Italian Even For Dummies

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Italian Made Easy: Even Dummies Can Learn Italian

Learning Italian is not as much of a time commitment (and not as hard) as you might think. With Babbel, learning Italian online is easy, intuitive and under your control: learn at your own pace, choose the lessons you want, and review and practice vocabulary on the go. Italian is considered one of the easiest languages to learn, although mastering the accent and pronunciation can be tough hurdles. Thankfully, Babbel’s online courses and mobile app include speech recognition so you can get used to the accent and learn how to speak this gorgeous language like a pro. Read the how-to tips below and then test your skills with a free Italian lesson.

How Italian differs from English

Italian is one of five main Romance languages, meaning it has Latin roots (i.e. from Rome). If you already know another Romance language, like French, Spanish, or Portuguese, you will recognize Italian grammar as well as most of the vocabulary. If not, you don’t need to know too many rules to get started. Italian grammar is more straightforward than English and is not a major stumbling block for most learners.


Unlike English, which has no gendered nouns (the is the only definite article), every noun in Italian is either masculine (usually preceded by il) or feminine (preceded by la): for example, compare il cane (the dog) and la casa (the house).

There are exceptions to these basics: lo is used for masculine nouns that start with s + consonant (lo studente – the student) and z (lo zio). Both masculine il and feminine la become l’ when the noun starts with a vowel: l’ombrello (the umbrella), l’ora (the hour), l’amico (the friend). This may sound confusing, but actually offers a shortcut: you can say these words correctly without knowing the gender.

Both masculine and feminine articles have a plural form; il cane becomes i cani and la casa becomes le case. The masculine lo and l’ become gli in the plural: lo zio – gli zii, l’ombrello – gli ombrelli, l’amico – gli amici. You’ll notice that, no matter the article, masculine plural nouns end in i and feminine plural nouns end in e.

A musical language

If these gender rules sound intimidating, just remember that getting the rhythm of speech is more important than getting the article right. Italian is a deeply musical language (almost every English word relating to music comes from Italian) where words flow into each other. A lot is conveyed in how you say it, not just what you say. So if you can master the sing-songy lilt of Italian, but sneakily slur your articles into some kind of L-sound, an Italian native speaker will still understand you.

Basic phrases

  • sì / no – yes / no
  • Buon giorno – Hello
  • Arrivederci – Goodbye
  • Per favore – Please
  • Grazie – Thank you
  • Mi chiamo… – My name is…
  • Sono di… – I’m from…
  • Scusi – Excuse me
  • Non capisco – I don’t understand.

Aiutatemi! (help me!)

If you know nothing else, being able to ask questions is a good way to start speaking a language. Not only can you start communicating right away, but the answers to your questions will provide you with new vocabulary.

  • Che cosa è? – What is that?
  • Dove è la stazione? – Where is the station?
  • Chi? – Who?
  • Quando? – When?
  • Perché? – Why?
  • Come sta? – How are you?
  • Quanto costa? – How much does it cost?

Verb Conjugation

Verbs in Italian are always conjugated, which means the verb has a different ending depending on whether you, I, we, she, or they are doing the verb. To get you started, here are a few useful verbs in the I form:

  • Ho bisogno… – I need…
  • Lo volio… – I want…
  • Ho… – I have…

Finding the Similarities to English

English is technically a Germanic language, but, because it borrows more than half of its vocabulary from French and Latin, it is very close to a Romance language in practice. As a result, English and Italian share thousands of true friends: words that sound the same and have the same meaning.

For example, if someone told you, Ho visto l’arte nel museo vicino alla stazione centrale, you would probably recognize the words for art, museum, station and central. If you consider that visto looks like vista, which means view and vicino looks like vicinity, you can easily translate the entire sentence as, “I viewed art in the museum near the central station.”

But you can’t always stick a vowel at the end of an English noun and expect to be understood by an Italian speaker. Beware of “false friends”: Italian words that sound like English words but have different meanings. For instance, la camera is a room, to be educato is to be polite, assistere is to attend and attendere is to wait.

How To Practice Your Italian

Try your first Italian lesson with Babbel for free. One of the advantages of the Babbel system is that you are immersed in Italian from the beginning. The process is easy and intuitive (with lots of helpful hints when you need them), and you can learn at your own pace and set your own lesson plans. Babbel’s Italian course is affordable, accessible online and via mobile devices, and proven to strengthen your reading, listening, speaking and comprehension skills. You can master Italian by yourself, or use Babbel’s community features to connect with other learners, find tandem partners and share expertise. Use the tips above and see which level you can achieve.

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