Italian Language Learning Reviews

Learn Italian. Product reviews, ratings & recommendations.

Score: 7/10

Pros:
audio exposure to spoken Italian with good number of dialogues & activities; grammar focuses on specific conversational structures & phrases relevant to lesson’s topic; involves you in conversation by asking you to think & participate; plenty of Italian to read without wordy explanations; pronunciation taught in an integrated way (as you listen to speakers); cultural notes; low price

Cons:
limited focus on pronunciation (for example, in the form of a pronunciation guide); pacing & organization of grammar topics is uneven; only rarely teaches general backbones of grammar, but when it does, expects you to memorize charts without much explanation; missing some beginning grammar (like the subjunctive)

For self-taught students learning to speak Italian on your own, Teach Yourself offers some of the least expensive book-audio “complete courses” you can buy. Teach Yourself Italian book and 2 CD set divides beginner’s Italian conversation and grammar into 25 themed lessons.

The lessons follow a standard format and organization for Teach Yourself courses (or, for that matter, most any book+audio conversational language course). Courses open with a dialogue (or three), usually accompanied by simple observation questions or certain remarks to help you understand each dialogue. Short-to-medium vocabulary lists also give English translations for new Italian vocabulary introduced in the dialogue.

After the dialogues, you’ll find explanations of grammar, which take up multiple pages and typically explain a specific conversational phrase or structure in Italian. Sometimes, the author takes on less specific topics such as verb conjugation in Italian (including verb tables). These explanations stay on topic and give a few examples, but there’s rarely a sense of flow, continuity, or building a linguistic skill set from one explanation to the next.

Practice exercises and a cultural note peppered with Italian words end each lesson. The exercises stay simple throughout the course: matching, fill in the blanks, answer observation questions.

The end of the book includes an appendix with answers to the activities, a short Italian-English and English-Italian glossary and a brief index.

The book lacks the typical Italian pronunciation guide in its opening pages. Also, although the themes of each lesson are well represented in the conversations, vocabulary and even grammar topics, some themes come across as generic for Italy, while other potentially viable ones are left out.

It’s hard to find a decent conversational Italian course at this price, and, for many, Teach Yourself Italian will get the job done for a low cost. I recommend that you spend some time considering more thorough courses, but this lesson book represents a strong (but imperfect) intersection of quality and price.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
plenty of exposure to Italian in the form of dialogues & conversational sentences; audio CD contains sounds for ALL Italian words & phrases in the course; teaches you to speak and write a good amount of beginner’s Italian; structure of the lessons keeps them short & focused; good pacing of increasingly difficult material; introduces grammar & pronunciation in context of conversation; audio made paramount with book following & accompanying the CD

Cons:
often learn phrases that aren’t part of basic daily conversation, especially in the beginning; have to stick with the program to see serious results; not a thorough approach to grammar & language structure; assimilating requires listen & repeat approach

Assimil Language Course: Italian With Ease introduces the Italian language to beginners in an audio-intensive course full of short lessons. Assimil is already well known in France for their language materials, and these lessons stand as an English adaptation of their earlier efforts. With this product, you purchase a book & 4 CDs intended to be used together throughout the course.

The course begins with a short introduction to pronunciation, with sections focusing on specific sounds and listing Italian words with that sound (words are always translated). All of these words are read aloud on the first CD.

After learning to pronounce basic Italian, you quickly move on to a series of lessons. Their structure is brief and consistent. The pages offer parallel text the whole way through, with Italian on the left page and translations on the right. The audio CD reads all of the Italian (everything on the left pages).

Each lesson focuses on a dialogue (or some sort of conversational text), which doesn’t always mimic the basic conversational language you expect to learn. Rather, you begin as a “passive” learner, listening to a half dozen or so simple sentences and reading very short notes. After this dialogue, you’ll complete very simple exercises (fill in the missing word, translate, or change the form of one word). Over time, the dialogues grow longer, and you’ll be exposed to more specifics, particularly with respect to grammar. Still, the focus always remains on the dialogues.

Hand-drawn cartoons with smart remarks in Italian appear every so often, adding a little spice to your study of the language. Appendix includes a bit of extra information, not much of interest (not answers to the exercises, which are found within the lessons). A short index of language topics helps you navigate the course, but there’s little to help you go back through the book and look up more specific information.

