Lingua Critic - Italian


Language Reviews














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Italian is a Romance language spoken as a mother-tongue by about 60 million people in Italy, and by a total of around 75 million in the world. In Switzerland, Italian is one of four official languages. It is also the official language of San Marino, as well as the primary language of the Vatican City. Standard Italian, adopted by the state after the unification of Italy, is based on Tuscan (in particular on the dialects of the city of Florence) and is somewhat intermediate between the Italo-Dalmatian languages of the South and the Gallo-Romance Northern Italian languages. Its development was also influenced by the other Italian dialects and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman Barbaric invaders, but first and foremost it has been directly and heavily influenced by Latin.

Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian has retained the contrast between short and long consonants which existed in Latin. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. Of the Romance languages, Italian is considered to be the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.

Michel Thomas ( by Michel Thomas)  No memorizing, no text books, no drills, no homework!
The Italian series by Michel Thomas is another extremely popular and effective course which is again taught in small pieces and gradually built up. After just an hour you will find yourself being able to say long and fluent sentences. The Michel Thomas method has only been mainstream for the last 10 years, previously it was only accessible to the super rich who paid around $18,000 for lessons with the great man. You will understand why when you use it! Again though, the students can be annoying but its all part of the learning experience. The courses are all audio. Please also look at the reviews others have given. There is now an Advanced course.

C1 Fluency

Complete Italian ( by Lydia Vellaccio) 
Following hot on the heels of of Assimil is this completely revised and user friendly pack for learning Italian to B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.  This is a more traditional learning process rather than the mainly "intuitive" learning you get with Assimils'

The thematic approach is much in line with traditional language learning and does cover the subject in depth and more importantly progressively so you can see progress being made. Each unit starts with a "Statement of Aims" and completes the section by

a) Presenting the language

b) Practicing it

c) Description of language forms: For producing your own sentences

d) Pronunciation and Intonation

e) Information on Italian People and Italian Life

It is essential to have the CD's that go with the course to get the language practice and work through the book, since a lot of the exercises are listening and commenting. It's a very bad idea to try and learn a language without hearing it!

A very enjoyable course indeed and a great improvement on the older versions. Extremely well taught and presented. We recommend that you follow only one unit a week and really absorb it ! There are 25 units in total so will take 25 weeks to complete. Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages compares to a good A Level.

There is now a follow on course for C1 Fluency, entitled Perfect Your Italian


Transparent Italian( by Transparent Languages) 
Here is a package that will take you from complete beginner to a very advanced level with a vocabulary of some 20,000 words and phrases. This is huge value for money since the lessons are varied and engaging incorporating 30 virtual reality scenarios. You can also take these lessons with you to continue studying on your commute or doing the shopping or housework. There is also on hand a 65,000 word translation dictionary, so you never need to be stuck on a word or phrase. For added fun there are conversational role-plays where you can dub your voice into a scenario (microphone required). Transparent language also have lessons to give you mastery in reading and writing Italian. This is a fine package and we highly recommend it !

Italian ( by Paul Noble) 
Paul Noble is a teacher of languages who has his own language school the "Paul Noble Language Institute" based in Central London. These audio courses are the same as his classes but with slightly more material.

The first thing I noticed is that this is very similar to the Michel Thomas method in that the "Ground Rules" are the, don't try to memorize, no writing etc. The method of teaching is essentially the same in that you make your own sentences from the words given to you. Grammar is mixed in but not elaborated on. There is no rote learning and recitations here. This method also incorporates the Graduated Interval Recall system of Pimsleur. At the start of the course Paul is quite happy for you to forget what you are learning so he can remind you at various stages.

To be fair Paul Noble (who speaks 6 languages and gained membership of MENSA with a score of 174 at the age of 14!) has produced a more rounded course but also longer than the Michel Thomas one. The claimed vocabulary of 6000 words that you learn also includes a lot of cognates so don't get too excited! In reality you will learn slightly more than the Michel Thomas courses (Foundation & Advanced) but with the benefit of a native speaker alongside Paul himself, and Mr Noble does not have an accent like Michel Thomas did which was often a distraction in discerning certain sounds. Michel Thomas or Paul choose! 


Tell Me More ( by Tell Me More) 
Tell Me More is a long standing company specialising in language instruction. The quality of all their products is very good and there are scaled down versions to suit most budgets. This particular product we have reviewed is the latest top of the range Italian language software which comprises of 10 Levels. It is the language tuition software of choice for Fortune 500 companies and Govt Agencies. Included are 20,000 exercises with 20 hours of video. This will take you to a very advanced level of linguistic competence in the Italian language with its lively real world teaching, excellent sense of progression and high addiction rate! You can dub yourself into films, role play with interactive dialogues and so much more. The price is certainly high but you will have the best. There are lesson plans, progression tests and a simple uncluttered interface so you will not get lost or lose track of where you got to. Highly recommended for serious language learners. Read the full features here

