Tips to learn Italian before moving to Italy

If you’re planning to move to Italy to live there or just to travel and experience the country at a deeper level, there’s something that cannot miss from your to-do list: learning Italian.

Learning Italian
Italian flag. Photo: Michele Bitetto on Unsplash.

If you’re planning to move to Italy to live there or just to travel and experience the country at a deeper level, there’s something that cannot miss from your to-do list: learning Italian.

Despite what some people might claim, you can’t really experience Italy without knowing Italian.

Or better, you can live there, but your experience would be a lot different. It would be like living in a bubble without knowing what’s going on around you and without having the tools to make deep friendships and lead an independent life in your country of adoption.

So, learning Italian before moving to Italy is definitely a good idea, especially if you want to take some stress away. Being an expat is clearly a stressful experience, but knowing the local language helps mitigate that stress and have a more realistic idea of what life is like in that country.

Still, beginning to learn is the hardest part. Where do you start from? What should you learn? What’s the best material? What should you do?

So many questions but not a single answer that you can truly trust.

So, here below I have included some tips that can help you build a solid base and equip you with some useful tools to take your first steps in Italy.

Here they are.

Use flashcards to learn words

One of the most important things, or the single most important thing that you will need are words. Without words you can’t do much, but with them you can really do a lot. The more words you know, the more you can understand and the more you can say.

But how can you learn them?

An old but effective way is surely flashcards. It may sound mechanical and somewhat meaningless to you, but flashcards have proven to be effective. You can create your own flashcards with a pen and a piece of paper or use Apps like Anki or Quizlet. Whatever you choose, make sure you write the Italian word on one side and the English translation on the other side.

Play with them. Start with the Italian words and see if you can remember the English translation, and then pick an English word and see if you can remember the Italian translation

Which words should you include? Any words that you will need. Help yourself with a course book to learn your very first words, and then include the ones that you know you will need during your stay.

You can expect results after a few tries, so don’t get discouraged if you see that you’re struggling with your first words. That’s absolutely normal. Your brain needs time and repetition.

Memorize dialogues

Once you know some useful words, you can start to memorize some sentences and short dialogues. I know that memorization has gotten itself a bad reputation over the years, but it’s something that should be reconsidered.

When you memorize something, anything, you can remember it more easily. Even when you’re stressed out. Remember that I said that being an expat is stressful? Well, if you memorize some useful dialogues and sentences in advance, you can beat up stress and sucessfully speak even when you’re stressed out.

By memorizing, I don’t mean parroting without knowing what you’re saying. Let me explain. If you take a dialogue from a course book, make sure you learn the words and the grammar features in that dialogue. Make full sense of the meaning of every single sentence, and then listen to that dialogue and repeat it out loud.

It’s important that you listen to the pronunciation of the words and sentences. This way you will learn them the right way and you will understand them when you hear them.

After that, you can repeat your dialogue out loud a few times and over a period of a few days. This way, it will be easier for you to remember your sentences and use them in your day-to-day conversations.


Something else that you can do once you know a lot of words is reading one of those books written with learners in mind: graded readers. They’re excellent. They allow you to read something at your level, consolidate the words that you know, and have a better idea of how Italian sentences are constructed.

And not only do they improve your reading skills, but they also improve your overall knowledge of the Italian language. So, if you have learned quite enough words to read even a simple book, I highly encourage you to try one. It will give your learning experience more meaning and a steadier progress.

There are books written with 500 words, 1000 words, 1500 words or even more. Choose the right one for you and just enjoy it, because this technique, extensive reading, works if you can enjoy the book without having to look up a new word every two seconds. It will bring you results in the long run (say at least eight weeks) so again, be patient. Your brain is always working for you backstage.


I said before that listening to short dialogues helps you both with understanding and with pronunciation. But dialogues are not just the only material that you can listen to. I’ve just talked about books, right? Well, these books, graded readers, come with an audio version. Listening to this audio version while reading the book helps you build that connection between spoken word and written word.

Having this connection is crucial if you want to have a better understanding of how Italians sound when they talk. Learning words without learning how they’re pronounced can cause you a lot of confusion. It’s better to know from the very beginning how words sound rather than imagining how they might sound and then hearing something completely different. Trust me, it’s a time and an energy saver.


You might have noticed that I’ve said more than once things like “repat after a few days” or “results come after a few tries”. And it’s exactly what I would like to focus on right now.

Repetition, spaced repetition to be exact, is one of the basics principles for a long-lasting learning, but it’s often overlooked.

Too often we think that we should just work on one task and then move on to the next one immediately. But that is detrimental to our learning, and it’s through spaced repetition that we can consolidate what we learn.

And I would like to add another important principle to that: retrieval practice, which is trying to deliberately bring something to mind. Just like when you use flashcards. This technique, combined wih spaced repetition, helps you strengthen your neural links. In other words, it’s a perfect combination to remember what you learn even in the long-term.

So, even though you want to devour your book, make sure you spend some time, some days, on the same topic, on the same words, on the same dialogue.

Plan some revision sessions over a period of a few days and remember to make that mental effort to remember what you learned. It’s might not feel like this at the beginning, but it gest better and better with each repetition.

To sum up

  • Learning Italian before moving to Italy minimizes stress and helps you experience Italy at a deeper and more conscious level.
  • Flashcards are an excellent tool to learn your first and future words. You can create them manually or use Apps. Expect results after a while.
  • Memorization helps you remember what to say even when you’re stressed out.
  • Memorizing dialogues and sentences is a great exercises in order to know what to say in your day-to-day conversations.
  • Reading a simple book at your level (a graded reader) helps you consolidate what you know and make more sense of the Italian sentence construction.
  • Listening not only to dialogues, but also to the audio version of a graded reader helps you build the connection between spoken words and written words. This connection helps you better understand how Italians sounds when they talk.
  • Plan some revision sessions over a period of a few days and make sure you make a mental effort to bring what you learned to mind. Even though it feels like an effort, it’s something that helps you learn more deeply and remember your words and grammar features even on the long term.


Nation Paul, What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand, 2014

Lethaby Carol, Mayne Russell, Harries Patricia, An Introduction to Evidence-Based Teaching in the English Language Classroom – Theory and Practice, Pavilion ELT, 2021