately, it isn’t! In fact, Italian is one of the easiest foreign languages for English speakers to learn. Check out my Italian guide for details as well as some useful language learning tips.

Although Italian is not a difficult language to master, the first steps in your journey to fluency are important. These lay the foundation for all of your future learning, so starting out right is essential for learning quickly and effectively. 

So, you want to learn Italian? Here’s how to get started in 3 simple steps!

Step 1. Get motivated! 

The topic of motivation may not seem to be explicitly language-related, but in fact, finding your motivation in learning Italian is a crucial first step and key to successful learning. Why?

Well, linguists from all over the world have researched – and continue to research – the influence of motivation on language learning, and they agree that motivation plays one of the key roles in successful language mastery. 

If you are interested in more details, you can check out some of these papers: one, two, three, four, five

There are two main types of motivation that need to be mentioned here: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation comes ‘from the outside’, someone or something else. For instance, when you need to learn Italian for school or for work, or if someone promises a reward to you if you do it. 

There is nothing inherently bad about extrinsic motivation: we often do things for work or school, or for other people that we don’t find necessarily like, such as a high school teacher. But this type of motivation alone usually isn’t enough when it comes to language learning. 

If doing it for work is your only motivation for learning Italian, you can feel forced and not enjoy the learning process. You can be prejudiced against the language from early on. Generally, we don’t easily warm to things we have to do because ‘someone said so’, no matter how great they are.

Are you doomed then if you need to learn Italian for work or school? Of course, not! But you may need to add a few other things to motivate you to learn. 

Intrinsic motivation 

Intrinsic motivation comes ‘from the inside’. It is something you are interested in, enjoy doing, and are passionate about. Examples of intrinsic motivation may be learning Italian because you love the culture, because you want to have more authentic travel experiences or because you want to connect more with your heritage, Italian-speaking friend or relatives.

Your motivation strengthens the more factors there are to motivate you – and the stronger it is, the more successful your language learning will be. Forza! (Can you do it!)

Here are some of the ways you can boost your motivation in learning Italian:

  • Learn some interesting facts about Italy: Get excited about discovering everything Italy has to offer. You’ll feel closer to Italian people and more interested in learning the Italian language when you discover what makes it so special. Seek out some fun facts about Italian culture, history, and learn about Italy’s countless ancient monuments famous around the world.
  • Focus on the benefits: Italian is a beautiful sounding language with a rich history, which can open up great opportunities for you – learning it will seem like one of the best ways to spend your time. For me, it completely changed my life and career which is how I started The Intrepid Guide. 
  • Make Italian-speaking friends: Improve your speaking skills by interacting with native Italian speakers. Italians are super warm and welcoming, and learning the language becomes easier if you have someone to speak to who will also support and encourage you. Don’t know anyone? Find a friendly Italian teacher on italki. Over the years I’ve befriended all my Italian teachers and still stay in touch with many of them. 
  • Consume Italian-language content: Watching romantic movies, Italian series on Netlfix and listening to your favourite Italian songs and opera can do wonders and will make you love the language even more
  • Combine your hobbies and language learning: If you are a connoisseur of art, love literature, food and wine, I highly recommend learning Italian through your hobbies. Using your existing passions will enrich your experiences as you learn Italian – sounds like a win-win to me! You can even take it a step further by planning a trip to Italy to focus on your passion. Love Shakespeare? Visit Verona to see where ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was set! Love cooking? Join cooking classes in Rome! Love to water sports? Learn to row a gondola in Venice.
  • Visit Italy: Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Travelling to Italy will help you build a deeper connection with the language and the culture which will act as motivation to learn Italian. Each region offers something different from the next, including its local dialect, regional culinary dishes, and of course a long and unique history. Why not plan a trip and visit the lesser-known cities and towns?. But don’t forget that even Rome has tonnes of unique things to do and see beyond the Vatican and Colosseum.

