The Best Ways to Learn A Foreign Language

Jun 30, 2020

The editors at  Outwit Trade recently asked  an array of language learners and experts “What is the best way to learn a foreign language?”     Among the creative suggestions: Watch an episode of a TV show like Friends in English and pick out the phrases you want to say in your target language. Then watch it again with subtitles in your new language, and write down these phrases. As you get better, start watching TV shows or movies in your chosen language for 10 minutes at a time without English subtitles. Then watch again with English subtitles to  see how much you understood, teaching yourself new words and phrases as you do.

Here are the strategies I suggested for studying Italian:

  1. See it, say it, stick it.  Train yourself to say the Italian words (if only to yourself) for things you look at every day: il cielo for the sky, il pane for the bread. Put a post-it note with the Italian name on objects, such as la porta (the door) or lo specchio (the mirror), around the house. Don’t remove one until you’ve memorized the term.
  2. Follow the news in Italian. Go to for a sampling of Italian language papers. Just scanning the headlines will give you a sense of common words and names.  Also try, which allows you to hear and read brief news reports in Italian.
  3. Watch. You can find documentaries and popular shows on RAI’s website. Streaming sites and networks, including Netflix and Amazon Prime, offer Italian movies. If they have subtitles, by all means read them,  but leave the sound on so you can absorb the rhythm of the language.
  4. Fill your ears. Listening primes the brain for understanding, and podcasts on Italy’s language and culture can transform your home or car into a classroom.
  5. Sing. Even if you can’t carry a tune, singing along with Italian songs can improve your pronunciation and accent. You’ll find everything from pop tunes like Volare to  operatic arias on youtube.
  6. Play. Word games in any language strengthen the brain and boost memory.  Italian giochi di parole, such as cruciverba (crosswords), enigmi (puzzles) and anagrammi (anagrams), add the extra bonus of building your vocabulary.
  7. Read. Start simply with Italian comics (seriously), especially classics like Diabolik and Dylan Dog. You’ll accelerate your reading skills and have fun following the dastardly plots.
  8. Reach out to Italians online. You can make virtual friends or engage in casual conversations through apps such as Tandem. Try several language exchanges or online tutors to find  one that suits your skill and comfort level.
  9. Don’t be afraid of tripping over your tongue. Focus on communicating, not speaking in diagram-able sentences. And by all means, use your hands. That’s molto italiano!
  10. Make Italy part of your life. Even when you can’t travel, you can bring a bit of Italy into your daily routine. Sip an espresso. Enjoy some gelato. Visit the websites of ex-pats, happy wanderers and travel bloggers.  The more deeply you immerse yourself in Italian culture and life, the more Italian you’ll want to know.


Dianne Hales is the author of  LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World; LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language; and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered. The Italian American Commitee on Education (IACE) in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York City recently hosted a fun webinar on my new book, “A” Is for Amore, available to download  free at You can listen to the lively conversation with Maria Teresa Cometto and IACE students above.

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