Italian Language Learning Reviews

Learn Italian. Product reviews, ratings & recommendations.

Score: 4/10

Pros:
modular formatting makes the structure of each lesson clear to students; at its best, presents acceptable dialogues, vocabulary & grammar topics; decent – albeit short and unenlightened – exercises, with an exercise key at the back; 20+ pages of cultural & tourist info regarding Italy in the book’s introduction; appendix with irregular verb charts (although missing some verb forms & even some common irregular verbs altogether); Italian-to-English glossary

Cons:
lack of an audio component limits the use of this kind of dialogue and vocabulary-driven course for beginners; long vocabulary lists; no index & uninformative table of contents; very uneven pacing of vocabulary & grammar material; missing essential grammar topics, conversational phrases & language functions more vital to a beginner’s success; dialogues not always relevant; explanations and examples don’t tie lessons together, often leaving learners in the dark; much better conversational courses with audio component available for purchase at only a slightly higher price


There are many Italian language lesson books crying out from the bookshelf, pleading with you to buy them. For the most part, you may notice that such coursebooks follow a standard formula: dialogue, vocabulary list, explanations of grammar & language topics, exercises. Few resources adhere to that more clearly than Hippocrene Beginners Series: Beginner’s Italian.

Uniquely, the author prefaces these lessons with more than twenty pages on Italian culture, history, art, economy, and practical information about travel to and around Italy. Then, after a very short introduction to pronunciation with an ad hoc transliteration system, the book turns its attention to the Italian language in ten routine lessons.

Every lesson begins with a one page dialogue in Italian. The next page, opposite the Italian, repeats the same dialogue in English. Turn the page, and you’ll find a two-column vocabulary list, usually a couple pages long. This is followed by a list of “locuzioni” (expressions, or phrases). Then there are exercises on the dialogue and vocabulary. Then, explanations of grammar and language functions. Finally, exercises dealing with the grammar and language topics. Note that each of these sections begins on a new page, which is among the cleanest formatting choices I’ve seen for this type of modular course.

The dialogues are fairly standard, ranging from stiffly informal to stuffily formal. While they manage to focus on material that is culturally relevant to Italy, you’ll often find yourself reading material you can’t imagine yourself hearing or saying in place of more crucial, basic language fundamental to everyday conversations. The accompanying vocabulary lists run long, making them hard to memorize for any particular purpose. What’s more, there are mistakes in the text of the dialogues. Further, the book comes with no CD or cassettes to perfect your pronunciation.

Explanations stay short and to the point. You’ll learn grammar topics randomly, and with no clear connection to the other material in the lesson, but you sometimes build on previous topics. Each topic gives a few explanatory sentences, interspersed with short Italian examples (with translations). You may find further vocabulary lists in the grammar sections, adding to the burden on your memory.

As you progress through the lessons, you cover fairly basic grammar material. You’ll deal with subject and object pronouns, nouns, present tense verbs, reflexive verbs, numbers, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions. Curiously, the tenth lesson panics, and throws pages of verb charts, along with information about irregular verbs, at you. Along the way, you’re offered minimal advice, sometimes even confusing advice, and left to figure a lot out for yourself.

The activities come in two types. The first reviews the dialogue material, asking you to “copy the text, read it aloud and translate it”, to make up Italian sentences using certain expressions, to translate a handful of phrases, and to memorize some phrases. The second set of exercises follows the grammar, and involves translating about ten sentences from English to Italian. All in all, the practice is conventional and short, but not bad.

There’s a key with answers to the exercises in the back, along with an appendix of some forms (often just the present indicative and preterite) of twenty irregular verbs, in lists with forms separated by commas and irregular forms underlined. The author also includes a ten page Italian-English vocabulary glossary.

The lack of an index and the meager table of contents means that you’ll have to flip through the book to deliberately find missing information.

Clearly, I’ve pointed out drawbacks to even the most positive components of these ten Italian lessons. That leads me to wrap up this review with a simple suggestion: self-taught students starting to learn to speak Italian should avoid Beginner’s Italian. It’s not a dire warning – this course isn’t that horrible, it’s just on the sour end of mediocre. Spend a bit more for a more favorable experience.