If you try just two of these suggestions, you’ll notice a remarkable increase in your motivation for learning Italian. This is where the next step comes in! 

Step 2. Cover the basics first

Many beginners are tempted to learn complicated words, expressions or phrases that will show off their new Italian skills. Some are worried about sounding primitive and try to avoid simple phrases at all costs. This is, however, a very unproductive strategy. 

First of all, you can’t really learn ‘beautiful complicated expressions’ without learning the simple ones first. Learning the foundations of Italian vocabulary, grammar, most common Italian verbs, and alphabet, are the key building blocks of the Italian language. 

Think of it like building a house. You can’t build a house without bricks or wood and just skip to adding the curtains ann furniture for decoration. This is the same when learning Italian. You won’t be able to ‘build’ your Italian skills without the basics. You need a solid foundation first.

Secondly, the fear of ‘sounding primitive’ is a groundless one. There is nothing wrong with simple phrases, after all. Most of what we say on a daily basis uses simple terms. It’s how we avoid being misunderstood.

Would you use poetic Shakespearean English to order food in a restaurant or to chat with a friend? Probably not. Similar to that, you don’t have to know Dante-level Italian to have everyday conversations in Italian either – you just need to know the basics and most common terms. 

So, what are the elements a complete beginner of Italian should learn? 

Learn the Italian alphabet, really !

The Italian language uses the same alphabet as English (with letters J, K, W, X and Y used in loan words and foreign names only). This makes it seem easy to learn and tempting to skip. So, why should you spend time learning it if you already know it? Quite a few Italian letters are pronounced differently, and you need to know that to speak and read Italian properly. 

Don’t neglect the alphabet – it won’t take long to learn it and you’ll save time on going back to it in the future. 

Learn essential, everyday vocabulary. 

Knowing what vocabulary is essential to learn may differ from learner to learner depending on your goals. For instance, you may want to learn Italian for business reasons. In which case, you will need to learn some business-related vocabulary and technical terms early in your development. 

No matter the reason why want to learn Italian, learning the following is important:

Start with loanwords and cognates

Never studied Italian? It doesn’t matter! You already know tonnes of Italian words, you just don’t know it yet. Words like gadgetsjoggingfeeling, shock and okay are exactly the same in Italian. These are called loanwords. Then we have cognates which is a word in one language that has the same origin as a word in another one and may sound similar. For example:

  • airport becomes aeroporto in Italian
  • attention becomes attenzione in Italian
  • communication becomsdxes comunicazione in Italian
  • important becomes importante in Italian
  • incredible becomes incredible in Italian

Learn more about Italian cognates and loanwords here

Learn words for being polite

Focus on learning Italian words for ‘sorry’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’ and other polite expressions, such as common greetings. politeness is very important in Italian culture; so knowing at least the basic polite expressions will help you win over the locals on your next trip and develop friendships.

Learn Numbers

from writing down the phone number of an Italian friend to counting change in a shop, knowing Italian words for numbers will become extremely important. 

Learn the days of the week

We may not notice it, but we need to know the names of the days of the week to plan our daily life. You will no doubt use them a lot when speaking Italian and organising your next aperitivo with amici (friends). 

Learn how to order food and drink

Eating well is a huge part of Italian culture, and since we eat 3 meals a day, you will need to brush up on your food and drink vocabulary to use when eating out in a restaurant or grocery shopping. It’s such a buzz being able to order your meal in Italian.

Travel phrases and expressions

Got a trip coming up? Knowing the most important everyday basic Italian phrases and key vocabulary will help you prepare ahead of your trip so you’ll feel confident and ready to do everything from introducing yourself, ordering food, buying tickets, taking public transportation, asking for directions, and so much more.

Build a solid foundation by learning basic Italian grammar.

Don’t rush to learn ‘all the grammar’ and tackle complicated topics like the subjunctive right at the start. It might also be a good idea not to focus on grammar rules too much.

Wait, but isn’t grammar important? Of course, it is. But, especially at the beginning, you don’t need to have perfect grammar before you start to speak.

