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Guardate ed imparate! Watch and learn! Immersion in movies and series can help language learners of all levels


Just as Italians can watch programming to improve their English language skills, non-Italian speakers can watch programming in Italian to improve their language skills, whether they’re fully fluent or just beginners.

Studies have shown that one of the best ways to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the learning process. While some people feel more comfortable learning with guided study, either in a classroom setting or on their own, others may want to jump right in by immersing themselves in the language. For either of these methods, at some point watching Italian language productions should be a part of your learning process. Listening to repetitive or added content, especially with a show which is already familiar to you, can help you build vocabulary and learn the cadence of the spoken language. 

A major broadcast company in Italy lists types of news programming offered.

I always felt reading another language was easiest, since one can take time to look up meanings and then look for context in the conversations. The next step is to begin listening to conversations with a focus on understanding by keying in on familiar words of phrases. The hardest part may be speaking because now you have to answer or formulate questions and give information when you may not have all the skills you need. Watching clips in the language or programs and videos can build your confidence. While it can be difficult to start a conversation, the important thing is to realize when you are just starting out is that practice makes perfect. Visitors to Italy have found that most Italians are happy when you at least try!

When you watch a series or movie in Italian, you not only expand your language skills, but you become more attuned to the culture of Italy. You will see places and foods familiar and not and also get a sense of how Italians live, work and play. 

“I Soliti Ignoti” is a popular game show in Italy where contestants must match professions
to mystery guests.

Listening to authentic Italian speakers will help one grasp the inflections used in the language as well as the correct pronunciations. Although there is a “standard” spoken Italian in Italy, be mindful there are 20 regions with their own dialects that may be heard in programs. For example, the series “L’Amica Geniale” (My Brilliant Friend) is set in Naples so naturally you will hear some dialogue in Neapolitan. This show is for more advanced learners but does have subtitles if you also want to watch to immerse yourself in the scenery and life in Naples. This is also the case for the series “Inspector Montalbano,” which is peppered with Sicilian. 

For beginners, a good strategy is to start with short clips of conversations in Italian. Many of these can be found on YouTube and should be with Italian presenters to hear the proper pronunciation. One that I found was “Easy Italian,” which features various scenarios including general conversation and more specific ones such as having breakfast (colazione). These are great because not only do the hosts speak slowly but the conversation also shows up in Italian and English. Another similar series is “Slow Italian – Learn Italian the Natural Way.”

Once you have built up your vocabulary and are comfortable listening to the language, you can search for a program or movie you have already watched and check to see if it has been dubbed in Italian. A few familiar programs such as “Friends,” “Madmen” “The West Wing,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “The Nanny,” and “The X-files” were produced for viewing in Italy. As a novice you may want to stop and list unfamiliar words you can then look up as you watch and listen.

When you feel more confident you can watch for longer periods of time and just try to focus on listening and understanding by context. When you choose a program or a movie you will need to change the language setting as soon as you hit play. You will learn to navigate language and subtitle settings on your television. Learners who are more advanced may want to now watch programming that was specifically made for Italian audiences, especially the shows and movies that are popular with Italian viewers.

Game shows are extremely popular in Italy, and by watching them you can continue to build your vocabulary as well as gaining insight into modern-day culture. One of the most popular game shows right now in Italy is “I Soliti Ignoti” (The Usual Unknowns). The show presents eight people along with their varied professions or skill sets and the contestants, or concorrenti, who must correctly match each person presented with the appropriate profession. 

At the beginning of the show the eight “unknowns” are introduced as the contestants and the audience can see a list of professions or notable achievements for the eight mystery guests. In the first part of the show the contestant, hoping to win up to 250,000 euro, tries to match each person as they briefly introduce themselves without giving too much specific information. As the field is narrowed the second part of the game takes place when the contestant must match a mystery relative to one of the eight guests based on their resemblance. The speech patterns are not too fast, so this is good for beginners to pick up language cadence and vocabulary. 

There are a number of series or movies that U.S. viewers can enjoy watching on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. “Luna Park” (Netflix) is a series set in 1960s Rome which starts with a chance meeting between two young women whose lives are mysteriously linked against the background of intriguing occurrences, generational differences, and romance. You can listen to everyday conversations while enjoying scenes of Rome as imagined in the ’60s. 

If you are a devoted follower of fashion or would love to get a better glimpse of Milan, then “Made in Italy” (Amazon Prime) is a good watch. This show is set in the 1970s during a period when Milan’s fashion industry was becoming world famous. Everyday conversations play out against the changing times for women in the workplace along with other themes set against the backdrop of Milan’s historical and elegant streets. 

Cooking-show fans can find a number of culinary shows from Italy on YouTube (also listed on Hulu) including the well-known “Masterchef Italia.” The show features aspiring cooks who are challenged by famous Italian chefs to create various dishes, either individually or as a team, under several different circumstances. Increase your food vocabulary and gather some innovative ideas for your own culinary skills!

Pet lovers can also find shows to enjoy. In part one we mentioned the show “Dalla Parte Degli Animali,” which promotes the protection and rescue of animals across Italy. Not only do you learn about different animals, but you can also view different areas of the country. This show is available across a number of platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok with short clips and full-length episodes. 

You can also delve into the news from Italy by watching broadcasts on YouTube. They offer the news channel TG La7 and also an entertainment channel on La7 Intrattenimento. Daytime and reality TV can be found on La7d. RAI, a major Italian network also has a YouTube channel.

While you can watch Italian broadcasts produced for Italian viewers here in the United States, these are recommended for viewers with an advanced knowledge of Italian. I have given you various options to view more as a learner that is not yet fluent. 

Take the time to search for Italian programming or short video clips on your own cable system or on any streaming sites you may have. If this is not a viable option, then YouTube has a great deal of content.

Of course, you will want to practice what you have learned so now would be the time to find a partner or group where you can begin conversing with others. There are a number of online groups, and you can also search for local in person organizations which would give you the chance to practice your skills.

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