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Learning Italian: what you need to know

In today’s world, there are endless possibilities for learning Italian! However, you might wonder how you should get started. Here are the best ways to learn Italian :

1. Learn the alphabet
You need to know the smallest components of a language before you can use them to form words, sentences, and dialogues! Start by learning the Italian alphabet. 

2. Learn to pronounce Italian
Now that you know your Italian ABCs, it’s time to put a sound (or two) to each letter! Thankfully, Italian pronunciation isn’t too difficult and there are easy to follow rules. 

3. Learn some basic Italian words and phrases
Put your new skills to use with some useful Italian expressions. Focus on phrases you can use in your daily life with your Italian friends, colleagues, or tandem partners. 

4. Learn Italian greetings and etiquette
Don’t forget that each language comes with its own culture! As you start communicating in Italian, make sure you’re paying attention to the nonverbal cues and associated customs. 

5. Find a well-designed course to follow
When you’re ready to get more serious about learning Italian, find a course you can dive into. It will ensure your learning is structured, steady, and stimulating. You don’t want to find yourself at level B1 with substantial gaps in A1 knowledge that will take years to fix!

6. Practice daily
Next comes practice, practice, practice! A language is only useful as far as you use it, and in fact your brain will only retain it as long as you do. A good course will provide you with all the resources you need to continue practicing so that you never stop making progress. 

7. Immerse yourself
Push your skills to the next level by immersing yourself in the language. Psst… this is the most fun part! You get to travel to Italy, make new friends, and experience life through an Italian lens. But even if this isn’t an option for you just yet, don’t worry! GlobalExam’s all-inclusive method has got you covered. Read more about it below.

Italian is relatively easy for English speakers to learn, and even more so for Spanish, French, and Portuguese speakers. But even speakers of other languages don’t tend to find Italian very difficult

English is technically categorised as a Germanic language. However, it has still adopted many words from Latin, which Italian directly stems from. This means it shares many things in common with Italian. So English learners will be able to make easy associations and draw comparisons to their own language. 

Speakers of Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Romanian have it even easier. These are all Romance languages, along with Italian. They not only share similar sentence structure and grammar, but also vocabulary and elements of pronunciation.

The Italian alphabet is essentially a simpler version of the English alphabet — good news for you if English is your first language!

It has 21 letters — the same ones as the English alphabet, except for “j”, “k”, “w”, “x” and “y”

Each letter has only one or two possible sounds, and contrary to English, you can easily tell the pronunciation of a word just by looking at it. Most of these sounds exist in both English and Italian

There are just a few basic rules of Italian pronunciation that can be tricky for beginners. But once you get the hang of them, Italian pronunciation is really straightforward.

1) The changing sounds of “c” and “g”

The letters “c” and “g” change sounds depending on what letter comes after them. If “c” is followed by either “i” or “e”, it is pronounced like “ch” in English. For example, the word “ci” (reflexive marker) in Italian would be read the same way as “chi” in English. Similarly, “c’è” (there is) would be pronounced like “che” for English speakers. 

However, when “c” is followed by one of the other vowels, namely “a”, “o”, or “u”, it is pronounced like a “k”. The same thing happens when you put an “h” after “c”in front of “i” or “e”. So for example, the word “cane” (dog) would be read “kah-neh”, and “chi” (who) would be read “ki”. 

The letter “g” behaves the same way. Followed by “e” or “i”, it has a soft sound, like in the word “gee” in English. (Think how you pronounce “gelato” and you’ll get the picture!) If a “g” is followed by “a”, “o”, “u”, or “h”, it is a hard sound, like in “goat”. 

2) The “gn” combination

“Gn” is another letter combination that is new for many learners of Italian. It is similar to the soft “n” sound in the word “piñata” or “Tanya”. A word you probably already know with this sound is “gnocchi” — a delicious Italian dish you hopefully already know well!

3) The Italian single and double “zz” sound

The letter “z” behaves a little differently in Italian than it does in English. Its double occurrence, “zz”, is pronounced the same way it is in “pizza” and “mozzarella” in English — two very important words for Italian cuisine! Another example of this sound is “tsunami”. Just add a short pause before you say this sound to pronounce it correctly (see point 5 below). 

A single “z” in Italian is very similar to the double “zz”, but pronounced a bit harder. You can think of it like saying “dz” instead of “ts”. An example of this is “zenzero” (ginger), which would be read “dzen-dze-ro”. 

