Why you should learn to read Italian (and how to start)

Summertime, and the living is easy.

No fish are jumping in Bologna right now, but after a busy year of teaching, I’m finally getting a break.

And one of the things that I’m determined to do during my vacation is to learn to use my smartphone!

To which end, I’ve been installing apps, then mostly getting disappointed and deleting them again!

In particular, I like to read so I’ve been looking for good newspaper apps.

In English, I read The Guardian, a British newspaper which is free to read online, and The New York Times, which you need to pay for (but there are some good deals!)

And in Italian?

Niente! There’s nothing decent that’s free, and the paid for stuff is horribly over-priced.

I’m happy to pay for a decent online reading experience if I can’t get it for free, but no way am I going to cough up the same price as the paper version!

To put it charitably, Italian news sites lack marketing nous.

Which brings me to the point. O.K., I thought to myself, if I can’t find anything decent to read in Italian, what about French? What about Spanish?

As you know French and Spanish are related languages which share the same Latin root. All should therefore be intelligible to someone with a reasonable working knowledge of at least one of them.

And lo! The Le Monde app (French) is both intelligible and good value. There’s a cost but they have an offer – €1 for the first three months, then €10 a month thereafter.

Better, the El Pais app (Spanish) is both free and updated through the day! I’m regularly getting these groovy notifications on my phone and can’t resist clicking on them to try to work out the Spanish text.

Why learn to read in Italian?

Because, as well as opening the door to life in Italy (shame about the crappy Italian newspaper apps, though) it’s also the key to other major world languages, that’s why!

And that IS a good return on investment. Study one, get three.

But how to start, assuming that the very idea of READING in a foreign language puts you off?

What worked for me, we’re talking years back when I first came to Italy, were Italian easy readers – simplified stories designed for a particular level, usually with audio.

The secret is to start at the easiest level, only moving up to the next level when you’ve built your confidence and feel you can read without undue effort or constant recourse to the dictionary.

I used actual little books, made of paper (remember those?) Which I bought from a bookshop in the center of Bologna that doesn’t exist any more.

But these days you can buy .pdf files (e-books, in all but name) online. They’re printable, or can be read on a computer, tablet or smartphone.

And not conincidentally, we have over forty of them available on our other site, here, each with a free sample chapter to download.

Take a look: https://onlineitalianclub.com/product-category/e-books/easy-italian-readers/

I’ve made two great investments (time, not money) over the years: the first was learning to touch type (look mum, all ten fingers!)

And the second? Learning to read in Italian.

It took a little patience, perseverance, and the availability of graded material to support me while I built up my skills gradually.

But it was worth it.

OnlineItalianClub.com have a 15% discount offer this week. The details are here.

Or learn Italian the traditional way, at our language school, in Italy!

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What’s the best way to learn Italian?

Sue likes taking Italian courses. She signs up for them annually, listens carefully in class, participates with enthusiasm, and does her homework diligently. She values her teachers’ efforts on her behalf, and wouldn’t dream of questioning the way they organize the lessons.

Pat is very different to Sue. She enjoys being in control and so prefers making her own decisions regarding what to study, when, and how. She doesn’t mind at all that her more autonomous approach sometimes involves a steeper learning curve. In fact, that’s what she likes about it!

So what about you? What sort of language-learner are you? More like Sue, or more like Pat?

Knowing your language-learning preferences and habits is a big help when choosing an Italian course, or deciding to eschew courses altogether and go it alone.

But many of us are neither at one extreme nor the other.

Fortunately, signing up for an Italian course in a professional language school, as Sue does, doesn’t actually preclude studying the language independently with online materials like Pat.

And even the most enthusiastically self-taught student of Italian can benefit from a little structured practice now and then, along with the chance to get feedback from an experienced teacher.

I could go on…

Autonomous study is a great way to keep on learning between courses and so make the best of your investment.

Courses are perfect for making the friends with whom you’ll speak Italian for many years to come.

And so on…

The obvious conclusion is that the best way to learn Italian probably involves a combination of good quality courses AND regular self-study.

Find out more about:

Or contact us with your question.


Certify your knowledge of Italian with a CILS exam!

