Learn Italian with easy-to-understand lessons from Rosetta Stone, perfect for beginners looking to pick-up vocabulary, grammar, and key expressions.
How to Learn Italian
We all know that Italian is the language of love, but did you know that it’s also one of the most useful languages to learn? Italy is a key location for business across Europe––the country’s most notable industries, of course, are cuisine, automotive, and fashion––making the language not only an asset for personal growth, but also a critical tool for members of the global economy.
Aside from its economic advantages, Italian serves as an important gateway to important artistic, literary, religious, and political histories, both across the Mediterranean and broader Europe. Whether you’re leafing through the fiction of breakout literary star Elena Ferrante, reading biographical information about the brilliant (but terrifying) painter Caravaggio, or figuring out how to cook some of your favourite Italian dishes, learning Italian is simply essential.
Is Learning Italian Hard?
It is commonly thought that learning to speak Italian is a difficult endeavour, but it’s actually much simpler than it appears. Italian is a Romance language. This linguistic group also includes Portuguese, Spanish, and French––as well as some smaller languages, like Romansh––meaning that if you already speak one of them, you’re on your way to speaking Italian.
Let’s use the example of water to explore the similarities between some of these languages. In Portuguese, the word for water is água. In Spanish, it’s agua. And in Italian, it’s acqua. All three of these words share the root word of Latin aquam. This is not surprising, given that each of the languages developed in tandem on the Eurasian continent before spreading to the wider globe during colonizations of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Trusted for more than 25 years, Rosetta Stone is a different way to learn a language. It will teach you Italian not just with the words, but also with phrases and expressions used in context––so you can thrive in real-world conversations.
Worried about the commitment of learning Italian? Don’t. Rosetta Stone breaks up your language journey into bite-sized lessons, so you can fit them into your life––not the other way around. Whether you’re taking a break from watching the kids, commuting home from that new job, or using downtime on campus to enrich your education, Rosetta Stone makes it easy to learn Italian and speak it authentically.
Learning the Italian Alphabet
The Italian alphabet is similar to the English one, as well as the Romance alphabets. It uses 21 letters, with five vowels––a, e, i, o, u––and 16 consonants.
Unlike Spanish and English, however, you’ll notice that, in general, there are a few missing consonants: j, k, w, x, and y. These letters, when used very rarely, are deployed in circumstances such as anglicisms (English words that are converted into other languages, such as el parking in Spanish) or names.
You’ll also notice that, just as in Portuguese and French, certain accentuations are used in the alphabet. Does your native language not have a lot of accents? Don’t fret––they’re pretty easy to figure out with a little practise. The point of an accent––known more formally by linguists as a diacritic––is to modify the pronunciation of any given letter in the context of a word. Italian utilises several diacritics, including:
The acute accent, é.
The grave accent, è.
The circumflex, ê.
Note that the circumflex, in this language, is used only when two vowels are combined and create a plural word––a rare event.
Also, take note that Italian does not utilise several other Romance diacritics, such as the cedilla (utilised in French and Portuguese for words such as façade and maçã (apple), respectively) or the tilde (used in Spanish and Portuguese, for words such as niño (male child) and não (no), respectively).
Learn how to say "Excuse me, where can I find the best gelato?" from a native Italian speaker.
Learning to Pronounce Italian
If you’re new to learning Italian, one of the first features of the language you’ll notice is the display of double consonants. We see this all the time in a variety of popular words, such as pizza or anno or the name Alessandra. Although every word is enunciated differently, a general rule-of-thumb when it comes to navigating these double letters is to deemphasise the preceding vowel.
Another feature of Italian pronunciation that is important to remember relates to the letter C. While in Spanish, for example, the C is sometimes spoken as an “s” sound (this is called el ceceo and differs, notably, with Iberian Spanish); in Italian, it can be a hard “ch” noise, like in the English word “charge.”
However, the C is also spoken differently in other contexts. It can replicate an English C––which is very similar to the k noise––in words like company, capital, campfire, Caroline, coordination, Compton, and collar. You’ll see this noise in Italian words, always including a, o, and u, like Capri, Campari, capra (goat), cannoli, and campione (Champion).
Have you ever been to an Italian restaurant and tried a delicious type of potato-filled pasta, called gnocchi? This dumpling-style dish is not only scrumptious, but can also teach us a lot about the gn sound when learning Italian. The gn sound is pronounced nasally and is, in fact, analogous to the Spanish_ñ_ sound. Let’s look at the Spanish translation of _gnocchi_ to learn more:
Italian - gnocchi
Spanish - ñoqui
The gn, in this case, directly translates to the ñ. For English speakers that don’t understand Spanish, let’s look at the word canyon (ironically, derived from the Spanish cañón) to master this sound. The _ny_shifts your tongue to the front of your mouth and moves air through your nasal passages.