4) The “sc” combination

The Italian “s” sounds exactly the same as an English “s”. But the combination with “c”, “sc” in Italian turns into the “sh” English sound — but only when it’s followed by “i” or “e”. An example of this is “scena” (scene), which is pronounced “sheh-nah”, or “scimia” (monkey) which is pronounced “she-miah”. By contrast, “scale” (stairs) is pronounced “skah-leh”. Heads up — if “sc” is followed by “h”, this turns into a “sk” sound even with “i” or “e”! For example, “schiena” (back) is pronounced “skyeh-nah”. 

5) Double consonants

You’ll find there are many double consonants in Italian! One of the easiest examples is the word “pizza”. When you see a double consonant like this, you have to pause shortly before pronouncing it. This contributes to the rhythmic melody of the Italian language, with pauses happening at regular intervals. Here are other examples of common words with this pronunciation feature:

  • “Bistecca” (meaning beef steak — pronounced “bees-TE—kah”, with a pause after “te”)
  • “Basso” (meaning short — pronounced the way it is written, with a long hissing “s”)
  •  “Spaghetti” (pronounced the way it is in English, but with a pause before “tti” and a more pronounced “t” sound)
  • “Mamma” (meaning mom — pronounced the way it is written, but you have to hold the double “m” sound before saying the “a”).

As Italian is derived directly from Latin, and English takes many words from it as well, you will easily recognize a lot of Italian vocabulary. Here are a few examples below:

  • Università
  • Artista
  • Educazione

Many English words are in fact taken directly from Italian! (Especially food words — one of the most important conversation topics in Italy). Here are some examples:

  • Fiasco
  • Scenario
  • Opera
  • Ballerina
  • Zucchini
  • Stiletto
  • Casino
  • Paparazzi
  • Ghetto 

In either case, one thing you always have to be mindful of is pronunciation. Even if words are spelled exactly the same way in English, they can be pronounced very differently in Italian! 

So in the examples above, you need to pause before the double consonants in “ballerina,” “zucchini,” “stiletto,” “paparazzi,” and “ghetto”. Also, the “sc” in “scenario” is pronounced like the “sh” English sound. 

Here are some lists of the most common & basic Italian vocabulary words and phrases:

Most Common & Basic Italian Vocabulary Words

Here are 10 of the most useful Italian vocabulary words for beginners:


Good afternoon


Good evening

Mi scusi

Excuse me


Thank you


You’re welcome

Mi spiace

I’m sorry

Per favore


Un caffé

A coffee

Una birra

A beer

Un biglietto

A ticket

Most Common & Basic Italian Phrases

Here are 10 common Italian phrases you can use on your next trip to Italy:

Italian phrase

English translation

When to use it

Fa molto piacere conoscerla!

It’s very nice to meet you!

When you meet someone in a formal situation (in a hotel, restaurant, museum, etc.)


Excuse me / Pardon me

When you need someone to let you pass or you bump into them by accident

Il tempo è molto bello oggi!

The weather is very nice today!

When you want to impress a waiter, ticket seller, or clueless tourist

Dov'è il bagno?

Where is the bathroom?

When nature calls at the worst possible time

Vorrei un caffè, per favore.

I’d like a coffee, please.

Whenever and wherever! Just kidding. But really, you can order a coffee pretty much anywhere in Italy.

Quanto costa questo?

How much does this cost?

When you’d like to buy an (expensive) souvenir, a (more expensive) piece of street art, or an (unbelievably expensive) designer handbag.

Posso avere un po 'd'acqua?

May I have some water?

When you arrive breathless and sweaty at a café from a scenic hike in the Italian countryside.

Come si va alla stazione ferroviaria?

How do I get to the train station? 

When you’re about to move on to the next beautiful Italian destination.

Vorrei andare al Westin Hotel.

I’d like to go to the Westin Hotel.

When you climb into a taxi after a busy day exploring Italian art and history.

No grazie.

No, thank you. 

When vendors on the beach get especially passionate about the goods they’re selling.

Let’s learn the basics of Italian grammar:

Italian Verb Conjugation

Italian verbs are easy to recognise in their infinitive form as they all end in -are, -ere, or -ire — no exceptions! 

When they are used, Italian verbs must be conjugated for each pronoun. This is different from English, where the same verb form is used for all subjects except the “s” in third person present simple. 

The good news is that Italian verbs follow conjugation patterns. You just remove the -are / -ere / -ire ending from the infinitive verb, and add a particular ending to the verb stem — and voilà, you’ve got your conjugated verb! 

The charts below show how to conjugate regular Italian verbs in the present simple.