As a way to start speaking Italian, Assimil Italian with Ease builds a good base without letting explanations, cultural notes or grammar charts get in the way. The course maps out a series of dialogue-driven lessons that exposes you to the spoken language and maintains a consistent learning curve. You’ll need other books to study the nuts and bolts of grammar, and you’ll need something else if you’re looking to simulate real-life conversation.

Score: (not yet rated)/10

Pros:
I haven’t yet acquired a copy to review fully – post your comments below, particularly if you’ve used this book before.

Cons:
As mentioned above, I haven’t yet purchased or found a copy to review. Please write a comment below if you have anything to add.

Soluzioni!: A Practical Guide to Italian Grammar by Denise de Rôme presents all the major topics of Italian grammar in an organized reference book. This guide includes explanations of each grammatical point, along with examples that illustrate each point (including real-life sample sentences from Italian literature & media). Many of the explanations focus on tougher or more intricate topics that help hone students’ grammar skills, making this a recommended resource for intermediate or more advanced learners. The author includes a number of exercises, allowing students to practice each topic.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
lots of time with a teacher who explains the Italian language in English; plenty of audio snippets from various native Italian speakers help you pronounce phrases; solid pacing & organization of material in each lesson, as well as across lessons; spoken dialogues highlight phrases used in practical situations in Italy; focuses on the kind of language spoken in daily conversation; in grammar & structure presented in context; exercises refresh the phrases you learn in each lesson; cultural info integrated into lessons; extra audio exposure with CDs & MP3 files

Cons:
fairly passive apart from the simplistic fill-in-the-blank exercises & short speaking activities; too much face time with the onscreen tutor if you’re looking for an immersion program; lengthy English explanations of words, phrases & language use won’t work for all students; demands a good amount of memorization; price tag

Dissatisfied with other available language courses, the creators of Fluenz Italian offer a software product with on-screen instructor led video lessons, conversational phrases & dialogues, and typing & speaking activities.

The main feature of this Italian lesson course is its focus on one-on-one instruction. You’ll spend time wearing a headset or turning up your speakers as you first listen to everyday, believable Italian dialogues/street conversations. Then, you’ll watch a woman talk you through Italian words, phrases and language functions. These tutoring sessions focus on the sentences you hear in each dialogue, but do a solid job of integrating that material into a broader understanding of the language.

The lessons present Italian grammar in conversational context without shirking the structural foundation of the language. You’ll learn to ask useful questions, give meaningful answers and use real-life phrases from the outset. The course stays determinedly focused on its goal of teaching you the kind of Italian you’ll need for participating in everyday conversations. You’ll also learn relevant facts about life, culture and society in Italy, which, in the best cases, manages to parallel and even integrate the linguistic elements you’re learning.

Practice exercises involve various types of type-in-the-blank activities. You’ll do things like match English words and phrases with Italian vocabulary or type the Italian translation of an English phrase or listen to an audio file and type what it says in Italian. These work as well as they ever do, but they certainly can’t be called innovative or, I would argue, highly effective. Sometimes, you’ll have the opportunity to use your microphone as you record lines from a dialogue in your own voice, allowing you to compare your pronunciation to a fluent speakers’.

The entire package, in how it looks and how it works, shows a degree of polish. The smooth interface, stand-out videos and images, and even interaction between your tutor and the Italian words on the screen all testify to a tight performance. The modular organization of the lessons sets the learner’s expectations from the beginning, and the software adheres to this organization, keeping the course evenly paced.

Although some of my comments above sound like a mixed review, my experience of Fluenz Italian was mainly positive. Students who learn well with audio lessons like Michel Thomas or Pimsleur might benefit from the Fluenz way of learning to speak Italian.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
good coverage of basic phrases & conversational language; image-rich and multimedia-rich presentation; hear words and phrases spoken aloud, with a sense of how far you are from a native accent with speech recognition; helpful exercises connect ideas with words well, particularly for visual learners

Cons:
not quite the be-all-end-all of language learning; vocabulary-heavy; Italian grammar still left unclear; price

As I noticed when I reviewed this course for other languages, it’s hard to evaluate this product without reviewing the entire Rosetta Stone program, since Rosetta Stone: Italian is in some ways a copy of the same product for other languages.

