Speak Italian with Ease: 5 Powerful Techniques to Improve Your Language Skills

Are you trying to learn to speak Italian? Or any other language for that matter. Maybe you’re taking classes or doing an online course, perhaps like I did in the beginning you’re teaching yourself. Whichever method you are using, in this week’s 5 Things Friday we are going to look at 5 things you can do to super-charge your learning process.

Over the years I have used multiple methods to learn to speak Italian. In the beginning I bought some text books from Amazon and started teaching myself. At some point I got Rosetta Stone (which I loved) but at the time as a single mom I could only afford the first DVD, so that one didn’t get me too far. Then I had a spell of taking a weekly lesson on Skype with a teacher in Italy, which was definitely more economical than trying to take classes here in the U.S. Then I ran out of money again and had to go back to trying to teach myself, and eventually I bought a good online course and worked with that.

Along the way I have learned that you need more than just one learning system to get you speaking another language confidently and well. Every method has its strengths and one way or another they all work. So along with whichever method you are using to learn to speak Italian (or any other language) try adding these 5 tricks and watch how quickly your Italian improves!

1. Watch Italian TV Shows

One of the best ways to enhance your learning and your speaking skills is to watch lots of Italian TV with English subtitles turned on. Find episodic TV shows – there are tons of them on Amazon and Netflix. As you follow a TV series you will learn the characters, their behavior and the cadence of their speech. This largely parallels conversation that happens in real life, so you’re not just hearing spoken Italian – your brain is picking up on the rhythm of the language, the inflections of the words, idioms and slang, and how it all flows.

When you find a good TV show – one that you enjoy – somewhere along the way you forget you’re reading subtitles. Instead you just get caught up in the story while your subconscious mind soaks it all in. I have enjoyed Don Matteo, Inspector Manara, and more recently Luna Park.

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2. Listen To Italian Language Podcasts

This is another method I have found super helpful and very easy to take advantage of. There are literally tons of learn-to-speak-Italian podcasts out there. (Same with other languages.) Coffee Break Italian has been my go to language pod, and I know they teach loads of other languages too. The trick is to find a podcast where the host’s voice resonates with you, so you are happy to keep clicking in and following along. My brain responds to the timbre of the host Mark’s voice, and the format of the podcast works well for me.

Listen to a few different learn to speak Italian podcasts, find the one that works for you, and then become a regular listener. This is a great tool to add to your learning arsenal.

3. Get Italian Reader Books

I love these. Learning a language well involves not only being able to speak it, but also being able to read it and have some reading comprehension. Remember doing reading comprehension in grade school? You would read a passage and then answer questions about it, to make sure you were understanding it properly. Amazon has lots of different Italian reader series (you can see some of them here.) What I like about these is they are all short stories. They take up about 3 or 4 chapters, so you’re not buried in the weeds with some giant novel.

The short stories are in multiple genres, so one might be a murder mystery and the next might be a lifestyle story. You read a chapter or a section, then do a comprehension quiz to see how much you understood. Then you go back through it again doing various exercises and keep doing that small section until you get it. I have used this one and this one and this one. All of them have multiple books and I personally think that all three of these are great. You can make them a very inexpensive but effective addition to your Italian learning program.

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4. Listen To Italian Music

This is another really effective way to boost your language skills and comprehension. Back in the beginning I used to play Radio Italia when I was working at my computer or doing work around the house. It was broad enough and general enough to give me a sense of artists whose music I enjoyed. When I found songs I liked I would use Lyrics Translate to learn the song and try to understand what was going on. If you think about songs in English, they don’t always make sense. Sometimes they’re just strings of words that would be hard for someone learning English to make head or tail of. It’s the same with Italian.

In the early days I found that artists like Eros Ramazzotti and Laura Pausini wrote lyrics that made sense to someone learning the language, and were in the rock/pop genres that I enjoyed anyway.

Listening to music that you enjoy, in the language you are learning is a great tool to add to your learning methods. When you find songs you really like, don’t just listen to them over and over, but also do the Lyrics Translate thing. This way you can follow along with the song as you listen to it, but also with Italian and English side by side you can understand what the story of the song is.

5. Join An Italian Conversation Group Online.

I haven’t done this for a while, but over the years I have joined online language groups where either everyone is learning Italian like I am, and you have a chance to practice on each other, or, Italians who want to improve their English will trade out with you. You take turns conversing in Italian and in English, so everyone benefits.

When you join an online conversation group it takes away the nervousness you get when trying to speak another language. Once you break through the fear/embarrassment stage of trying to speak a foreign language and are comfortable to just go for it, make mistakes and move on, speaking a foreign language becomes super fun.

Personally, my goal with learning Italian is not to speak flawlessly – most of us don’t even speak our own language flawlessly. I just want to be able to participate. I want to understand what’s going on around me, understand conversations and jokes, join in and be a part of it all. When I took the fluency pressure off myself and just made it all about fun, my Italian language skills took off.