Many language learners make the mistake of focusing a lot on grammar and putting off speaking until they improve their grammar to the point of perfection. But the thing is, you need to speak the language to improve. Don’t wait for your grammar to be perfect – start speaking now. 

You don’t need to know a lot of Italian grammar to start speaking either. For instance, you can say a lot by just using the present tense, so it should be the one you learn first and learn other tenses later. For more tips on conjugating Italian verbs, check out my guide. Other important areas include nouns, gender, articles, and pronouns. Here are more tips on learning Italian grammar for you to check out. 

Learn as much grammar as you need to get started and leave the rest for when you need it. You can always go back to learn more. But if you try to learn it all at once, you will only overwhelm yourself, so make sure to tackle the Italian grammar step by step. 

Make mistakes and learn from them. 

Making mistakes is important. You should make them. But, why? Have you ever heard the saying that wise people learn from other people’s mistakes? 

Making mistakes is a natural and unavoidable part of your learning. Even native speakers make mistakes – and they don’t dwell too much on them. If you prefer to keep silent rather than take a risk of possibly make a mistake – you will never learn the correct way of saying things and your Italian will improve very slowly, if at all. 

However, learning from others can save you time and avoid some of the most common mistakes before you even make them.

Here are some guides to get you started:

Knowing what mistakes learners of Italian make, will help prevent you from making them in the future and avoid possible misunderstandings or embarrassing situations – it will also help you learn Italian more efficiently. 

Whatsmore, such lists of common mistakes often contain lots of interesting facts and language-related information, so they are always a useful and interesting read.

Step 3. Polish your Italian skills 

OK, so you’ve found what motivates you to learn Italian and you started learning the basics of Italian (or maybe you’ve learned a lot already). What comes next? 

This is another question many language learners face at some point in their journey. Many get stuck at a certain level. They keep repeating what they have already learned, not knowing how to consolidate and improve their Italian skills.

So, what next? 

Learning Italian is an open-ended process. It’s a journey, not a destination. It’s a life’s work. You can’t finish learning Italian in the same way you can finish reading a book, close it, and put it back on the shelf. Whether your goal is to speak Italian fluently or to maintain or develop your skills, you need to continue learning and practising.

In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the best ways to learn Italian – or rather, how to continue learning it and polish your existing skills. 

Here are some of the most effective steps you can take: 

Keep learning and practising regularly. 

I can’t over-stress how important regular practice is for your progress. You need to practice so that you:

  • consolidate what you have already learned
  • move new information from the short-term into the long-term memory
  • fine-tune your overall skills
  • get better at speaking Italian 
  • continually improve your Italian pronunciation

Regular short bursts of practice and study sessions are more important than long ones. If you only have 5-10 minutes for Italian today, then practice Italian for 5-10 minutes rather than wait until you have an hour free – which may not happen.

Fortunately, nowadays there are lots of great online Italian courses and other resources – there are tonnes of online Italian courses and resources that are completely free – that can help you keep up regular practice. 

Take a more targeted course. 

Intrepid Italian - Learn Italian with my 80/20 methodThink of some of the goals and interests you have in learning Italian and take a course (or at least find some learning materials) that matches them. 

Planning to travel to Italy? Focus on learning basic Italian phrases for travel. Learning business or academic Italian? Focus on learning relevant vocabulary or look for a teacher who specializes in teaching it. Love cooking? Find an Italian cooking show or YouTube channel to inspire you.  Want to connect with your Italian heritage, partner or have more authentic travel experiences? Join my Intrepid Italian course and learn with my 80/20 method. Need help with listening comprehension and understanding fast spoken Italian? Join Intrepid Italian for Confident Conversations and train your ear to understand fast everyday colloquial Italian.

Remember, learning becomes easier and more effective when you are interested in the topic and are having fun.

Add some flavour. 

