What to Know Before You Buy Italian Language Materials

Consider these factors before buying Italian resources

Young woman flipping through book at bookstall
Young woman flipping through book at bookstall. Kathrin Ziegler / Getty Images

Bilingual or Italian only? Beginner or advanced? A pocket guide phrase book or a college-level textbook?

As you look for quality Italian resources to help you go from a beginner to a conversational level, you’ll recognize quickly that you have A LOT of options. While you can get recommendations from friends and other students, sometimes what has worked from them doesn't alway work for you.

To help you avoid falling into the trap of buying every resource you see, here are a few questions to ask yourself before you purchase that online subscription, that workbook, or that audio program.

What level am I at?

What resource is best suited for you is heavily dependent on where you’re at in your language learning journey.

If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to look at resources that include audio, clear grammar explanations, and plenty of opportunities to review what you’ve learned. A great example of a beginner course that’s structured in this way is Assimil for Italian. However, there are lots of other great courses that offer a similar layout. Once you find your core program that you’re going to work with on a consistent basis, you can have more flexibility to choose supporting resources, like a grammar workbook.

If, on the other hand, you’re at an intermediate level, and you’re looking to expand into advanced, you may not need any learner resources at all. In fact, what would probably serve you best are one-on-one tutoring sessions, so you have plenty of opportunity to practice spoken Italian, and native content, like novels in Italian, Italian TV shows, or Italian podcasts.

At your level, it would be ideal to start using monolingual dictionaries, like Treccani, when you look up new words.

What are my goals?

Are you traveling to Italy and want to learn survival phrases? Perhaps you’re being transferred to Milano or maybe you want to converse with your Italian relatives.

Whatever your goals are, when chosen wisely, your resources can you help enhance your learning.

For example, if you wanted to learn Italian to attend university in Bologna, you’ll definitely need to take the C1 CILS exam, so the CILS test preparation book will be high on your list of must-buy resources.

Does it include audio?

Pronunciation is over glossed over in many learning materials with a short one or two page explanation, which is unfortunate because pronunciation is a large part of what will help a learner feel confident when speaking a foreign language. What’s more, pronunciation plays a huge role in first impressions.

With that in mind, it becomes evident that pronunciation cannot be relegated to a couple tips about consonants and therefore must be something that is practiced consistently over time. The best way you’ll have a chance at constantly improving your pronunciation is if you invest in resources that offer an abundance of audio. It’s also important that the audio isn’t just sound clips of one vocabulary word or one phrase but includes full sentences or dialogues so you can hear the true flow of a conversation or how specific words are used in context.

When was it created/last updated?

While there are some great classic resources, many materials that were published before the last decade will be outdated.

Sure, they'll still be useful for some points, like hard and fast grammar rules or vocabulary, but language changes so quickly that you might sound older than you are if you use them. When shopping for materials, purchase ones that have been recently updated so you have the most relevant information and aren’t using antiquated words or grammar structures.