Unlike audio-only methods, this course introduces writing (or reading) and speaking (or listening) simultaneously. It does this by associating written vocabulary words with their sound and with a variety of images. Exercises push Italian learners to complete those associations by choosing the picture that best answers a question in Italian, for instance. The program then attempts to seamlessly transition learners to grammar and sentence structure by incorporating vocabulary items into a larger framework without too much extra explanation that bogs down traditional grammar books.

The heavy reliance on vocabulary learning and secondary treatment of grammar leaves some tricky concepts unexplained. Image and phrase association/repetition works great for some types of visual learners, but auditory learners might prefer CD/cassette courses with less distractions. On the other hand, the speech recognition allows for better mimicking of repeated words and phrases, even though it fails to simulate interaction with a native Italian speaker.

Rosetta Stone has its share of followers and detractors. The method is heavily marketed and touted as highly acclaimed, which draws plenty of feedback and criticism. Many users and reviewers, myself included, don’t feel that the course is as perfect as it advertises. I have spent most of my life using language learning courses of all stripes, and this one isn’t the magic bullet.

Does this mean that the course isn’t worth the money? It certainly has a high price tag, but no higher than other immersion courses like Pimsleur Italian, also rated and reviewed on this site. If you benefit from a colorful, multimedia-rich software package that teaches vocabulary and basic conversational skills, especially for learners with solid visual memory, you’ll find that the course offers a great language learning experience.

This course ultimately can’t do justice to the kind of realistic interaction and linguistic problem solving that best activate those language centers in your brain. But, in the end, it can do better than most at advancing beginning learners dedicated to progressing through the course to a solid understanding of Italian.

Score: 5/10

Pros:
a selection of funny (but few potentially relevant) Italian phrases for travelers; some amusing remarks about the cuisine, culture, and people of Italy; good for a laugh in Italian; ad hoc pronunciation given with every entry; very inexpensive

Cons:
limited selection of phrases compared to robust travel phrasebooks; nearly all phrases included are too over-the-top for daily use; more of a joke book than a resource that helps you learn Italian


In its organization and presentation, this thin, pocket-sized, 64-page book doesn’t stand out among other phrasebooks for foreign travelers to Italy. Its content is what sets Wicked Italian apart. The illustrations and spicy, parody-driven humor place it alongside books like Dirty Italian.

Eight sections cover humorous words and phrases allowing you to curse, romance, lie to policemen, complain about taxi drivers, even confess to an Italian priest. Most phrases are akin to “tuo padre è un pollo” (Tomb’s translation of “your father is as smart as a chicken”) or “Lui si è attaccato alla bottiglia dell’olio d’oliva” (“he started drinking the olive oil straight”). A relative few of the book’s phrases are practical to the extent that you’ll actually consider using them in a conversation.

Wicked Italian includes snippets about Italian culture, but these are equally light, sarcastic and fail to take their information seriously. This attitude is highlighted by cartoon drawings scattered throughout the book’s pages.

stands out as a fun little phrase booklet that gives readers a good chuckle, perhaps something to share with fellow Italian learners. Although it does use real Italian, and reference life events dear to real Italians, the book always focuses on the joke rather than any learning objectives. As such, you won’t be surprised to find it in the humor section of your local bookstore.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
covers every major topic of beginner-intermediate Italian grammar; keeps explanations short & relevant; examples are easy to read, understand & correlate to the topics they highlight; typical but relevant exercises in each lesson; chapter theme ties dialogues, examples & vocabulary together; one set of audio CD/cassettes complements the book as you read, while another allows you to listen to lessons without the book; lots of audio exposure allowing you to hear nearly all the Italian in the book read out loud

Cons:
some lengthy vocabulary lists can burden the memory; course spends time on one-off topics (as specific as the present tense of bere) rather than covering top-level linguistic rules; especially on the audio-only set of CDs/tapes, you’ll have to rewind to give yourself time to process some info


With Ultimate Italian: Basic-Intermediate, Living Language offers a book and CD set to potential Italian learners. In 40 lessons, the course tackles Italian grammar, pronunciation, and conversation skills.