Learning Italian is one thing, but wouldn’t it be useful to have a recognized international qualification to certify your knowledge of the language for future employers or for university entrance?

The CILS exams, organized by the University of Siena, will allow you to do just that!

You can choose between six different levels, according to your ability, and take the exam at our school in Bologna any June or December.

A CILS certificate would look great on your CV / resume and enrollments are already open for the June 2016 session.

Find out more about CILS exams on our website. If you’re working or studying in Bologna, you can register for the exam at our school. If not, do it online through our shop.

Madrelingua can help you prepare for your CILS exam in three ways:

Contact us for more information, or check out our Italian courses page.

Most popular articles re-visited: “How long to learn Italian?”

Search in Google for ‘how long will it take to learn Italian’ or similar and you’ll likely come across an article I wrote back in 2013 on that topic.

A good chunk of our Italian school’s website traffic each day comes from people asking Google that question.

The article starts by answering a few common questions about learning languages, for example:

  • does it help to be young?
  • do you need a great teacher or an expensive course?
  • is it faster if you live in a country where the language is spoken?

Then it looks at some of the factors that could speed up your progress, and warns of things that might slow you down.

Finally, the article shows you how to estimate the time it will take YOU to reach your desired level in Italian.

If you’d like to take a look, here’s the link you need: How long will it take me to learn Italian?

And, if you find that interesting, there are links to other articles on learning Italian here.

Or you could find out more about our Italian school…

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‘Giorno Semifestivo’ & 24 Hours To Save 20% In 2016!

It seems as if Italy has closed up early for Christmas. Nobody’s working. The streets are quieter than usual.

That’s because the 24th of December is a ‘giorno semifestivo’ – a semi-holiday day.

You could find out more with this ‘boring but useful’ video + transcript from RAI but I’ll cut and paste the relevant part for you:

Un giorno può essere feriale, festivo o semifestivo. Nei giorni feriali si lavora; nei giorni festivi non si lavora; nei giorni semifestivi si lavora la metà del tempo normale.

So today’s ‘semifestivo’, tomorrow is ‘festivo’, and Monday 28th (sad face) will be ‘feriale’.

And the point is?

Assuming you’re also taking it a little easier today, you’ll hopefully be able to find a minute to benefit from our seasonal promotion, which ends tomorrow!

Pay a small deposit TODAY & save 20% on your 2016 Italian course, no matter what the length.

The longer you study, the more you’ll save!

But don’t worry if you haven’t yet got a clear idea of what you’ll be doing next year…

You don’t have to decide the dates of your course now – just pay a deposit to lock in your discount, then let us know the dates you want to study later .

For more information about the promotion, check out these recent articles:

Or contact Stefi, who’ll be answering your emails and phone calls today (and tomorrow, ‘poverina!)

Remember, the ‘Save 20%‘ offer ends tomorrow (Dec. 25th).

It will NOT be repeated for 12 months.

Don’t miss out: click here to pay your deposit and save 20% on your course.

Just 48 Hours (& Two Simple Steps) To Save 20%!

The Winter Offer on 2016 Italian courses ends on Christmas Day, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, is only two days from now.

If you’d like to study Italian in Italy, at great discount, stop peeling potatoes for a minute or two.

Cast aside worries about finding perfect last-minute Christmas gifts.

For, right now, you have two simple things to do…

Two Simple Steps

1. Confirm your course with a deposit.

Do this now >>

2. Complete the booking form. (If you haven’t decided the dates, skip this part and let us know later.)

Do this now >>

Got a question? Need help? Contact us >>


Thanks to Marcia, who left a comment on yesterday’s article. I think she caught perfectly what I was trying to say, so I’ll reproduce what she wrote here below. Thanks Marcia, and Buon Natale to you too!

If a 78 year old widow from the midlands of the USA can organize a four-week study session at Madrelingua then ANYONE can do it! Still have fond memories of my time in Bologna and cannot imagine my life without that experience. I am trying to get back for my 80th. Certainly the experience is worth every effort including booking the flight!!!! Buon Natale a tutti.

(If Marcia managed it, you could too. Click here!)


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What’s Stopping You? 6 Reasons Your Dreams Won’t Come True

Yesterday we covered the 24 Reasons To Study Italian In 2016.