Score: 6/10

Pros:
deals with nearly every major grammar topic in beginning-intermediate Italian; engaging, informal, even funny text; explanations can be verbose, but rarely wander or distract – they stay focused; author intersperses Italian words in her explanations to ease transition to your new language; chapters combine grammar topics with everyday themes; extra notes give tips & info; multiple useful appendixes; glossary & index

Cons:
modest number of practice exercises in view of bulk of material presented; no audio CDs, tapes or sound files to help you pronounce the language; no dialogues, readings, or language immersion – focus on snippets of vocabulary and sentences; students looking for a conversation-based methods should consider this only as a supplement; long vocabulary lists without much context strain the memory; pronunciation key (transliteration) is the only pronunciation help you’ll get, and it’s mediocre


The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Italian approaches the Italian language with the series’ trademark casual humor, extensive musings & hand-holding, and scattered note boxes with tips and information. In many ways, the book is a standard, themed course in Italian grammar, but done in the Idiot’s style.

The first few chapters give you helpful tips for learning the language, understanding a bit more about Italian and Italy, an intro to the Italian alphabet, and cognates (words in common) between Italian and English. The ad hoc pronunciation key taught with the alphabet accompanies all new vocabulary words in the rest of the lessons. While it’s not too accurate, you will learn to pronounce, say, “abbastanza bene” as ah-bah-stahn-zah beh-neh.

That brings us to chapter five. From here on out, chapters are structured around grammar topics, paired with real-life themes (hence titles like “Using the Modal Verbs at l’Hotel“, “Buon Viaggio: Travel Terms and the Imperative”, and “Made in Italia: Using Object Pronouns and Shopping”).

Sections within chapters introduce concepts in explanatory paragraphs. Tables of vocabulary lists or grammatical forms are mixed with these explanations, and some explanations are highlighted by example sentences. The author peppers her lighthearted explanations with Italian words, which, like the example sentences, are in italics.

Simple exercises follow some sections, often involving filling in blanks with the correct form, although you’ll probably wish the book offered more chances to practice along the way. Answers to the exercises are found in the first appendix.

As well as skimping on the exercises, these lessons contain less in the way of conversational material. Dialogues are nonexistent, vocabulary lists are often presented without much context and with the expectation that you memorize lists of terms. In fact, the only fluent Italian you’ll read that’s relevant to the chapter themes is found in the sample sentences that complement grammar and language explanations.

The consistent use of notes is helpful, although some provide mild distractions when they stray from the topic at hand. Notes clarify or emphasize important language topics, offer further guidance or simply share musings about Italian.

One appendix lists regular and irregular verbs in a slightly crowded but fully-formed table. Another gives four pages of idiomatic expressions in Italian, and even some tongue twisters for fun. A third appendix summarizes non-verb grammar topics in charts, and the fourth lists pages of Italian synonyms.

At the very end, you’ll find a somewhat lengthy English-Italian and Italian-English vocabulary glossary, and a useful index of grammar, language and thematic topics (so you can look up things like verb tenses, idiomatic expressions or banking). The table of contents also fully spells out chapters, sections and subsections with their titles and page numbers. The only thing missing, especially for such a comparatively long Idiot’s Guide, is page numbers next to vocabulary words in the glossary.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Italian certainly has some notable features, and a semi-unique style that characterizes the course. If you’re looking for a way to study Italian grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, this isn’t a bad way to go. True beginners might find the course demanding at times and soft at others (unevenly paced), overabundant in vocabulary lists, and lacking in practice exercises, pronunciation, and conversation drills. Students more comfortable with more conversation-driven methods should look elsewhere.