The course begins with an Italian pronunciation guide. This guide lists letters, gives an ad hoc English equivalent, and transliterates Italian examples (such as “neutro NEHOO-troh”). I found it fortunate and atypical that this transliteration system stays in the guide and doesn’t clutter the lessons. The CDs/cassettes do a more graceful job of guiding you to pronounce Italian natively.

The bulk of the book is made up of 40 lessons. Each lesson follows a set pattern: dialogo (dialogue), grammatica e suoi usi (grammar and its uses), vocabolario (vocabulary), esercizi (exercises), nota culturale (cultural note), chiave per gli esercizi (key to the exercises). Earlier chapters also include pronuncia (pronunciation) sections after the dialogues to teach you the intricacies of pronouncing Italian.

The dialogues involve roughly a dozen lines of conversational exchange between unknown individuals in expected social situations. Each dialogue appears in Italian first, then is translated into English.

The grammar sections that follow the dialogues tackle potentially difficult topics with short explanations and clear examples. This method supports inductive learners who will easily understand what’s going on and apply that knowledge to other situations. Boxes and tables also highlight key grammar patterns and paradigms. Most of these sections stick to grammar topics: verb tenses, pronoun cases, etc. Sometimes, grammar sections cover more functional topics like telling time or using certain idiomatic expressions.

As the course promises, you will cover a wide range of grammar and language use – including topics like superlatives, double object pronouns and the present & imperfect subjunctive.

After studying grammar, you’ll find a vocabulary list of about a page in length. I rarely recommend studying such lists out of context, but these lists at least repeat words found in the dialogue and grammar examples, which make for good reference.

Exercises are of the unimpressive but practical type. You’ll fill in the blanks, rewrite sentences with small changes, and translate into Italian. Although you’ll find these practice activities short (too short?), there’s often a strong connection between the material discussed in each chapter and the exercises.

Lessons end with a paragraph-long “nota culturale” (cultural note) along with answers to that lesson’s exercises. Cultural notes give typical travel-book-style snippets of info about Italian culture, society, history, regions of Italy. I found those that focus on practical institutions and daily life (like going to the grocery store or caffè) to be more helpful, but all merely scratch the surface.

A few appendixes round out the book’s offerings. The first presents two pages of vocabulary for countries, cities and languages. The second appendix summarizes Italian grammar, focusing on nouns, pronouns and adjectives. The third presents a fairly robust selection of regular and irregular verb charts, along with the auxiliary verbs “essere” and “avere”. The last appendix gives examples of letter writing to help with your formal written Italian.

A typical Italian-English & English-Italian vocabulary glossary ends the book. There’s a short reference index listing mostly grammar topics on the very last page, and, more important, a lengthy, detailed table of contents at the beginning. While not the most thoroughly cross-referenced manual, it helps you find what you’re after.

Living Language’s Ultimate Italian offers a compelling compromise between conversation-driven programs, replete with dialogues, exercises & examples, and a serious study of Italian grammar. The extensive audio accompaniment and reasonable price only serve to sweeten my recommendation.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
this shortened version of the all-audio Pimsleur Italian lessons introduces the basics of spoken Italian directly; the strengths of the complete Pimsleur course are still relevant to this version

Cons:
audio only; in many ways starts you off and leaves you at the beginner level; drawbacks of full Pimsleur course apply here


Pimsleur Conversational Italian: Learn to Speak and Understand Italian repackages the first 16 lessons of their full course, Pimsleur Italian Level 1. Over the course of several hours, you’ll immerse your ear in Italian with this program spanning 8 CDs worth of audio files.

The bulk of what I can say here about the audio explanations, examples and practice exercises you’ll be exposed to simply repeats my review of the full course (link in the pros/cons above). Read that review for a better sense of how the Pimsleur method works for Italian, as well as what kind of Italian language learning experience you can expect to get out of these “sessions” (lessons).

For students looking to speak a bit of Italian and get a feel for Italian words, phrases and basic sentences, Conversational Italian offers a great audio introduction to the language. If you learn well with this highly acclaimed method, move on to that more robust full version. I still recommend this shorter course for travelers, language enthusiasts and curious learners, as well as those not convinced that “the Pimsleur way” is the preferred way to learn this bella lingua.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
plentiful advanced readings in Italian; Italian language used for all instructions & examples; themed by region of Italy for a fuller picture of the country and the Italian language; plenty of exercises & activities related to the texts; can listen to “ascoltiamo!” sections online; grammar appendix does a great job of relating to readings & offering further exercises; uniquely, suggests further Italian internet resources in each chapter; glossary

Cons:
for later intermediate & advanced learners; primarily helps with reading & writing without making this focus clear; intended for classroom use (still mostly useful to individual learners); no index; price


Parola a te! presents itself as a journey through Italy’s multifarious regions in textbook form. At its heart, though, it’s an intermediate/advanced language reader, with reading comprehension selections along with questions and exercises that complement those readings.

