10 Ways to Speak and Understand Rapid-Fire Italian

Ways to practice understanding and speaking fast Italian

Group of friends having fun at party
Group of friends having fun at party. Sofie Delauw / Getty Images

It is no secret that Italians speak fast. This is true with both their words and their gestures, so as someone who is learning Italian, how can you keep up with their rapid-fire speech?

Here are 10 pieces of advice that have helped me speed up my spoken Italian and understand fast speech.

1.) Watch Italian TV

The amount of Italian programming that is available to watch online is staggering. YouTube alone offers thousands of episodes of popular shows in Italy if you know what you’re looking for.

You can start with an episode from the classic shows Un posto al sole or Il commissario Montalbano or go for something more modern like Alta Infedeltà. If you prefer to watch shows with a television, many cable companies offer a special package for Italian programming.

2.) Watch a Movie

Whether it's Roberto Benigni's poignant , a neo-realismo film by Roberto Rossellini, or a Federico Fellini fantasy, an Italian language movie is another great way to practice Italian. You'll hear Italian spoken by many different attori and train your ear at the same time. If you’re watching from a computer, you can find many Italian movies on Netflix, like Cinema Paradiso or La tigre e la neve. If you can, avoid the subtitles to give yourself more of a challenge.

3.) Read the Lyrics

Love Parole, parole by Mina? Look up the testo (lyrics) to the song and sing along. You can also turn it into a translation exercise using dictionaries like Context-Reverso and WordReference.

Some classic songs to check out are:

  • Piazza grande - Lucio Dalla

  • Questo piccolo grande amore - Claudio Baglioni

  • Me so’mbriacato - Mannarino

4.) Listen to an Audiobook

If you love reading books, but you know you need more practice listening, you can combine those two factors by finding an audiobook to listen to in Italian.

If you’re not in Italy, these aren’t the easiest to find, but it is possible to find excerpts of your favorite books, like Harry Potter, on YouTube.

5.) Listen to Podcasts

One of the best ways to make use of tempi morti (dead time) for practicing Italian is by listening to podcasts in your car or while you’re doing a task that doesn’t require much of your attention, like ironing. You can listen to a podcast aimed at students like Al Dente, or you can listen to shows made for native speakers.

6.) Check Out Your Library

Italian novels, travel guides, and books that describe Italy are excellent ways to enrich your learning experience. Read a parallel-text version (Italian and English side-by-side) of such classics as La Divina Commedia or Machiavelli's , or try reading more modern Italian literature from authors like Enzo Biagi, Umberto Eco, Rossana Campo, Susanna Tamaro, or Oriana Fallaci.

7.) Investigate Your Neighborhood

Close the textbooks, turn off the TV, and go out to find Italian-speaking people or other Italian language students in your own neighborhood. In many large cities there are Italian cultural institutes such as the IIC - Los Angeles, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura - New York, and the Italian Cultural Society - Washington, DC, which have language exchange programs.

You can also choose to join an Italian conversation group, often sponsored by bookstores or Italian American societies. You can also find local groups (or start your own!) using Meetup.com.

8.) Hire an Italian

Attend a group class in person or take one-on-one instruction using a site like VerbalPlanet or Italki. The structure and routine, paired with your independent study, will help you develop a foundation for advancing quickly in the language. This is a great environment for receiving immediate feedback and being able to practice pronunciation, like learning how to roll your rrr's.

9.) Expand Your Vocabulary

Studies show that one of the biggest reasons language students find it hard to keep up in a foreign language is because their vocabularies aren’t large enough, so as you read books, listen to podcasts, and go to classes, make sure to be constantly compiling and reviewing vocabulary.

The key word here is “review”. Find a tool that uses spaced-time repetition, enter what you learn, and review it on a daily basis. Some available tools are Cram, Memrise, and Anki.

10.) Go to Italian-Speaking Places

You've always wanted to visit your grandmother's hometown in Sicily, and you’re ready to venture beyond the travel memoirs that keep you daydreaming during work. When you’re at an intermediate level, traveling to Italy (or any other Italian-speaking area) will be a 360 degree classroom encouraging you to accelerate your learning. Plus, if you not only will you get to see Roman ruins, Renaissance masterpieces, and Raffaello's paintings, but you can also make friends with the locals!