Score: 7/10

Pros:
ten themed lessons introduce a good – but not overwhelming – selection of everyday, casual Italian slang; not too bawdy or over-the-top, keeping it useful & realistic; dialogues showcase both the idiomatic & literal translations of Italian slang; routine exercises allow you to practice words you learn; glossary lists vocab words with example sentences & Italian synonyms

Cons:
not for beginners – you’ll learn vocabulary, but dialogues & exercises expect you to have a working knowledge of the language; since Italian slang is very region specific, it’s hard to study the Italian slang; no index; extended lessons in vocabulary only; no hand holding for those who need explanations or insights; you have to send away separately for the cassettes


There’s a seedier, mischievous side to Italian language learning books – the kind of book that teaches you slang, street lingo and naughty words. Street Italian 1 falls in that camp, teaching you Italian slang vocabulary in a way that’s more readable than vocabulary lists, and still “cleaner”, less outrageous and more useful than other slang guides and phrasebooks available.

In ten lezioni (lessons), you’ll encounter a range of everyday dialogues, vocabulary explanations and practice exercises. I can’t emphasize enough that vocabulary is the whole focus here. You won’t read explanations of grammar or structure, only learn slang ways of saying things in Italian. Because of this focus, the book cannot be used as a beginner’s course in Italian.

Lessons start with a comical drawing, theme in slang (like Francesca ha una cotta per Giovanni) and a dialogue. Dialogues are repeated three times on three pages. The first page gives the dialogue in Italian, with slang words & phrases conveniently bold (like ha una cotta). The second page sets out a translation of the dialogue, with the bold words in colloquial English (so “ha una cotta” is rendered has a crush). The third translates the bold terms literally (in the above case, the Italian literally means has a baking).

The next section, at the heart of the lesson, lists the slang vocabulary terms & expressions in dictionary-style entries. These include part of speech info, example sentences with translations, Italian synonyms, and other ways to use the word in question.

Finally, lessons end with practice exercises. These have you fill in blanks, match, and choose the right word, and even complete crosswords and word searches. It’s nothing new, but the activities help reinforce the vocab from each lesson as you learn. There are also two review exams (for lessons 1-5 and 6-10).

The end of the book has answers to the activities and an Italian slang glossary. The glossary is formatted like the vocabulary sections in each lesson, including sample sentences, synonyms and notes. Unfortunately, page or, at the very least, lesson numbers aren’t referenced, which could have made for a good index.

If you already have some experience in formal Italian, Street Italian 1 will supplement your core vocabulary with some colorful, useful slang. On top of that, its way of presenting vocabulary in dialogues and examples places it among the better vocabulary-building recommendations I’ve come across.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
covers all major topics in beginning & intermediate Italian grammar; lots of exercises relate directly to specific grammar topics; the structure of the book, the examples & charts all present information in an organized fashion; regular & irregular verb tables in appendix; organized by part of speech, making it easy for students to reference and work on specific problem areas; rigid outline format makes overall layout straightforward, and the table of contents easy to use; audio CD reads exercises out loud for pronunciation help

Cons:
chapter & section length vary greatly, offer little guidance for pacing yourself through the book; rigid outline will distract certain learners & won’t compensate for varied length & use of explanations; sometimes uneven distribution of exercises; no index of any kind


Interactive Italian Grammar Made Easy provides students who find themselves struggling with Italian grammar just under 200 pages of explanations and exercises. The book covers the whole range of beginner and intermediate Italian, and is organized into chapters by part of speech. If you’re looking for a resource to help you hone your grammatical skills, read on. If you’re brand new to the language, this course isn’t necessarily aimed at you, but it’s clear and approachable enough to warrant consideration.

After a page generally introducing parts of speech, you’ll find seven chapters, each one dedicated to one part of speech. The first (and by far longest) such chapter deals with verbs. The book takes a rigid outline approach to formatting, so you’ll see sections like 3.2 (direct object pronouns), 3.3.2 (the pronoun ne), capital letters A, B, C, etc. to break down larger subsections, and Roman numerals indicating exercises. The length of such sections varies greatly, and the organization, uneven distribution and inconsistent length of explanations, examples, charts and exercises relaxes that sense of rigidity. At the same time, this inconsistency makes it harder to read the book straight through, as if it were a series of well-planned lessons.

Within each sections, explanations are kept brief, comprehensible and relevant. They’re rarely lively, but rarely off-topic. Example words and sentences highlight many explanations of grammar points. A consistent, if typical, use of charts helps flesh out key information visually, and exercises occur within many of the subsections.