Bonus knowledge:In linguistics, we call this sound the palatal nasal and, in addition to appearing in the English ny , Spanish ñ, and Italian gn , it’s also found in the Portuguese nh as well as a host of other non-Romance languages, such as Quechua (South America), Rohingya (Myanmar/Burma), and Tagalog (The Philippines).
Learn Some Italian Phrases
One of the most fun parts of Italian culture is the direct modes of expression, whether through gesture or speech. So, when learning Italian, it’s important that you learn a few of these key phrases. Let’s look at some now:
Lei come si chiama? | What’s your name?
Mi chiamo Maria. | My name is Maria.
Lei parla inglese? | Do you speak English?
Sì, io parlo inglese. | Yes, I speak English.
These expressions come from Phrasebook, a quick-guide available on the Rosetta Stone app that is ideal for travellers or first-time learners. Our team of linguists assembled go-to phrases for everyday, conversational situations, so you can thrive in Italian without worrying about saying the wrong thing.
Learn Some Italian Modal Verbs
The first verb you should commit to memory when learning Italian is essere, given its diverse forms and uses. The word comes with tons of uses and is an integral element of sentence construction. Let’s review some examples:
Quando è la festa?
When is the party?
Dov'è la festa?
Where is the party?
Bonus knowledge: Before we dive into essere, you may have noticed something interesting about the second phrase above. See that apostrophe? It’s acting as a contraction, a grammatical phenomenon that’s also commonly used in French and English. For example, in English, don’t is a contraction of do not. In French, l’homme is a contraction of le homme. If you want to learn Italian, you should know that sometimes, duplicate vowels contract––meaning that the final e in dove (where) hides under the apostrophe, averting the repetition of vowels.
Essere, more or less, translates to “to be” –– so you can use this verb in tons of different settings, whether you’re describing a great new dish you discovered or inquiring about directions from one of the locals during an Italy trip.
Another crucial verb, which you already saw in a Phrasebook expression above, is parlare, which means “to speak.” French learners may notice a similarity with parlez vous anglais? which also means “Do you speak English?” Let’s look at conjugations of this verb, as well as accompanying examples:
Tip: Use this table whenever you’re unsure of how to use parlare!
Learn Some Necessary Italian Greetings and Etiquette
A first impression, in any culture, is very important, so when you’re starting to learn Italian, it’s very critical to master basic greetings and goodbyes. Unlike in the U.S. and Canada, but similar to Spain and Latin America, it’s customary to always say hello and farewell to strangers, especially when entering a shop or restaurant. Not doing so is very rude in Italy. Here are your basics, from Phrasebook:
1. Buongiorno | Hello / good morning
2. Buona notte | Goodnight
3. Arrivederci | Goodbye
Italian food is adored around the world, so when you’re in the country, you need to try every type of cuisine you can. But when you’re in a restaurant, make sure to follow Italian table manners. In the U.S. and some other countries, we tend to share food when something tastes good. Do not do this when in Italy, as the practise is considered to be very impolite and quite crass. Also, food service workers are generally treated with a great deal of respect by Italians, so even if tipping traditions vary in Europe, always make sure to be friendly and courteous with your waiter or waitress throughout the meal. Like in America, if you need to grab the waiter’s attention, make a subtle wave across the room––but do not call-out in the restaurant.
Your restaurant 101 from Phrasebook:
Io vorrei una birra, per favore. | I’d like a beer, please.
lo vorrei del vino rosso, per favore. | I’d like red wine, please.
Vorrei il conto, per favore. | I’d like the check, please.
No, accettiamo solo contanti. | No, we only accept cash.
Practice Italian Pronunciation Daily
One of the advantages of using Rosetta Stone is its TruAccent® technology, which compares your voice to native speakers and issues corrections, based on the quality of your enunciation. If you want to speak like a local, practise each day, whether you’re at home, in the car, or talking to one of our language tutors, who can help you build conversational confidence, even if Italy is miles away.
Immerse Yourself, Through Travel or the Internet
It goes without saying that traveling to Italy can serve as a key learning experience during your language journey. By meeting the locals, getting to know their traditions, and speaking Italian on a daily basis, you’ll be able to speak Italian with more confidence and have fun doing so. Of course, international travel isn’t always an option for everyone. If you fall into that category, don’t let it get you down: in the age of the internet, there are plenty of ways to experience Italian from home.
When you’re not busy working with one of our tutors, of course, there are plenty of other options for speaking Italian. Watch videos of real Italian speakers on YouTube, so you can pick up the nuances of their accents and expressions. Stream a movie in Italian, listen to Italian songs, or catch-up on the latest news from Italy and the European Union.
Learning Italian Is Easy
At Rosetta Stone, it’s our mission to help you find success in your language learning adventures. Whether you’re just beginning to learn Italian or have been practising for a while, we help make it easy to pick-up new words, expressions, grammar, and more.
Try Our Award-Winning App
Surround yourself with Italian whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.
Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.
The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.