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.