Topics and their explanations sometimes cover grammar from a different perspective than is conventional. For instance, the section on present indicative verbs begins with a subsection on io (first person singular) forms – and only io forms – of verbs in the present tense (regular, irregular, reflexives and more), then moves onto tu forms, then onto lui/lei, etc. It’s your call if these differences mark a positive shift in perspective or just stand out as a nuisance.

Plenty of practice exercises give you the chance to apply language functions as you learn. Often, these activities involve translating, filling in blanks or matching. The audio CD included with the book has sound files that read exercises aloud, which goes a little ways to further your ability speak and comprehend Italian. Answers to all exercises are found in the back.

The book ends with an appendix holding charts of regular and irregular verbs and, as mentioned above, answers to the practice activities. Although the table of contents lists all chapters, sections and subsections, there’s no index at the back of the book.

Interactive Italian Grammar Made Easy makes a strong effort to offer students grammar lessons, a workbook and an audio CD all in one course. Students struggling with certain grammar concepts can find solid assistance in this book. Certainly, the drawbacks mentioned above are largely limited to the format and organization, not so much the content. Consider this book recommended for review and further exercises, but not as a primary, routine way to learn all of Italian grammar. Used correctly, this text will be a good resource for beginners and intermediate students.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
300 of the most common Italian verbs fully conjugated; all forms in all tenses & moods listed; indicates irregular stress accent & vowel pronunciation for all verb forms (rare!); two examples of each verb in use; great index in both Italian & English, with page numbers & further verbs conjugated like those in the book; inexpensive

Cons:
introduction not as helpful as other Italian verb books; format not as tabular and clean as larger verb books; small font & limited print space make text harder on the eyes; easily confused with the distinct Barron’s 501 Italian Verbs


Aside from a short introduction explaining accents, helping verbs and regular verb conjugation, Italian Verbs dedicates itself entirely to verb charts. You’ll find in its pages about 300 regular and irregular Italian verbs, fully conjugated, and with two example sentences containing each verb.

Each page of this small volume deals with a single verb. On the top, verbs are given in bold, along with the gerund and past participle. Below a dividing line, tenses and moods are abbreviated on the left hand side of the page, then verb forms are given on the right, separated by commas. Each tense-mood has two rows, with singular forms on the top and plural on the bottom. The end result looks like this:

Pres. Ind. corrèggo, corrèggi, corrègge;
Pres. Ind. correggiamo, correggete, corrègono

Irregular stress is marked with an accent, and open and close “e” and “o” are differentiated (open è and ò versus close é and ó). These aren’t features of Italian spelling, but help students pronounce verbs correctly.

The book ends with an index of Italian verbs covered in the book, as well as those not covered, but conjugated like the 300 here. There’s also an English-Italian index, allowing you to search for verbs by their meaning. Also, since the body of this guide alphabetizes the verbs, you should be able to locate words rather quickly.

The pocket-sized Barron’s Italian Verbs makes a fine, cheap on-the-go addition to your Italian grammar repertoire. It’s small, with small print and limited space for verb tables, making longer verbs clutter the pages, but lots of verbal information is all packed into this small book. At the very least, this is a better recommendation than 501 Italian Verbs, though not as robust as The Big Green Book of Italian Verbs.

Score: 7/10

Pros:
the positive points about Pimsleur are relevant to this course; you get a sample of the Pimsleur method in eight lessons; you’ll learn some basic words and phrases for everyday use; the package comes MP3 files to play as you go as well as the standard audio CDs; a booklet helps you keep track of vocabulary and phrases as you learn

Cons:
any cons about Pimsluer apply here; these eight audio lessons are fairly basic; if you really want to learn to speak Italian through audio CDs, move up to the more complete Pimsleur courses


Pimsleur’s goItalian borrows the first 8 lessons from its comprehensive set, allowing beginning learners to get a taste of this audio-only program. Pimsleur has a history of paring down its full course into less expensive packages. The full course, Comprehensive Italian I, contains 32 lessons. Some of its lessons are repackaged as the 16-lesson Conversational Italian and the 10-lesson Basic Italian. All of these courses start with the same lessons, the difference is how many lessons you get with your purchase.

