Understanding spoken Italian

sherwood Image
10/11/2009 - 19:26

I am trying hard to learn Italian. After two years at night school and working through 16 Linguaphone CDs (extremely useful) I can read simple Italian and say simple phrases and sometimes whole sentences very slowly. However, I cannot understand spoken Italian – too fast and too many words and tenses that I do not know. So I cannot yet advance my Italian by watching Italian TV or listening to the radio. What I need is practice perhaps by hearing short passages of Italian together with a written transcription. The intermediate and advanced dialogues to be found under the language section of this Italymag site would be just perfect (I can understand the written text) but there is no spoken stream and I would quickly exhaust the eight passages. There are many audio books on the RAI Radio Tre site but they are too advanced and there is no written equivalent. Has anyone found a good solution to this type of problem and does anyone know of a source of the type of material that I seek?Best wishes to all.


 I found the podcast from Radio Lingua Network / italian very good  and they are free . They also come with pdf? downloads for a tiny one off charge. I also use  audio books which can be bought online .I am using Earthworm Italian at the moment. This comes in book one and two . There are many others and for all different levels  . Rosseta stone also was useful but was expensive. The main thing I find is that I do most of my learning  when I am in Italy and listening to people speaking.   They always slow down and repeat when I ask them in our little village where virtually no English is spoken. Is there any where close to you that you can get an Italian newspaper so that you can translate it bit by bit. O.H. finds the sport pages good as he can translate it easily as he knows what it is about. Hope this helps a bit.

A good learning tool is to watch an Italian film that has Italian subtitles (generally for deaf people). It will help you with comprehension. If you find it too difficult at the start, get the English subtitles to help you with the translation and then play it again with the Italian subtitles. It is an excellent exercise.You are not alone, comprehension is one of the most difficult skills to acquire when you are learning a language, and the most difficult thing to do is to talk on the phone in the foreign language. It takes a lot of practice and patience.

Understanding spoken Italian is difficult.  However, try watching some Italian films with subtitles as they do help although some Italian films seem to be in certain dialects, e.g. the film Gomorrah is a Naples dialect which even my friend from Rome can't understand!  But what is really helping at the moment is watching Sky TG24 over the internet.  I put it on every day in the background while I'm on the computer or getting ready for work.  Because it's news you'll be hearing mainly mainstream Italian spoken, you can see what's going on and get a general feel of what they are talking about.  Plus you'll be up to date with the events in Italy.  You'll also become very tuned in to the way Italian is spoken, as English speakers have a tendency to stress the wrong vowels which causes confusion when you then hear an Italian say the word.  You can also read Corriere Della Sera on the internet and try reading childrens books with audio CD's because these are at a more simple level of Italian.As always the best way to improve is to have a relaxed conversation with a local, and don't worry about grammar, just practice with them and they will correct you where necessary.  And always remember the phrase 'parla piu lentamente per favore' for the times when their mouths are opening but what's coming out sounds like Swahili!The more relaxed ways you can find to learn the less stressed and frustrated you'll become about it all.  Keep it up, and just look at how much you understand now compared to when you started, so imagine in another 2 years you'll be fluent! 

I posted a similar question on 2/9/09 entitled "Translating Italian back into English". You might like to take a look at it, as there were several interesting answers to my question.All I can say is that I have now realised that it will come in time, but when you are not in Italy all the time it always feels as though progress is not being made.Good luck! Toni

