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March 12, 2012 12:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm starting to learn Italian. Can you give me any tips and/or resources that helped you learn Italian? Preferably online/free; examples inside. Also, please give me fun Italian pop!

I'm going to Italy on my honeymoon in July. My SO has some Italian. I pick up the basics of foreign languages easily (though I'm not fluent in any right now). I've taken significant amounts of French, Latin, German, and Ancient Greek. I have a little Spanish.

Right now, I'm using a cute little program called "MindSnacks" on the iPhone as a repetition-based flashcard to get some vocabulary and learn verbs (with cute games! and leaderboards!). I think I'll get a tutor as well. Planning on picking up the MeFi-praised BBC Italian Grammar book.

I know about Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Live Mocha, and the BBC Language sites. I have a Supermemo app on my phone--but there's only one course for Italian and I haven't downloaded it yet.

Are there other web courses for Italian that I should be looking at? Something like very simple news? Or a kids' site (for Italian kids (no social element, please--this is not Prendere uno predatore!)), or designed for US learners (who are not learning in a program)? Other iPhone apps?

Also--I'll probably pick up some YA kind of stuff used while I'm there--but I'm aghast at how much Amazon wants for Italian Harry Potter. Is it possible to get books like that on the cheap? Or easy to read Italian fiction on the web?

Lastly--I wouldn't mind listening to some Italian pop music. I've poked around on web listings of the top pop charts, but didn't love much of what I found. In French, I'd be looking for things like Yelle or Alizee--I can't stand ballads. Anything I can check out?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Education (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I came to recommend Pimsleur - I borrowed it from the public library and listened to it in the car on my commute.
posted by Dragonness at 12:36 PM on March 12, 2012

I've used the German and Russian sister sites of italianpod101.com and they were really great resources. You might be surprised how fast you pick up the basics.

In Bocca al Lupo! (Good Luck!)
posted by mtphoto at 12:38 PM on March 12, 2012

I've got a great one for you - I used LearnItalianPod for about six months before my trip last summer, (I had no Italian before but did have some Spanish and Latin in high school which may have helped), and I was astounded how well I did - I understood the gist of just about every basic transaction or event I was in, and could make myself understood, answer questions, be friendly, etc. I loved the podcast - it isn't stiff or dull, it's quite conversational, and is very practically oriented toward things a traveler needs to say and know. People said my accent was good, which I attribute entirely to mimicking the presenters!

I downloaded the free version first, which was fine if a bit repetitive as they try to get you to order the pay series. The final two months before my trip, I joined at the monthly rate (which is really reasonable) and downloaded a ton of lessons and went on a blitz. It was fun. I know the site looks a little cheesy but judging by the first episodes, it's honestly a pretty DIY effort. When you become a member, you can use the forums, take self-tests, get more vocabulary and do written exercises too.

I wouldn't mind listening to some Italian pop music.

One of the other things i did to 'train' was to listen to Italian radio. I streamed it into my phone using Stitcher radio. You can also stream it online.

Movies are also great. We watched a couple Italian movies and I used the subtitles to test myself.

You are going to have a WONDERFUL time. Congratulations and good luck!
posted by Miko at 1:27 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, you mentioned the BBC and I forgot that I also used the stuff on this website. Also helpful.
posted by Miko at 1:32 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best tip I was given about pronunciation and general tone was: "convinto!"
Italian is a lively, forceful language. Whatever you say, say it with vigor and conviction! Don't worry about "overpronouncing" or having a too-exaggerated Italian accent - just go for it!
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:09 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find a streaming Italian radio station that you like and listen where you can repeat what you hear - particularly that said by the DJs as opposed to what you hear in a song. I spent years listening to Radio 105 Milano (warning - link immediately starts streaming!), and over the years I've been asked several times how I learned such a good Italian accent. Considering my only 'formal' training was in Venice, where they speak a dialect and with an odd accent, and I have spent the majority of my time in the Naples region (infamous for it's strong, distinctive accent), I have to attribute much of the way I speak to Radio 105..!
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:15 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try RAI, Italian radio, which streams online - they sometimes have radio plays, so see if you can find one of something available in English so you can follow along. As its national radio you have less issues with regional accents. Also worth doing, I think, is following debates in the parliament if you know the basis of the subject.

The best of the learning programmes is Pimsleur, I think. Especially as you have to generate a lot and you can't be lazy. Borrow it from the library and save the cost for some lovely food.

And remember to say allora a lot. An awful lot. :)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:38 PM on March 12, 2012

I started learning italian listening to Eros Ramazotti, specifically the album dove c'e musica, as the CD version has an insert with the lyrics.

I also listened to Jovanotti's "Bella" song and translated the lyrics.
posted by guy72277 at 1:47 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've already got a load of excellent suggestions there. I'm dropping in to recommend a really first-class IT<>EN online dictionary that's pretty modern/updated and full of useful example phrases. I'm a Brit living in Italy for the past 40 years or so and pretty fluent, but this one really helps me out: it's not just the direct translation of the word, but the useful context examples that make it click for me. They're realistic (not like "My aunt has fallen into the Nile, where is the nearest consular office?"), and everyday, living Italian phrases you'll find useful to learn off by heart. My experience of learning foreign languages (three to date) has been to learn phrases, even without knowing at first exactly how each one parses: after a short while you start hooking them together and learning how to make up your own new phrases. It's like a jigsaw puzzle - after a while you suddenly see how that piece of sky fits in, and then a whole area starts to make sense.

