How To Learn Italian – Tip Number Three

Here goes with the third tip in this How to Learn Italian series which is aimed at anyone who is learning Italian or thinking about learning Italian, either for pleasure or for business.

As mentioned before, these tips are the product of my own personal experience at learning Italian as well as what I have observed from teaching another language in Italy for over ten years.

On to the tip which is for language learners already in Italy, but not only.

How To Learn Italian Tip Number Three

3. Watch Television

Watching Italian television will help you to understand spoken Italian

Watching Italian television will help you to understand spoken Italian

As part of your Italian language studies, watching television can increase your ability to understand spoken Italian very quickly indeed – even if you don’t understand a word. Actually, although you may think you don’t understand a word, this is not, generally, true, as you will recognise the odd word or three. However your clever brain tends to understand much more than you think you do. You think you understand 1%, but you assimilate 10% or more – babies do the same – they associate words with actions.

Yes, I know Italian television can be mind numbing, but the quiz shows, chat shows and even things like Big Brother contain lots of natural spoken conversation. Films, especially those with lots of action, are good too. For up to date Italian – watch recent films.

Simply hearing spoken Italian will improve your comprehension over time. In fact, if you watch Italian television for an hour or more every evening for the next four weeks, by the end you may well find that Italian expressions spring to mind without you having even thought about them.

While watching television in Italian do not try and concentrate. Instead of listening and watching – ‘hear‘ and watch – be passive, not active.

One other thing – turn up the volume of the television a little more than usual – you’ll find this makes you feel as if you are understanding more and you will be understanding more too.

On Vacation in Italy?

If you are coming to Italy on holiday and you want to brush up your comprehension skills a little before wandering around Venice, Florence, or Rome, then as soon as you put your bags down in your hotel room or apartment in Italy – turn on the television, turn up the volume a little and let it play to itself while you unpack or shower. This will help remove a little rust from your comprehension skills.


After watching television when I first came to Italy, as advised by a friend, I suddenly found myself saying things which were perfectly natural and accurate Italian which I never remembered studying.

In addition, I found that Italian vocabulary sprang to mind much more quickly and that I could understand more.

Watching Italian television alone will not have you speaking Italian, so this is an activity you need to combine with your other studies.

Try it! But remember – do not force yourself to understand everything – you will not! But as advised in How To Learn Italian Tip Number One – you do need to be patient with yourself.  You will also find that watching Italian television, if done regularly – every day – will help you start to think in Italian – which, coincidentally was what How To Learn Italian Tip Number Two was all about.

Note that if you can understand, you can reply to questions. If you can reply to questions fired at you in Italian, then you are well on the way to having a conversation. If you can hold conversations then that means you are speaking Italian. Next stop – fluency!

Happy learning! And remember – yes, you can learn Italian (with apologies to Mr President Obama).

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  1. Cristian says

    Well, leastening to a language is important to learn it, but on TV you can hear some the worst grammar errors you’ll ever face. If you don’t know that they are there, you risk to learn them as proper Italian.

    Congiuntivo and consecutio temporum are sadly strangers for most of our tv hosts, for example.

    • says

      What you say Cristian is true, I know. My Italian other half often comments on the bad Italian she hears on the TV.

      However for learners the exposure to spoken Italian is invaluable. Yes, they may pick up the odd bad grammatical habit – but natural spoken Italian – like spoken English – does not always follow the rules – but it gets the job done and communication is the result.

      Shall we say that the result language learners achieve will be colloquial Italian! Penso che questo sia vero, no?

      Thanks for commenting.



  2. says

    Good suggestion, Alex, although I have wondered about the grammar/lack there of and whether I can blame any of my grammar mistakes on things I *hear* people say. 😉 Of course, we haven’t had a TV here in Italy for a while (complicated story related to the TV tax and our landlady that I wrote about on my blog last year So, I’ve been trying to listen to the radio. Overall I’d recommend the TV over the radio for language practice, though – you can at least try to follow along with the action on the TV, news radio it’s a bit more of a challenge if you have no idea what the story is basically about. Of course, this week, the news radio stories are mostly about “Ruby”, the story which you have been summarizing quite nicely here on your site. So those stories are quite easy to follow on the radio. 😉

    Thanks again for another good language learner’s tip!

    • says

      Hi Lee,

      Glad you found this helpful.

      You may well be able to blame grammar errors on what you have picked up from spoken street Italian – Italians do tend to have problems with the grammar of their own language.

      The radio is good for language practice, but not being able to see faces and reactions tends to lessen its benefits for real beginners, I feel.

      Your TV story sounds like fairly typical example of what can happen when you have a brush with Italian bureaucracy, but I thought Bolzano was a little different – I think you are there.

      I’ll write about radio another time.

      A presto,


  3. Klee says

    I found quiz shows especially helpful-ones where they show the question on the screen and the host repeats it out loud. This combined seeing the words and hearing them pronounced.

  4. says

    Ciao all the best for 2011.
    I am back at last catching up on all the posts I missed while I was away from computing while on an extended trip to the UK. I really missed my blogging buddies while I was absent from the blogsphere so have enjoyed catching up with your recent posts this afternoon.
    As for the language tips, TV has been a great help in learning Italian, my favourites are Amici and Millionaire.

  5. says

    When I’m not in Italy I sometimes rent DVDs and watch them in Italian with English subtitles or vice-versa.

    If the DVD was originally in Italian (not dubbed) it can be tricky with regional dialects.

    TV would be better but I’m not yet set up to get Italian TV via satellite in Ireland – not impossible though.

    So to try to help with progressing my Italian I’ve bought a DAB/Internet radio and can easily tune into Italian radio from anywhere in the house with Wi-Fi.

    If you or any of your readers can recommend any Italian radio stations I’d appreciate it. They don’t have to be all talk/news as songs can help too. I’m partial to Jazz but that can reduce the amount of words used considerably!

    This is a great series of posts, many thanks.

  6. says

    No cmon Stefano, italian tv is great, ‘strisca la notizia’, ‘ballaro’, annozero, its fiery! italian tv is wall to wall political argument and glamorous women, what better combination?

  7. Marcia says

    I love watching Italian movies, especially on websites like Netflix. I also have found watching cooking videos on are fairly easy to understand. Cooking terms are repeated over and over and familiar cooking items are used in the process. :-) I search on terms like “cucinare” and see what pops up.

    • says

      Great ideas, Marcia. Now it is easier than ever to find Italian language movie. YouTube is a great source, and for longer stuff, Google Video’s is very good too.

      Repetition helps the word ‘stick’ in your memory and this means you can use it more easily when you speak.

      There is another point too – watching what you like and interests you speeds up the learning process.



  8. Smithewz says

    Watch Italian films with the Italian subtitles on. That way you hear and read the words at the same time – therefore associating both written Italian with spoken Italian. My Italian wife learnt English by watching ALL 10 series of Friends (238 episodes!) with English subtitles (!)

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