Here's a trick that I have found to be very helpful, both in understanding spoken Italian and in learning to speak faster myself:Buy or download one or two CD's of Italian pop music.  I can highly recommend "Best of Nek, L'Anno Zero" (http://www.amazon.com/Best-Nek-lAnno-Zero/dp/B0000CGP1Y/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1255426816&sr=8-3) and "The Best of Laura Pausini: E Ritorno Da Te" (http://www.amazon.com/Best-Laura-Pausini-Ritorno-Da/dp/B00005Q66S/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1255430702&sr=1-4).Next, visit any one of dozens of online "lyrics" sites (just google "nek lyrics" for example) and print out the song lyrics.  Find your favorite songs on the CD and listen to them as you follow along with the printed lyrics.  If you are like me, you will find that your ability to understand spoken (sung) Italian rises dramatically in very short order.  The next step, of course, is to practice singing along with the music; this will help with proper pronunciation and with improving your ability to speak quickly.I find this technique works much better than the previously suggested sub-titled movies or television for the simple reason that the sub-titles often do not match up very well with the actual spoken words and can lead to a lot of confusion.  Also, you don't have the ability to practice your own speech as you would by listening to and singing along with the music.PS:  Both of these artists record in Italian and in Spanish; when buying or downloading take care to ensure that you are getting the Italian versions.  Also, both of the aforementioned recordings are available on iTunes, if you are into that sort of thing. :) 

I know that you may not be keen to listen to the radio, but I am finding that doing so is helping me get used to hearing the language on a regular basis whilst in the UK rather than at my house in Italy, and is a good way to be 'around' the language and supplement my normal text book/CD learning.  My teacher is correct, although at times I may only be able to pick up 30-50% of what is being spoken about, each day I am understanding a bit more.  I listen through the internet to an Italian station that plays a lot of english music with chat and news in between.  This helps break the intensity.  Try this link - there is a great choice on there. http://www.listenlive.eu/italy.html .  Hope you find the right solution for you.

I have found some 'easy listening' at www.walter.bz/podcast.  On this site is a collection of 20 children's stories, all read slowly and clearly, and many with a printed text to go with them.  Many are well known stories from the  brothers Grimm, Hans Anderson etc so they might be familiar already.Somewhat more advanced is an alternative suggestion for radio listening at www.radio24.ilsole24ore.com.All their programmes are stored in an archive so that you can listen to them repeatedly - click on Archivio to get to the archive.There are programmes for all tastes but my suggestion is 'Magazine 24' which is a review of the week's current affairs magazines.  This is delivered by a single speaker at a reasonable pace, so I find it one of the easier ones to understand.

Many thanks for all of these - I'm impressed by all the imaginative ways of keeping in touch with the spoken language.Montana - I had a look at the site you recommend, but could you tell me which of those stations is the one you listen to? 

I like rock music, so the one I tend to turn to is Radio Rock and Radio Rock Italia.  However if I tune in and am not in the mood for what they are playing I have found that Nuova Spazio Radio has a number of phone in type programmes which make entertaining listening around lunchtime, or Radio Rosa has a good mix of English and Italian music.  Again not an overload on the brain.  They aren't in my region (Piedmont )but I figure if you can find one that you enjoy to listen to, that's what counts ;o)  Hope you find one you like too.  

I also find that podcasts work very well to improve a language... I am also able to read and write and understand a lot of Italian, but when it comes to watching a radio or the news, I am completely lost. So I've started to find Italian language podcasts on the internet and I listen to one a day or so, when I have the time. I don't understand everything, but usually I can understand the overall topic and the basic ideas. And when I can be bothered, I look up some of the words that are unfamiliar to me.

There's a magazine called Oggitalia from www.elimagazines.com which has a selection of articles from a range of Italian papers and magazines and there is a CD which has some of the articles in audio too. You take out an annual subscription (which I think is about £15 for UK delivery, website will say for delivery elsewhere I guess). Elimagazines also have other Italian language learning mags, though lower levels are more geared to teenagers. You can get a lot out of them though. Salutoni a tutti

I think that listening to locals and trying to speak with them - careless about the pronunciation or the grammar - is of course the best way to practice your Italian and to learn new aspects of the language, that are not written in the books.Anyway, if you have no chance to speak with locals, have a look, pardon, listen to this podcasts, there are both English and Italian versions of the text and you can hear the Italian version while reading the Italian translation, you can stop and re-listen as many times as you need. Plus, you can observe how to translate some expressions from English to Italian,they are located here:Dual Language ArticlesHope this helps a little...