If you want to improve your Italian (and have more fun speaking it), then try adding some personality and flavour by learning some popular sayings and idiomatic expressions. 

Here are some of my most popular Italian guides to get you started:

When using expressions, remember these two things. First, pay attention to the context and its connotations. Is it an emotional expression, a polite one, a derogatory one, a formal or informal one? Don’t let your desire to ‘spice up’ your Italian be at any cost of being inappropriate or rude..

Second, use these phrases in moderation. Don’t let every Italian sentence out of your mouth be an idiom or a saying. Idioms are good for adding flavour to your speech – but adding too many can be like adding too much salt or too many spices to a dish.

Discover different Italian dialects.

The way Italian is spoken differs from region to region: citizens of Rome, for instance, speak Romanesco, which is wildly different from how those living in Milan or in Naples speak. 

You don’t have to do a deep dive into each dialect and learn them, but getting a bit about different dialects is not only exciting and interesting, but it can increase your understanding and appreciation of Italy, its culture, and its people. 

Plus, sometimes just adding a little bit of variety also just adds a bit of fun to your language learning – which is great, too.

More tips and ideas for learning Italian. 

Learning Italian is not a fixed, step-by-step process. It differs from learner to learner depending on your goals, previous language learning experience, mother tongue, background, learning styles, and more. Even your mood can influence the way you learn and practice Italian.

The best way to learn Italian is by doing what works for you. Don’t let the way you learn hold you back from progressing. Go at your own pace. Find out what your learner type is so you know how YOU learn best. That way you can create a customised study plan based on YOUR learning style. Check out different tips on how to learn Italian or resources teaching Italian for beginners.  

Doing the same things over and over again will bring you fewer and fewer results over time and you are bound to get stuck. Variety is key. Changing up the way you learn and practice will expose you to lots of diverse ways of speaking Italian and allow you to practice the language in a variety of situations.

Most importantly, have fun!

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and – SNAP – the job’s a game.

– Mary Poppins

It might sound cliché, but having fun is just as important as any of the previous points above. No matter how serious your goals are or how tight your deadlines are, make sure you enjoy the journey and have fun learning Italian – and the more the better! 

Enjoying the learning process not only makes it much easier, but it also makes learning much more effective – so, having fun learning Italian is practically a must!

Intrepid Italian - Learn with my 80/20 methodAre you a beginner or an intermediate Italian learner? Got a trip coming up or want to communicate with your Italian partner or relatives in Italian? Learn Italian with my unique 80/20 method

Registrations are now open to join Intrepid Italian, my new series of online video courses that use my unique 80/20 method. You’ll go from a shy, confused beginner to a proficient and confident intermediate speaker, with me as your trusty guide. 

You’ll finally be able to connect with your Italian partner, speak to your relatives and enjoy authentic travel experiences in Italy like you’ve always dreamed of, and so much more.

As a native English speaker who learned Italian as an adult, I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and lack the confidence to speak. I know what it’s like to start from scratch and to even go back to absolute basics and learn what a verb is! 

Intrepid Italian was created with YOU in mind. I use my working knowledge of the English language to help you get into the ‘Italian mindset’ so you can avoid the common pitfalls and errors English speakers make – because I made them once too! I break everything down in such a way that it ‘clicks’ and just makes sense.

No matter what your level is, there is an Intrepid Italian course for you, including:

You can join 1, 2, or all 3 courses, it’s entirely up to you. The best part is that you have lifetime access so you learn anytime, anywhere and on any device.

As your guide, I walk you through each lesson, step-by-step, using my unique 80/20 method. My approach is different from traditional methods because I teach you the most important 20% of the language right from the beginning so you can start to speak straight away.

Each course includes video lessons, audio exercises, downloadable worksheets, bonus guides, a private support community, and lifetime access all designed to streamline your learning while having fun.

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Join Intrepid Italian here and start learning today! 
Ci vediamo lì! (See you there!)

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Over to you!

Have you started learning Italian? What do you struggle with the most? Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

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