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.