Cantare (to sing)

I sing

Io canto

You sing

Tu canti

He/she sings

Lui/lei canta

We sing

Noi cantiamo

You sing

Voi cantate

They sing

Loro cantano 

Vedere (to see)

I see

Io vedo

You see

Tu vedi

He/she sees

Lui/lei vede

We see

Noi vediamo

You see

Voi vedete

They see

Loro vedono

Dormire (to sleep)

I sleep

Io dormo

You sleep

Tu dormi

He/she sleeps

Lui/lei dorme

We sleep

Noi dormiamo

You sleep

Voi dormite

They sleep

Loro dormono

Omitted pronouns 

Thanks to this clear-cut conjugation which has a specific verb form for each pronoun, you don’t actually need to explicitly say the pronoun in Italian. This leads to sentences that look like they have no subject in Italian. For example, to say “I sing” you don’t have to say “io canto” — it’s more common to say just “canto”. The verb already makes it clear that you are speaking as “I”, the first person singular. Similarly, if you say “cantiamo,” it’s already clear that you are saying “we sing”, even though you didn’t explicitly say “noi cantiamo”. 

Italian Modal Verbs

In some cases, you’ll find Italian verbs in their infinitive form. A common use of this is if they are used with modal verbs, such as “potere” (can), “volere” (want to), or “dovere” (must). You would conjugate the modal verb (unfortunately, these are irregular so they must be memorised separately), then add another verb right after in its infinitive form

Below you’ll find the conjugation of these three common modal verbs used in context with another verb:

Potere (can)

I can sing

Io posso cantare

You can sing

Tu puoi cantare

He/she can sing

Lui/lei può cantare

We can sing

Noi possiamo cantare

You can sing

Voi potete cantare

They can sing

Loro possono cantare

Volere (want to)

I want to see

Io voglio vedere

You want to see

Tu vuoi vedere

He/she wants to see

Lui/lei vuole vedere

We want to see

Noi vogliamo vedere

You want to see

Voi volete vedere

They want to see

Loro vogliono vedere

Dovere (must)

I must sleep

Io devo dormire

You must sleep

Tu devi dormire

He/she must sleep

Lui/lei deve dormire

We must sleep

Noi dobbiamo dormire

You must sleep

Voi dovete dormire

They must sleep

Loro devono dormire

Italian Nouns and Genders

Nouns are another big part of a language. This is where you’ll find another key difference between English and Italian — in Italian, every noun has a “gender”! Instead of saying “a” or “an”, you have to say “un” (masculine indefinite article) or “una” (feminine indefinite article). Similarly, to express “the” you use either “il” (masculine definite article) or “la” (feminine definite article)

The gender of each noun is fixed. Sometimes it’s intuitive, for example “la donna” (the woman — feminine noun) and “il uomo” (the man — masculine noun). Other times, it seems arbitrary. For example, “spoon” is masculine (il cucchiaio) and “door” is feminine (la porta). As you learn new Italian nouns, it’s good to memorize their “gender” right away too. 

Thankfully, there are patterns of word endings that can help you tell if a word is feminine or masculine. For example, most words that end in -o are masculine and those that end in -a are generally feminine. Examples of this are “il ragazzo” (the boy) and “la ragazza” (the girl)

There are also many words that end in -e, which could be either masculine or feminine and must simply be memorised. For example, “la notte” (the night) is feminine, but “il cane” (the dog) is masculine.

Are you looking for the best way to learn Italian online? Check out the online courses by GlobalExam! 

Here is everything you need to know to get started. 

Types of courses:

Sign up for private lessons to have a native Italian teacher all to yourself for 30 minutes. You can book time slots of your choosing directly in the teachers’ schedules. You’ll be sure to find availability that suits you, as our teachers are located all over the world!. 

For a community atmosphere, take 1-hour group lessons. You’ll learn with a maximum of 5 other students, keeping the learning both focused and fun. These lessons are led by a native teacher along with an assistant, and include all sorts of group and pair activities with direct help from the teacher


For the private lessons there are no given topics — you’ll tell the teacher your needs and preferences for customised lessons.

Are you a beginner or intermediate Italian learner?

Then General Italiano would be theperfect program for you!

This is an online course specifically designed to help you learn or improve your Italian

With General Italiano, you’ll get:

  • Structure that is “academic” but also fun and engaging, so that you can progress with confidence
  • Detailed corrections for every question
  • Review cards that are accessible at any time

What is the objective of General Italiano?

To motivate learners like you to continue learning while avoiding the frustration that comes with many traditional courses (at school, in academies, with free apps, etc.). 

We could boast about our course all day — but the best way to understand what it can offer you is to see for yourself.

Take advantage of our best offer and try it out today!