Expanding the vocabulary is fundamental for early-stage language learners, therefore identifying new words becomes a priority. This is particularly true if you are in an immersion environment like the one you are in now, but keep in mind that this constant exposition to real-life language may be overwhelming if not controlled.

Here’s some advice on how to set up your self-study programme.

What vocabulary do I need to know?

As an A1 learner there are some words you absolutely need to know. These words are very common, and if you don’t know them, not only you will have trouble with Italian in general, but you will also struggle in an Italian-speaking university environment.
  • the alphabet
  • greetings and pleasantries
  • names of countries, cities, faculties and professions
  • cardinal numbers
  • telling the time
  • verbs for daily and free time activities
  • parts of the day
  • days of the week
  • months, seasons
  • adverbs of frequency
  • public places (restaurants, etc.)
  • Tourist facilities (hotel, youth hostel, etc.)
  • types of food and diet; adjectives for talking about food and drink
  • simple expressions for describing
  • feelings or needs (I’m tired / I’m hungry)
  • time reference words: la settimana scorsa, un anno fa …
  • weather vocabulary: è/fa bello/brutto,c’è il sole, piove/nevica/ è nuvoloso etc.
  • means of transport
  • locations around the city
  • verbs of movement (attraversare, girare, etc.)
  • basic lexis relating to the life of a university student

Which tools can I use?

Textbooks and audiobooks

Textbooks can serve as the backbone to any successful language learning environment-something that ties it all together:

  • they offer a systematic look at a language, and often associate grammar with vocabulary as well as cultural tips.

  • textbook materials have been tried and tested, they are based on sound learning principles, and are paced appropriately.

  • textbooks are packed with useful content: vocabulary lists, along with dialogues, texts and thorough explanations.

Here’s a list of some useful materials to train yourself with vocabulary at the Language Centre:

    In English:

  • Italian - Assimil - with ease series
  • Routledge Colloquial Italian
  • Teach yourself – Complete Italian Course
  • Studio Italiano

    In Italian:

  • Le parole italiane
  • Parole: 10 percorsi nel lessico italiano

    In German:

  • Progetto italiano für deutschsprachige Lerner 1 (A1)
  • Großer Lernwortschatz Italienisch aktuell

    In French:

  • L'italien - Assimil - collection sans peine
  • Vocabulaire Italien

    In Spanish:

  • El Italiano - Assimil - collección sin esfuerzo

Here's a list of some audible graded readers available at the Language Centre:

Level A1 - 500 key words
  • Amore e cappuccino
  • Dolomiti
  • Dov'è Yukio?
  • Radio Lina
  • Pasta per due

Level A1/A2 - 1000 key words
  • La commissaria
  • La rossa
  • Le città impossibili
  • Amore in paradiso
  • Maschere a Venezia

What's the best method then?
Unfortunately there's no universal solution to the question. Since we all learn in different ways, some methods might be more suitable to some people than others.
Moreover, no textbook is perfect, and no textbook is complete. It is but one resource at your disposal. Use it as a guidebook, or an outline.

The bottom line is: read about a few language methods, and try out a few to get to know which one might be the best fit for you.
The Language Centre advisors will help you choose the best solution for your needs.

Once you have chosen your textbooks, dictionaries and supplementary materials you can easily throw yourself into the challenge of real-life language, possibly trying to put into practice what you have been studying.

Online resources

You learn words best if you see them used in context. When learning in context it’s important not to choose a daunting task: you need to be able to recognize most of the words you read or hear so that you can easily spot the new words.
A ratio of one new word to every 20-50 familiar words would be fine. Therefore it would be useful to seek out opportunities from sources like podcasts and videos.

Here's list of useful resources:
News in slow Italian

Current news delivered at slow speed and with additional transcripts. Listening to news in a foreign language is great for increasing your vocabulary on current topics.

30 minute Italian

It covers expressions and culture through personal travel stories and detailed examples.

TedEx Talks

Most TED Talks are translated into different languages. This means that although the talk itself is in Italian, you can watch it with subtitles in a foreign language, and you can also look at the script in the TED subtitles. Choose a topic of your interest: by actually being emotionally involved with the topic you’ll be listening to, and by acquiring vocabulary through meaningful context and not from lists of words, it’ll make it much easier for your brain to remember new information, and this will in turn make it much easier to remember new vocabulary and expressions.


If you are interested in a particular subject you can start with that. For example, if you like reading about sports or cooking, go for it! The most effective learners are motivated to study because they memorise words based on their interests and needs. If you do this, you are more likely to use the new words in context.


Get hold of do-it-yourself cards by cutting a sheet of paper into pieces. It’s cheap, easy and low-tech. Make notes of new expressions or words on one side of the card, on the other write at least one example in context, a synonym and then maybe a translation. Try to keep your cards simple: you’ll learn best if your cards have very little clutter on them.

If you prefer technology you can choose digital flashcards. You can find many computer software programmes online allowing you to create your own flashcards or use cards that other people have created: try Quizlet, StudyStack or Anki


  • Speak aloud as you practise: you learn words better when you speak rather than simply read them.
  • Review your cards with spaced repetition: it’s better to review them in shorter intervals each day and to review them again every few days, increasing the amount of time between each repetition.
DOWNSIDE: Flashcard learning doesn’t provide opportunities to learn words in context. Make sure to combine your flashcards with opportunities to read, listen, watch and speak.

Web & smartphone apps

Here's a list of apps for learning Italian which are available for free on the Google Play store. They all have an offline mode, meaning you can hone your skills whenever you have a few spare minutes:

  • Duolingo: grammar, vocabulary and phrases are organized into different topics which you work through in small, bite-sized lessons that feel like a game. It evolves as you go so that you'll be tested on the topics you struggle with most, and you get rewards for regular practice, making it addictive as well as educational. The only downside is that you can't pick and choose specific topics to learn, but have to unlock them in the correct order.
  • Memrise: Memrise will help you learn vocabulary in your browser
  • Learn Italian words free: learn 10,000 words and phrases relating to useful topics from beginner to advanced level. There is a flashcard dictionary and audio pronunciation, plus a listening-only mode so you can learn while exercising or doing housework.
  • Learn Italian - 50 languages: It’s similar to a traditional textbook approach, combining audio and text exercises which teach you vocabulary and grammar organized into different subject areas.

No matter what tools you decided to adopt, it's important to create a routine that works for you: you don’t have to stuff your brain with hundreds of words, because you don’t need too many words to get by in a language. With a little strategy and the right tools, you can learn faster than you might have imagined.

For example you can try to keep an eye on the following steps and possibly create a routine that works for you

  • Step one: collecting words.
    Any time you run across a new interesting word you have to record it in a small pocket notebook, a ring binder or whatever support you have decided to include in your tool box (also a smartphone would do)

  • Step two: reviewing words.
    This is the moment when you search for the correct pronunciation, write down the definition with some examples. Establish a routine to empty your daily/weekly/monthly cache of words.

  • Step three: organising your collection.
    Il you like technology you can benefit from the apps on your smartphone; some of them can help you organise a large vocabulary collection. If you prefer paper-based methods, then flashcards can be easily organised in index card boxes.

  • Step four: using the words.
    Try to recycle them in a conversation as soon as possible in order to fix them in your long-term memory. Seek out opportunities for useful language practice, such as writing emails to friends or writing a personal journal.

Test yourself on vocabulary