In each chapter, you will learn about a different region of Italy. Readings – all in Italian – range from overviews of the society and culture of a region to perspectives on specific cities, people or aspects of Italian life (like cars). The depth of regional Italian culture gives the course a lot to draw from, but expect the readings to sound a bit “standard” (stale?) and newspaper/textbookish.

The interspersed exercises support students well as you read through the book. Some test your reading skills, others listening comprehension, some build vocabulary, and still others give you a sense of Italy’s immense diversity. From instructions to answers, these are all in Italian. Consistent prompts to work “in gruppi” suggest a classroom situation, whereas many of us are learning da solo.

An exceptional grammar appendix, the “appunti grammaticali”, links Italian grammar topics to each chapter, includes verb & pronoun tables, and offers additional exercises to test your understanding of each grammar point.

Unfortunately, you’ll find no index, but the table of contents is detailed enough to help you find specific readings. A short Italian-English vocabulary glossary will help with the readings, but you’re probably working with a good Italian dictionary at this point, right?

To be frank, the best way to learn (and conquer!) advanced Italian is to get out there, read and listen to things on your own. Still, for a structured, themed reading experience with activities and well-organized support, Parola a te! provides a good way to continue your Italian studies.

Score: 9/10

Pros:
fully conjugates 555 verbs; examples of every verb in use; notes whether verb is transitive/intransitive, any spelling changes the verb undergoes & which auxiliary used with each verb; clean, uncluttered, easy-to-read verb tables; intro explains the whole Italian verb system; three very useful verb indices allow you to cross-reference any verb, quickly identify which verbs are irregular & conjugate an additional 2,700 verbs; low price

Cons:
bulk of the information is regular & repetitive if you understand the pattern (true of any verb book like this); no assistance with pronunciation issues, such as verbs with varying open & close “e”/”o” and verb forms with ante-penultimate stress


The Big Green Book of Italian Verbs competes with several other verb conjugation books vying for your attention as an Italian language student. Basically, this hefty reference guide conjugates a number of Italian verbs. But with more fully conjugated verbs than all of the above, and a lengthy introduction on how to use Italian verbs, perhaps it’s worth your consideration.

The introduction includes more than thirty pages explaining the grammar of Italian verbs. That section first explains the basics of conjugation, and then covers all tenses and moods, including instructions and examples for each.

After that, the bulk of the book presents 555 verbs, one verb per page, one page at a time. The verbs are arranged in table-like rows and columns on the page. That organization and the large page size makes the verb tables clean and easy to search through, and keeps the presentation from looking cluttered. Each verb is conjugated in all tenses and moods, of course, with participles, infinitives, transitivity and participial auxiliary (avere or essere) given as well. To top it off, there are examples of each verb used in Italian phrases and sentences.

At the end of the book, there are three good indexes that will help you make the most out of this resource. First, an English to Italian verb index helps you find the Italian equivalent of an English verb, with references to page numbers. Second, an irregular verb index allows you to find which verbs are irregular, and then reference their irregular conjugation in the body of the book. The last index adds a very nice feature: the ability to look up any one of thousands of Italian verbs and find a verb conjugated like it in this book.

The Big Green Book of Italian Verbs builds itself into a great resource for anyone struggling with the toughest part of Italian grammar: Italian verbs. If you can’t juggle your irregular passato remoto with your regular futuro anteriore, this is among the best resources available to store on your shelf. Students looking for pronunciation help will find that the book fails to indicate irregular accent and open versus close “e” and “o”, which can be trouble for some learners. Barron’s Italian Verbs (the little book, not the “501”) helps with that, but without some of the finer additions found in Big Green. All in all, I recommend this book to any beginner or intermediate students who write in Italian or translate into Italian – it will help you get your verbs straight.