Clearly, this eight-lesson program is the skimpiest offering yet – but a simple taste of Italian could be exactly what you’re after. If you’re new to the much-touted Pimsleur method, you’ll have a chance to see what it’s like. If you’re traveling and looking to learn just a bit of Italian, you can do that here. The MP3 files make on-the-go study a bit easier. Keep in mind that you’ll be pushed to speak and listen to Italian rather than read or write the language – it’s worth visiting my review of Pimsleur Comprehensive Italian I to learn more.

Score: 8/10

Pros:
good pacing; solid use of old material to build understanding of new; lots of exposure to Italian through dialogues, readings & examples; solid coverage of most all beginner/intermediate Italian grammar; culture notes are relevant, focusing on language in context; well organized, methodical workbook & cassette tapes match the course text; extras include great introduction to Italian pronunciation, easy-to read regular & irregular verb tables; among the clearest and most approachable Italian language lesson books available to new students; very helpful, searchable table of contents & index

Cons:
intended for classroom use, so many readings don’t offer translation help; later instructions only in Italian; no answers to exercises (at least in this student edition); chapter/unit themes are mostly generic, sometimes failing to tie chapters together; modular presentation tough on students who get bogged down in parts; price


Basic Italian is one of those hardcover textbooks you might expect to see students use in an Italian language class. Since this site leans towards self-taught learners, keep in mind that you’re not this book’s intended audience. That said, as far as introductory Italian courses go, this one’s worth your consideration.

Over 400 pages hold thirty lessons covering a range of conversational topics. Each unit, and every section within units, has large-print titles and headers in blue, clear formatting throughout the body of the text, and pictures scattered across the pages to add visual appeal to the topics.

Units begin with dialogues or readings. These fit well with the generic nature of chapter themes. After reading, you’ll find a vocabulary list to study, compiled from words in the dialogues. “Note linguistiche e culturali” shed some light on Italian culture in a way that’s relevant to your language learning.

In each unit, a few pages treating grammar follow the reading/dialogue. Grammar topics are arranged into short, bullet-point-like paragraphs. A couple of sentences explain each point in English; below that are few Italian examples of the feature in use. The outline format reads clearly, but might prove too rigid for certain learners. Still, it’s fundamentally tied to the vocabulary and theme of each unit, giving some sense of a uniting thread.

Then, practice exercises (“esercizi”) put your skills to the test. Questions ask you to fill in blanks, translate, or arrange sentences to make sense. A second practice section, called “Come si dice?”, helps you express ideas in Italian, then apply those expressions to a variety of situations. Every few chapters, you’ll run into a review test, which works a lot like the exercises, as well as a longer prose reading with questions.

One appendix fully conjugates regular verbs, the auxiliary (“helping”) verbs avere & essere, and 50 irregular verbs in nine-column charts. A two way glossary of vocabulary words from the course and a clear index of grammar and conversation topics ends the book. A detailed table of contents, coupled with the index, makes the book a useful at-hand resource even after completion.

The thirteen page pronunciation guide in the introductory lesson is among the most descriptive and thorough I’ve found in any beginner’s Italian course book. Further, every irregularly stressed word in Italian has a small dot under the stressed vowel – and that’s true of all words in the book, from cover to cover.

I can find reasons for self-taught Italian students to choose another course: no answers to exercises, much use of Italian with few full translations, cost compared to cheaper Italian books. Still, if you’re looking to learn Italian with a book-and-audio method that deals with grammar and conversation, consider this highly recommended. If you can keep up with this book, and finish, you will “not only be able to survive in an Italian-speaking environment, but will also be able to understand and appreciate Italian culture and traditions” (from the preface).