One of my favorite things is practicing on taxi drivers in Rome. There is invariably traffic, so they’re stuck with me for a while. They always teach me new words and phrases that then surprise people when I drop them into conversation. For example, one day I was telling the driver I liked the “little wind” coming in the window, but I didn’t know how to say it in Italian. He told me the word for breeze is venticello. It’s kind of a gorgeous word really.

Employing all the things we’ve talked about here today has helped me improve my Italian so much. I hope they will help you to improve your Italian language skills too and act as a booster help you to supercharge whichever learning program you are doing!

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Winter In Italy – 5 Essential Items You Need To Pack

Packing for winter travel to Europe (or anywhere) can be tricky. In todays 5 Things Friday we are going to look at 5 items I always pack for winter travel to Italy, or anywhere in Europe. I don’t ski, so don’t go to the alps or anywhere super snowy, so you need to adapt your packing if going to anywhere intensely cold.

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My goal is to both stay warm, and also to be able to pack light. I’m not a carry-on only traveler, but still I don’t want to be dragging around a heavy suitcase full of bulky items. So what I pack for winter travel is based around a core capsule wardrobe with well chosen pieces that can mix and match, that keep me warm, and that don’t require constant laundering.

Merino

Winter travel is all about layers and for me the most important layer is a merino base layer. If you’re not familiar with merino, this is a very fine, non-itchy wool that not only keeps you nice and warm, but also heat regulates. So you can wear it from freezing cold out in the street into the warmth of a cozy restaurant and then out into a drafty museum, and not have to take it on or off. Merino keeps warmth next to your skin but wicks away moisture (sweat) and has naturally occurring anti-smell properties. You can wear it multiple days without needing to wash it, which is a huge bonus when traveling. Also, unlike bulky sweaters merino takes up no space in your suitcase. A base layer is thinner than a t-shirt.

I have merino base layers from Icebreaker like this one, but you can also find less expensive ones on Amazon. I also have some merino sweaters like these.

Many brands make merino sweaters. I have several from J Crew, in a variety of colors. One thing I love about wearing merino sweaters is they are thin (yet very warm) so they layer well with coats and jackets.

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Ponte Pants

I swear by a good fitting pair of black pants in a fabric called ponte. Ponte is a double knit fabric with some stretch in it. Pants made from Ponte are super comfortable, the double layer makes them nice and warm, and they are a low wrinkle fabric, which makes them ideal for travel. The fabric gives wonderful structure and really holds its shape – you won’t get saggy, baggy butts and knees in ponte pants. You can wear them multiple days without washing, which makes them great for travel, especially in Italy where you almost never find clothes dryers, so laundering winter-weight pants while traveling can be a nightmare.

As a rule ponte pants are very slimming too. I love wearing them on international flights, they look good for day to day wear, but also look chic to wear out at night.

Loads of brands make ponte pants. I recommend reading lots of reviews – you want a well structured pant for travel, and although most ponte pants are great, there are some cheapie brands that don’t deliver the quality.

Ponte pants come in plenty of different shapes and cuts. Find the cut that works best on your shape. I have two pairs from Saint and Sofia (pictured above)that work well on my difficult to dress shape, but you can find more expensive ponte pants from brands like Spanx and less expensive ones from J Crew.

A Good Coat

Of course you need a good coat as well. Depending on where you’re going the type of coat will change. I spent ages trying to find the right coat to wear in Arezzo last February. I knew I needed something longer than a hip length puffer jacket, but my longer puffer although super warm, also felt a bit like a sleeping bag. I wanted something a little more chic. I went back and forth between bringing a woolen coat or a trench coat, and ended up bringing this one from London Fog. In the photo above I am wearing it with a black merino sweater.

Although not expensive, this coat has been a really good buy. It is beautifully made, fully lined, has a hood, and was surprisingly warm.

I also have this puffer jacket which is super warm but perhaps a little bulky, and this wool coat from Calvin Klein. The wool coat looks really chic and is very warm, but of the three the trench coat seems to be the one I travel with most. This winter (2023/2024) I’ve seen people layering a thinner Uniqlo puffer below a trench or woolen coat.

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A Warm Scarf

Scarves can make an outfit, as well as keeping you warm. Years of traveling in Italy have led me to learn multiple chic ways to tie/wrap a scarf, so now I enjoy them even more.

This chunky scarf is from Amazon

I have a pashmina that I’ve had for 30 years that still looks fabulous. I love pashminas because the real ones are like merino – very fine, not bulky, and very warm. I also have cheapie ones like the one pictured above bought in the San Lorenzo market in Florence, and big warm, chunky scarves like this one from Uniqlo.

A Travel Umbrella

I don’t really worry about bringing an umbrella in the shoulder season – late spring and early autumn showers in Italy tend to be mild and pass somewhat quickly. But from mid autumn until mid spring I bring a proper travel umbrella. This one from Amazon is sturdy, doesn’t blow inside out (or mine hasn’t anyway) and is incredible value for money. Mine has been through some stormy winters in Italy and is still in great shape. I originally bought it in yellow, which seemed fun at the time but actually felt a little bit too extra, even for me, so I bought another one in simple black and use it to death.