Assimil Italian With Ease ( by Assimil) 
Assimil has a glowing reputation for language learning based on their simple two fold approach. The first stage is known as "Passive Learning" which requires you to listen to the lesson, say it aloud (or to yourself) so you get the pronunciation right and then to follow it again using the translation conveniently written directly opposite. The second stage is called "Active Phase" and starts approximately half way thorough the book. At this time you carry on doing the Passive phase (daily) then you revert back to the first lesson and translate it yourself without looking at the translation. It is more effective if you approach this as a written exercise rather than trying to recall it in your mind only. Then you do your next passive lesson and go to the second lesson of the book to translate and so on.... Don't worry, though, the instructions are clear and you won't go wrong. You need to do one lesson a day (also a translation when you reach that second stage which adds another half an hour). The dialogues are expertly written and played out by professional voice actors of the country. They are lively and humorous and keep your interest. The lessons are ordered so you build gradually on what you have learnt. Don't be tempted to do more than one lesson a day, there is a reason why its "little and often" so to maximise your learning capability. This is an approach that will take at least 6 months to complete and by then you will acquire a level of understanding comparable to B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The lessons/stories are different for each language.

Linguaphone All Talk (Linguaphone) 
Linguaphone's "All Talk" range is surprisingly good in that it is entirely audio and revolves around a soap opera type style of dialogues, involving a 'posh' English lady called Sarah arriving on business in Florence and being helped by a native speaker, Lorenzo Conti who speaks little English. You are always wanting to hear what happens next to our hapless heroes!

The dialogues are lively and funny, with background sounds (much like a radio play). After you are introduced to each dialogue you are then tested on the vocabulary and structure and also you are expected to apply it to alternative scenarios. These complete "All Talk" programs are 16 hours in duration and will give you a vocabulary of 2000 words, which is good enough to make yourself understood and converse simply with native speakers. It is a painless way to acquire an excellent understanding!


Berlitz (AvanQuest) 
This is a very good value and media rich package incorporating elements of Rosetta Stone and Tell Me More with lots of video and content. The content is also downloadable from the software to a portable device such as an MP3 player or Ipod so you can take it with you on the train, car or jogging.  Berlitz have essentially devised videos scenes to take you through the Italian and there are three levels of teaching (Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced). The pace is lively and the videos interesting and you learn some great Italian! I have used this product for 2 months now and I still have lots more options for really studying the language with the huge amount of extras such as Videos, Flashcards, Puzzles, Quizzes and even voice recognition.

Pimsleur ( by Paul Pimsleur) 
Only the first 1-5 lessons of Level 1 are linked here. You should try these as samples to see if it fits your learning style. Pimsleur Italian is another of many languages in the Pimsleur range. These are all audio courses and teach conversational Italian by using them for 30 minutes each day. There are 5 levels and each level comprises of 30 half hour length lessons, each level building on the previous one. No explanations regarding verb conjugations though but there is an English speaking host who guides, prompts and gives you not much more than word meanings. However it is an extremely effective method and has been used extensively within Govt and educational establishments. You can read about the method here. Download more detailed information on course content here (PDF)



Learn in your Car ( by Henry Raymond) 
The Learn in your Car series is a slight improvement on Vocabulearn in that the quality is slightly better and the music has gone! What you have instead are around 100 audio lessons of an American man saying things in English for the cute Italian lady to pleasantly translate it for you. These native speakers are dialect free and the series is great for revising on the go. Like Vocabulearn you play these over and over again, but they do work. I don't recommend them for beginners because they don't give any instruction on verb usage or sentence construction. It is however a very pleasant revision experience. Product shown is for all three levels.
Vocabulearn ( Penton Overseas Inc) 
These are similar to the Learn in Your Car series by Henry Raymond. At first glance these seem like rather ineffective ways of learning as they generally comprise of an English speaker saying a word or phrase which is followed up by an Italian lady translating it all to a backdrop of light music. You are essentially learning by rote. As such you play them until you scream! Yes you will learn hundreds of words and phrases but really for beginners this is not a good way because you are not getting an understanding of verb structure or sentence construction. However this is great for testing yourself while commuting or making use of dead time to revise what you know. Vocabulearn is great for clarification of genders which often need reinforcing! There is also Level 2 and Level 3 if you want more advanced learning/testing.

Rosetta Stone ( by Rosetta Stone) 
Another language from the expensive Rosetta Stone range. As before there are no translations or explanations and you learn by intuition and association, matching words or sentences to pictures. You will definitely need a bi-lingual dictionary and preferably a basic verb book. Its actually quite an enjoyable experience but expensive. Nevertheless you will be a confident speaker with this software. Product shown is all 5 levels of the Italian course, which is exceptional value. Read the reviews.

Earworms ( by Marlon Lodge) 
A much scaled down version of Vocabulearn and the Learn in you Car series. This is a very simple idea that makes learning Italian fun and easy. Its an English man conversing with a Italian woman and asking her how to say things in Italian. All the time there is a rhythmic sound/beat going on to her syllables which is designed to stick in your mind rather like a catchy song. The vocabulary being taught is basic but essential and is a relaxing experience. You don't need to make any real conscious effort as your brain is absorbing it through the beats. There are two cd's in the Italian range and you can listen to samples by clicking the pictures on the left. Overall a fun and enjoyable experience, reasonably priced and it works, but only for basic survival skills. Product shown is for all three levels.
Recommended Study




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