Score: 7/10

Pros:
tens of thousands of Italian & English translations of words and phrases packed into a somewhat small volume; parts of speech, key words to determine right translation and sample phrases/sentences are all here; dark orange color entry headwords stick out, making searches easier; regular and irregular Italian verb tables; useful center section with themed vocabulary lists, practice exercises and notes about Italy & Italian culture

Cons:
missing detailed Italian pronunciation info, such as how to pronounce long/short “e”/”o”, voicing of “s”, etc. (why IPA for English, but not Italian words?); Italian verb list is rather spartan & pronunciation guide is nothing special; some entries seem meager & some variant translations less well differentiated


The Oxford Color Italian Dictionary Plus is one of those concise (4 1/2″ x 7″, and 1″ thick) compact but not-quite-pocket dictionaries. The well-advertised “color” refers to the orange text that sets apart every main entry, making words you’re looking up easier to spot. Otherwise, this resource presents everything you’d expect from a student’s backpack Italian dictionary, and it does it rather well.

The dictionary size and scope works out a reasonable compromise for on-the-go Italian translation. While the number of words and example phrases is certainly meager compared to the unabridged Oxford-Paravia Italian Dictionary, you still have a rich array of Italian vocabulary at your fingertips.

Every “headword” entry, as mentioned, is given in orange text (blue in older editions) – both the Italian terms in the Italian-English section, and the English in the English-Italian. Stressed, or accented, syllables have an apostrophe before them, and removable suffixes are separated from the stem by a vertical bar. Notice that there’s IPA in the English section, but no such pronunciation help for Italian words. The part of speech is abbreviated and italicized, then translations are given.

Key words in parentheses help you narrow down which translation you’re after. This feature has become commonplace in dictionaries, and is used routinely here. Expressions and nuances can be tricky business. In those cases, the dictionary lists the word in the context of larger phrases. None of this is innovative, and the dictionary could have used these features better or more completely in some entries, but they work. Here’s a sample entry:

parla|re vt/i speak, talk; (confessare) talk; parlare bene/male di qcno speak well/ill of somebody; non parliamone più let’s forget about it; non se ne parla nemmeno! don’t even mention it!. ~to a {lingua} spoken.

The preface and introduction offer very quick tips on how to use the dictionary in both English and Italian. There’s also a one-page guide to Italian pronunciation, along with a list of abbreviations used in the dictionary (like “qcno” for qualcuno in the entry above).

Four pages of stripped-down verb tables end the book. In those charts, regular verb endings are given in a list, with verbs separated by commas. Irregular verbs only have their irregular forms listed.

The Oxford Color Italian Dictionary stands as a good, recommended, but imperfect Italian dictionary for study, classroom use or even a trip to Italy. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it will travel with you as a valuable Italian reference.

Score: 9/10

Pros:
solid way to get immersion-style exposure to the Italian language from native Italian speakers; the conversations are presented in short chunks for you to digest and make associations between words; lots of cues allow you to respond to questions directed at you; plenty of audio practice activities interspersed throughout each lesson; entirely devoted to teaching you how to speak and understand spoken Italian; lessons are really more like long audio exercises, consistently prompting you to think and participate in the language

Cons:
leaves a set amount of time for you to answer questions, which is crucial for the exercises, but those pauses won’t be long enough for some students; you won’t learn to read or write the language; if you’ve already had exposure to beginner Italian, best move up to Pimsleur Italian Level 2


Over the course of 30 lessons, Pimsleur’s Comprehensive Italian covers a lot of ground – from the meaning of words to the structure and grammar of the language – all in context of everyday Italian conversations. If you’re new to Pimsleur, you’ll notice that the method is entirely audio. I’ll explain what that means for you as a language learner.

Pimsleur provides a highly regarded method that’s somewhat different from the other language guides sitting on bookstore shelves. The biggest difference is the audio-only format of these Italian. The course includes a number of CDs, but no course book to complement them.

Books and writings aren’t something the Pimsleur method lacks, since its main goal is to teach you to speak and understand spoken Italian. Writing, both historically and linguistically, is secondary to spoken language. On those grounds, Pimsleur argues that their auditory course isn’t missing written text – if anything, it’s a more natural way to learn Italian.