For for more travel wardrobe items as well as travel gadgets, electronics, and much more, check out my Amazon page at Amazon.com/shop/CorinnaTravels.

5 Things You Need To Know About The Venice Day-Tripper Tax

This year (2024) the city of Venice is implementing a new day-tripper tax. On specific dates visitors coming to Venice but not staying over night will have to pay a €5 daily tax. The fine for failing to do so is €300 per person. On today’s 5 Things Friday we are going to look at 5 things you need to know about the new day-tripper tax in Venice.

1. Why Is There Day-Tripper Tax/Entrance Fee To Venice?

Since UNESCO threatened to put Venice on the Endangered World Heritage list the city has been working hard to cut back the numbers of daily visitors to Venice. This started with banning large cruise ships from coming into port. The average ship held 4000 people and there were typically around 5 to 7 ships in port at once. This meant 20,000+ tourists descending on the same small area (Rialto to the Bridge of Sighs) every single day of the tourist season. Add to that the bus tour people and you have an unsustainable travel problem.

** Amsterdam recently also made moves to ban cruise ships. Their environmental studies showed that one cruise ship in port for 24 hours emitted the same volume of nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere as 30,000 big rig trucks parked with their engines running for the same amount of time. And like Venice, Amsterdam always had more than just one ship in port – more like 5 to 7 ships. Read about it here.

On top of that, none of these people were paying tourist tax in Venice because none were staying overnight. The Boston Consulting Group study showed that 80% of the tourists coming to Venice did not stay overnight, and they only accounted for 18% of the tourism economy. The average day tripper spends between €5 and €20 in Venice, most of it on Made-In-China junk, which doesn’t impact the local economy – that money goes right back to China.

So Venice had 20,000+ people arriving each day, flushing toilets and creating trash that the municipality had to pay for. Something had to be done to offset these costs, hence the new day tripper tax.

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2. How Does The Tax Work?

On certain dates this year – dates that are traditionally super busy tourist days, all visitors to Venice will have to get an Access Pass. When you apply online for your Access Pass you will either pay a €5 fee for coming for the day, or you will register an exemption as someone who is staying overnight in Venice. For now there are only a handful of dates where the Access Pass is required, but keep an eye on it because they are bound to add more.

In Italy you pay a tourist tax for every night spent in tourism accommodation – hotels, airbnbs, agriturismos, bed and breakfasts, etc. Depending on where you are in the country the price per person per night fluctuates. Some places have it built in to your nightly cost, others take the payment as cash on arrival. Venice is just offsetting some of the financial burden the city bears due to mass tourism.

** Every visitor to Venice on the dates below will have to have an Access Pass. It will either show you’ve paid the day tripper tax or that you are exempt because you are staying in a hotel/B&B/AirBnb etc.

3. How Can They Tell If You Paid?

Don’t be thinking you can game the system on this one! When you pay or register you will get a QR code to download to your smartphone. When/if the police/authorities stop you they will scan your QR code to see that everything is legit. There has been talk of having turnstiles or some other form of barrier to pass to gain access to the city. In my opinion as someone who spends an enormous amount of time in Venice every year, this will be an evolving process and you will for sure need to keep an eye on the situation.

During Covid Italy did a fantastic job checking vaccine passes. Everyone had a digital vaccine pass on their smartphone and every establishment had to scan each person’s QR code before they could enter. So the technology and hardware are all already in place, and the people assigned to do the scanning have had ample practice.

By the way, I am 100% in favor of this – mass tourism must be curbed in places like Venice where it has become completely out of control.

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4. What Are The Dates?

So far for 2024 these are the dates the pass is required:

  • APRIL – 25-30
  • MAY – 1-5, 11-12, 18-19, 25-26
  • JUNE – 8-9, 15-16, 22-23, 29-30
  • JULY – 6-7, 13-14

** Additional dates in August and September will probably be added later in the year.

Again here is the official site. You will either pay the tax or register your exemption. You can check the dates here.

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5. Should You Still Go To Venice?

Absolutely! Yes – 100%.

Venice is the most unique city on earth. (And one of the most endangered.) Hopefully this tax will cut back some of the day trippers and lower the mass tourism burden on the city. Venice doesn’t need more mass tourism – it needs more quality travelers. People who come to enjoy the culture, the history, the cuisine. Travelers who want to explore the city’s myriad fascinating museums, walk the winding calles and just fall in love with this magical, beautiful place.

best books about Venice

If you are thinking about traveling to Venice check out my best seller Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Venice. This is like your secret window into completely fabulous things to see and do – things the mass tourism folks don’t know about. It is designed to not only give you the most sensational vacation in Venice, but also to make you fall head over heels in love with her, the way I have.

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