See it here - I suggest you'll find it really helpful.
posted by aqsakal at 12:49 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like Graded Italian Reader: Prima tappa for simple, repetitive Italian anyone can read and understand, but watch out for the price. Amazon.com (US) sells it for way way way too much money, while Amazon.co.uk (UK) has it for a more reasonable price. Maybe it's a college text in the US, so they jack the price up to the standard extortionate rate for college texts, or maybe it's a rights thing.
posted by pracowity at 2:34 PM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all! I've been having so much fun with this. I'll also add memrise from today's post on the Blue. I signed up for italpod, but haven't actually done anything on it yet; I've been listening to Radio 105, saying allora every chance I get, and watching Italian movies every night (most recently, Ieri, oggi, domani).

Mille grazie!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:35 AM on March 16, 2012

I found some Carmen Consoli CDs at my library and really like her! Contact your library and ask what they have - they'll undoubtedly have some language courses (like Pimsleur), but they might also have audiobooks (maybe The Little Prince in Italian? Seems like The Little Prince has been translated into every language there is) and pop music like Carmen Consoli. And ask about DVDs, too - I recently watched Pranzo di ferragosto and I understood a lot, and of course if you have subtitles turned on it's a great way to check anything you weren't sure about. Finally, ask your librarian what language courses they have - mine offer a couple of online language learning services for cardholders.
posted by kristi at 10:04 PM on March 16, 2012

A bit late, but still. I needed to learn to speak 3-4 languages over the past few years for my job, and in the process have landed on a pretty damn good method. It got me to C1 fluency in French in about 5 months, and I'm currently using it with Russian (and plan on reaching C1 equivalent fluency by September). At this point, I go in 4 stages:

* Stage 1: Learn the correct pronunciation of the language. Doing this does a few things – because I’m first and foremost learning how to hear that language’s sounds, my listening comprehension gets an immediate boost before I even start traditional language age learning. Once I start vocabulary training, I retain it better because I’m familiar with how words should sound and how they should be spelled. (Correct spellings in French, for example, are much easier to remember when there’s a connection between the spelling and the sound), and once I finally start speaking to native speakers, they don't switch to English for me or dumb down their language, which is awesome sauce. If you're learning a language with a different alphabet, this is where you learn the phonetic alphabet(s) (Kana, for Japanese or Pinyin for Chinese, for example)

* Stage 2: Vocabulary and grammar acquisition (itself in a few stages), no English allowed.
I start with a frequency list and mark off any words I can portray with pictures alone (basic nouns and verbs). I put those in an Anki deck(http://www.towerofbabelfish.com/Tower_of_Babelfish/Anki.html) and learn them. Once I have some words to play with, I start putting them together. I use Google translate (Exception to no English rule - just be careful there's no English in your Anki deck) and a grammar book to start making sentences, then get everything double-checked at lang-8.com before putting them into my Anki deck. Turning them into fill-in-the-blank flashcards builds the initial grammar and connecting words. As vocab and grammar grow, I eventually move to monolingual dictionaries and writing my own definitions for more abstract words (again doublechecked at lang-8.com). This builds on itself; the more vocab and grammar you get, the more vocab and grammar concepts you can describe in the target language. Eventually you can cover all the words in a 2000 word frequency list as a foundation and add any specific vocab you need for your own interests.

* Stage 3: Listening, writing and reading work
Once I have a decent vocabulary and familiarity with grammar, I start writing essays, watching TV shows and reading books, and talking (mostly to myself) about the stuff I see and do. Every writing correction gets added to the Anki deck, which continues to build my vocab and grammar.

* Stage 4: Speech
At the point where I can more or less talk (haltingly, but without too many grammar or vocab holes) and write about most familiar things, I find some place to immerse in the language and speak all the time (literally. No English allowed or else you won't learn the skill you're trying to learn, which is adapting to holes in your grammar or vocabulary by going around them rapidly and automatically without having to think about it). I prefer Middlebury college, but a few weeks in the target country will work as well if you're very vigorous with sticking to the target language and not switching to English. If you're extremely strict with yourself, your brain adapts pretty quickly and learns how to put all the info you learned in stages 1-3 together quickly enough to turn into fluent speech.

I've written a (not yet available) book on the topic and a (now available) website at Towerofbabelfish.com. It talks about this stuff in a lot more detail, and also has Italian-specific resources in the "Languages" section.

Some links:
More details on all of this: http://www.towerofbabelfish.com/Tower_of_Babelfish/The_Method.html
Resources for learning Italian: http://www.towerofbabelfish.com/Tower_of_Babelfish/Learn_Italian.html
posted by sdis at 4:02 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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