The lessons engage Italian students directly. In many ways, they’re like one long audio exercise, and the narrator advises you to finish one each day. Every new lesson presents you with new words and phrases, while building on older ones. The lessons don’t go quickly, but spend time dealing with elements of the language. You’ll be consistently prompted with “How do you say …?” or “How do you ask…?”, instead of simply reading through dialogues and expecting you to follow along.

The speakers on the audio CD take the time to repeat new words and phrases. The speakers even break down tougher words and pronunciation points until you can pronounce words together to form longer sentences. You’ll find many pauses that give you time to repeat along and answer questions. Still, if you need time to think, you’ll have to backtrack by rewinding the CDs or tapes. That need is especially acute if you’re a slower auditory learner, or plan to multitask by listening to the course while driving or exercising.

By the end of Pimsleur Comprehensive Italian I, you’ll listen to longer conversations and participate in more complicated exercise drills. If you would like even more practice, Pimsleur offers you the opportunity to move up to Italian level 2 and level 3 courses.

Pimsleur also cuts these thirty lessons down to the first ten in Basic Italian. Comprehensive Italian (don’t get confused – it’s the one reviewed on this page) allows you to progress more smoothly throughout all thirty lessons, and to build progressively and evenly on earlier material. You’ll tackle a wide range of conversations on dozens of everyday topics. More importantly, you’ll have many hours of exposure to spoken Italian under your belt – a huge head start wherever you plan to go from here.

It’s not easy to find such an immersive Italian course, especially if you’re an auditory learner, and you want to learn to speak Italian. At first, the price might seem too high. But know that this program is among the most effective approaches to speaking Italian available. If you’re looking to read and write the language, you can supplement this course with books about grammar, writing and pronunciation.

Score: 9/10

pros:
loads of usage examples show off modern Italian in context; grammar & explanations are descriptive and register sensitive; clear division between first half of the book, which discusses meaning, and second half, which discusses function; helps make sense of a complicated array of Italian words, phrases & expressions; examples really clarify grammar use; two great cross-referenced indexes make this book readily searchable

cons:
navigating the charts and info isn’t the most intuitive process; best if used by more advanced students; sometimes devolves into mere vocabulary lists


Kinder & Savini’s Using Italian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage noticeably separates itself from the majority of bookstore resources available to language learners. For starters, it’s aimed at late intermediate students, advanced students and teachers of Italian. Second, because it’s focused on use and function, it’s example heavy. In many ways, the book is a reference guide to Italian vocabulary and phrases, framed by explanations of their use, and topicalized based on meaning or function.

I read this book as if it has two parts. The first 200 pages discuss words and their meanings. There you’ll find lists of words including false friends, synonyms, idioms, proverbs, cities & countries, acronyms, names, political organizations, grammatical terms, numbers, weight and time. All lists are tabular, detailed and lengthy. They include Italian words in bold, English translations, and some indication of the function of each word or phrase. Take, for instance, this example from the “synonyms” section on page 128:

POLICEMAN

general
policeman (for general police purposes)
agente (m) (di polizia/di pubblica
sicurezza
(R2-R3))

poliziotto (R1-R2)
NOTE: la polizia = the police

celerino (R1)
NOTE: la Celere = the Flying Squad

The list continues to give more general terms, specific terms for types of police, as well as derogatory terms. The R1-R3 allude to registers, which, as the introduction explains, rest on a scale of formal (R3) to familiar (R1) and even vulgar (R1*).

The second part of the book deals with language use as framed by grammar rather than meaning. Chapters and sections tackle topics like “pronouns and verbs”, “impersonal objects”, “noun and adjective” and loads of prepositions in Italian. You’ll read through more explanations in this part, but the authors still focus on sample Italian sentences and phrases.

The explanations in this grammar are descriptive, relating how Italian is used in Italy, and by modern Italians. The book ends with a list of interjections and filler words, and two great indices: an index of every Italian word discussed in the book, and an index of grammar topics.

Sophisticated and advanced language learners will find this Italian grammar refreshingly relevant. Linguists, even those with little knowledge of Italian, also stand to benefit. Using Italian puts so many examples of tricky Italian usage at your fingertips. It’s sound, pertinent, well organized, hard-hitting Italian. Highly recommended if you could use such a resource.