Today, I have another number for you to consider – 6.

As in six of the reasons that people commonly cite as excuses for inertia and inaction.

These are the explanations people give for not making their dream of speaking Italian a reality.

“People like me don’t do things like this”

Not true.

We teach Italian to retired people, professionals, students, home-makers and the unemployed. From countries all over the world.

We once taught Italian to a chess champion, another time there was a film actor from California, a few years ago we had an ambassador. But in between, there were plenty of ‘people like you’.

“I’ve got commitments”

Don’t we all. But you are not, literally, enslaved. You do have some time to yourself, or could at least arrange some.

Careful! This is a dangerous one. ‘Commitments’, especially family, are often used as an excuse for not taking risks.

“I can’t afford it”

You probably can. An Italian course in Italy can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, less probably than what most people spend on a summer holiday.

If you’re not actually on the breadline, studying at our school in Bologna is likely to be within your financial reach, even if you have to save up for a while.

“It’s too complicated”

Nope. Actually, it’s very easy.

The hardest part is booking a flight (I HATE doing that.)

Otherwise organizing your Italian course and accommodation is fast, simple and completely safe.

“I’m scared”

This is often the real reason people don’t make that leap forward.

There are lots of things to be scared about.

The course will be too difficult, you won’t know anyone there, you’ll feel embarrassed, you won’t enjoy yourself, it’ll be like school, you won’t make any friends, and so forth.

If you have kids, you might remember reassuring them before their first day at elementary school.

And what happened next, when they came home after that first day, suddenly full of confidence again.

Everything was fine, none of their fears had been realized!

Fear can overwhelm and paralyze, but it rarely survives an encounter with reality.

Mostly, bad things just don’t happen. So why worry?

“It’s just a dream”

Day-dreams are a welcome distraction from real life. We all have them, which is just fine.

But what if learning Italian could be more than ‘just a dream’?

Mastering a foreign language is a long process but a worthwhile one. And it’s never too late to start.

The first step, however, is to acknowledge that it’s NOT just a dream.

That you actually need to take action to get things going.


If you know what’s stopping you from taking steps to achieve what you want, it’s not usually rocket science to work out how to move ahead, what the next step needs to be.

But it IS easier to go with the excuses. Inertia seems more common than momentum, doesn’t it?

More Articles About Learning Italian | FAQ


24 Reasons To Study Italian

I assume you’re interested in learning Italian, or you wouldn’t be reading this article.

But wanting to is one thing.

Actually deciding to give it a go (or to keep at it, if you’ve already begun) is quite another.

Perhaps you need reasons to convince your partner, parents, children or grandkids that taking an Italian course at Madrelingua is an excellent idea?

Or maybe the person you really need to persuade is yourself?

No matter. Here are twenty-four winning arguments for you to employ!

Why Learn Italian?

  1. As a personal challenge
  2. So you feel less like a Martian when traveling
  3. To spend some time working or studying in Italy
  4. To emigrate to Italy, or to integrate better if you’re already here
  5. To make your resume/CV stand out from the crowd
  6. To improve your study and cognitive skills (or to ward off decrepitude!)
  7. To build your self-confidence
  8. To impress others
  9. To set a good example to your kids
  10. To avoid boredom
  11. To better understand others
  12. To boost your career
  13. To gain new opportunities
  14. To develop your communication skills
  15. To become a more interesting person
  16. To communicate with Italian family or friends
  17. To rediscover your roots
  18. To explore cultural or religious interests
  19. To understand Italian music, movies or literature
  20. To get better academic scores
  21. To discover Italian food and wine (not just what’s in your local deli)
  22. To even the score with Italians who speak your language
  23. For a sense of achievement
  24. Out of the sheer joy of learning

Cavolo, I’ve almost convinced myself!

More Articles About Learning Italian | FAQ


Who wants an iPhone, anyway?

At Unieuro, an Italian consumer electronics retailer, you can pick up a pink iPhone 6s Plus 16GB 4G for €889.

But frankly, that enthuses me less than it would have a few years ago.

According to this article in the Guardian, a British newspaper, our future will be less about material consumption and much more about ‘experientialism’.

The writer suggests that we’ll look for happiness, identity, status and meaning in experiences, rather than in material things to use and throw away soon after.

