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Italian - Materials and Steps to Fluency


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Steps to fluency in Italian:


STAGE 1. - Phonology and Morphology I

Get a good (ACADEMIC-level preferably but there are also good "popular" options) Italian course, accompanied by a thorough reference grammar and bilingual dictionaries (big ones, one for each direction). I also suggest a linguistic description of the language, especially regarding phonology, it speeds up the process and helps you make some crucial distinctions right at the beginning.


Set a daily amount of time dedicated to learning Italian. Stay away from anything which resembles Rosetta Stone, and any presumptions "Learn Italian in X days" materials which steal your money and lead nowhere.


Start from the beginning and as you go, master things thoroughly so that you don't have to unlearn your mistakes at some later stage. It would be very recommendable to get used to high-speed Italian speech (broadcast or live), even if you don't understand it. Watch cartoons, RAI storia has some good documentaries, watch films that are dubbed in Italian (we dub everything :D), listen to the music and find lyrics (that way you also practice getting your way around the dictionary), and generally work on your oral comprehension as you study the fundamentals.


By the end of this stage, you have to know all of nominal morphology (nouns, adjectives, numbers) and verbal morphology (all tenses) in indicative as well as imperative forms and courtesy forms. That's what constitutes a "basic level" of Italian and requires approximately half year to a year to acquire.


STAGE 2. - Morphology II & Syntax

Get a good monolingual dictionary, Italian with explanations right away in Italian, preferably something which also contains synonims. Zingarelli and De Mauro are my suggestions.

Get a good comprehensive grammar with linguistic notions in Italian. I suggest Dardano/Trifone, which I professionally disagree with (and use Salvi/Vanelli), but which is plain excellent for non-linguists.

Get a good high intermediate / advanced course which covers subjunctives, passives and syntactical tricks. Preferrably, use something that Italian majors use, if you wish to master it really well.


Go through your course, but at the same time studying formal grammar (ab ovo) from the monolingual grammar. From any unknown words from this point on, consult your Zingarelli rather than bilingual dictionaries (use those only when you can't figure out what Zingarelli says). For word lists, write full explanations which Zingarelli offers. Get your exercises checked by a native speaker.


Start reading. All big Italian newspapers have their online editions, there are tons of portals, and entire books you can get online. I suggest reading 5-10 contemporary novels at this point, something easy, not overly intellectual, such as Maraini or Tamaro (I cannot believe I'm actually suggesting those to anyone), or your regular crime novels, whatever pleases you, but it has to be easy, with everyday language.

Start speaking and INSIST they correct you (most Italians won't bother unless you insist). Don't speak to heritage speakers whose Italian amounts to "ciao bella", speak to actual speakers educated in Italian who actually do use subjunctives in their daily speech, or will at least bother to use them correctly with you.

Watch films.


This is the hardest stage in language learning, passing the barrier from intermediate to advanced. It takes a year at least, with daily practice, and can take up to a few years if you're a more relaxed learner. By the end of this stage, you know the entire grammar and can function directly in Italian.


STAGE 3. - Complex literacy and conversation

In order to be truly fluent in a language, one has to be literate - but you can work on that only once you know the language.


At this point, try to consume all the materials you can consume in English - but in Italian. Things such as documentaries on science, literary classics (work through the "basic list" that any Italian has had at school in order to gain cultural associations and references), language specific of your field / major occupation, etc.


The refining of this stage takes a lifetime :D, but one cannot be truly fluent without it. At this point just continue speaking, reading, preferably writing. At some point you'll probably have to master basic dialectal things as well to understand the media you consume.


That's it. It's as simple as there. There is no royal road to fluency in a language, any language. You need to replicate the above process, it takes time and effort, but if you persist, you actually reach pretty good results.

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Universitalia (Piotti, de Savorgnani)


La lingua italiana per stanieri (Katerinov), there are more titles based on the level


Progetto italiano (1-2-3)

+ later Bozzone, Viaggio nell'italiano (it's on a higher reading level, but a very, very good course)


Grammars: Sensini, Serianni, Salvi/Vanelli, Dardano/Trifone, Trifone/Palermo, Moretti

Sinonimi/contrari: Pittano

History of language: Serriani/Antonelli, Migliorini/Baldelli, Bruni, De Mauro, Durante, Stussi, Renzi, D'Achille, Rohfls, Tagliavini

Varieties of Italian: Cortelazzo, Beccaria, Coveri

Translation: Arcani, Calabro, Apel

Word formation: Grossman/Rainer, Dardano, Scalise

Semantics: Berruto, De Mauro, Ullmann


If you work through half of those, you'll have pretty much a knowledge equivalent of a university major on theoretical understanding of the language. ;) If you combine it with practice as I described above, you have my personal permission to raise your children bilingually with Italian. :D

Edited by Ester Maria
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Wow! Thank you for this amazing guide. I am working through digesting this process that you suggest.


Lots to think about, but I appreciate it after having resisted investing in foreign language "programs." (We did get the first Muzzy set off of eBay a while ago when the children were in Kindergarten and nursery school.)

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