There’s something called ‘the experience economy’, apparently. And the journalist, James Wallman, claims that:

Where once many of us were impressed by what a person had, now we’re more likely to be interested in what they do.

How true. (Read his article.)

So, what sort of experience could you have for the €889 that you might otherwise shell out at Unieuro?

A two-week Italian course, for example, with accommodation (the basic variety – staying in an Italian home), would come to significantly less than the €889 price tag of the ‘iPhone 6s Plus 16GB 4G’.

Don’t forget to add the cost of your flight, plus coffees, cocktails and good eating, based on approximately what you’d spend if you stayed at home with your new gadget.

And there, you’re living the ‘experience economy’, rather than contributing to the planet’s electronic waste mountain!

But bring along your reliable old smart phone when you come to Bologna. You’ll want to take lots of photos to show the folks back home what you’ve been up to!

More Articles About Learning Italian | FAQ


Ever wished for the super power of learning languages?

As well as being generally ‘super’, Superman could fly. Superwoman sort of whirled around some, as I recall.

Spiderman could swing from tall building to tall building, which saved a lot of time spent in elevators.

The Incredible Hulk couldn’t fly or climb walls, but was very strong when roused, which could come in handy when dealing with Italian bureaucracy… Issue my visa now, or I’ll turn green and smash up your consulate!

And let’s not forget Harry Potter, who had an invisibility coat and could do magic. I’m sure you can see the potential there.

So wouldn’t it be great to have super-human powers?

Personally, I’d have liked to have been good at languages. Years of not learning much French at school convinced me that I’d never be able to hold a conversation in any foreign tongue.

Then (this was back in 1990), a girlfriend convinced me to quit my well-paid government job and take to the hippy trail with her, destination India!

Actually, we just bought the cheapest flight we could find, which was with Ariana airlines, the Afghan flag carrier.

Departing from London, the plane touched down briefly in Prague, Moscow and Kabul. And after eighteen hours of rubbish curry and warm beer, we finally arrived in New Delhi!

On the bus from the airport into the Indian capital, I saw an elephant, and dreamed of learning Hindi…

But, no doubt due to my lack of the relevant super power, during the subsequent months spent bumming around the subcontinent, I was never able to manage more than a few basic expressions and menu items. Aaloo (potato) is the only word I can still remember.

Neither did I see any other elephants.

Back at home, a white-collar jobs crisis had hit London. I spent the next eight months on unemployment benefit, wondering what to do with my life. Finally, my mother convinced me to train as a language teacher (the irony).

Which is how I ended up teaching English in Turkey, then to Japanese kids in a residential school in Britain, then in Poland, and then back in London, where I met my Italian wife.

During those years I came to realize that it wasn’t just me that lacked language-learning super powers.

In fact it became increasingly obvious that no one else was that great at picking up languages either. Which was fortunate, as it was keeping me gainfully employed.

It was apparent that people weren’t ‘good at languages’ in some magical way – it was just that the successful ones kept at it, taking course after course, until they eventually achieved their goals.

While I was busy earning a living helping people learn English, I somehow got to be fairly fluent in Turkish (girlfriends, bars), able to score a table tennis match in Japanese, and good enough at Polish to be able to order a meal and tell the taxi driver where to go (Polish is hard!)

And after many years of trying, I’ve even reached an advanced level in Italian. I run a business here in Bologna and so have to read contracts, deal with accountants, and so on. And here’s a funny thing – the more I have to work in Italian, the easier it gets.

Back to the point, then.

Perhaps anyone who got angry enough could smash their way through a door, like the Hulk?

Maybe spending time hanging from tall buildings on a rope made from a spiders’ webs would make you more agile and strong enough to climb up walls?

I suppose I finally acquired the super power of being ‘good at languages’ by putting myself in situations in which learning at least something was necessary. And by allowing myself plenty of time before expecting magical results.

So if you’d like to speak and understand Italian, forget the kryptonite.

Instead, try getting yourself to Italy, where you’ll be able to interact with others in Italian and use the language on a daily basis.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and learning languages IS a super power that only other people possess.

But you won’t really know unless you try, will you?

More Articles About Learning Italian | FAQ