On my way to learning Italian I’ve tried out many books, apps, and podcasts. This review will focus on the audio-based course Think in Italian, which turned out to be something I wish I had picked up much earlier in my journey.
It’s not a perfect course but there is so much about it worth recommending. I’ll cover my experience and what to expect from it in detail, as well as how I’d recommend using Think in Italian in concert with other materials and Italian lessons. But first, a quick overview.
Review in a Nutshell: Think in Italian
- The course offers conversational Italian, with an emphasis on the most common words and phrases as Italians really use them in daily life.
- Grammar is presented intuitively and approachably insofar as is really useful for communicating.
- This is a better alternative to Italian podcasts; you can listen and repeat along with a 10- to 15-minute lesson while doing dishes, in transport, at the gym, etc. and expect to pick up and retain useful elements.
The downsides to consider:
- The pricing is relatively high; though there are at least a variety of plans and a seven-day free trial.
- This is not a gamified program (like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone); while it is more efficient than such language learning apps, you do need to supply your own daily motivation. It’s not a good option for those who don’t enjoy learning Italian and/or have a strong internal or external drive to do so.
- This course is not comprehensive by itself; I’d strongly recommend using Think in Italian alongside lessons and a guidebook (see below).
Overall this is a great learning system for those interested in being able to speak Italian in real-world situations. It could also be a decent supplement for those whose goals are more academic or about passing a test.
- Who Am I to Comment? My Experience with Italian
- Think in Italian: Key Features Reviewed
- The Advantages of the Think in Italian Method
- The Disadvantages and How to Address Them
- Suggested Guide for Using Think in Italian
- Signing Up and Getting the Best Deal on Think in Italian
Who Am I to Comment? My Experience with Italian
I have visited Italy many times, and frequently speak the language with Italian friends, imperfectly but rather fluently, preferably while cooking.
My work outside of this travel website involves educational course design and course writing for clients, and has also included some writing-for-hire specifically about Italian language learning issues.
I am an English-mother-tongue polyglot (fluent in seven-ish languages) and have been an obsessive language learner for all of my adult life; my current main focuses are Serbian and Turkish. It was lovely however to spend a month brushing up on some key aspects of advanced Italian with this program (and I listened to the beginner and intermediate material quite a bit too).
Think in Italian: Key Features Reviewed
It is immediately apparent that with Think in Italian I’m dealing with material designed by a fellow language learner, and one who appreciates the fun in holding real conversations with real people. And, just as importantly, the course designer Stefano Lodola clearly knows a thing or two about learning methods; you can feel that Think in Italian is a passion project by someone who has likely consumed many, many other language methods and wanted to distill them down to his own ideal of what a language course should be. (And indeed, Lodola is a hyperpolyglot himself who enjoys taking on new languages for the sheer joy of it.)
The heart of the Think in Italian course is its 250 audio lessons. The main draw is the “Repeti con me” (“Repeat with Me”) audio lessons, which each feature a particular grammatical or vocabulary element and a couple dozen examples of how that element can be used in different contexts. The examples get repeated three times in A, B, and C sections of each lesson. You are asked to repeat alongside the Italian and there is an English translation as well. You are not supposed to look at the Italian or English versions on your screen while listening, but you can see them if you want to. I generally did not look at my phone’s screen, but liked it quite a lot that I could check it when needed. When I heard something I was not quite sure of; I could pause my workout or whatever I was doing, look at the text, and immediately see the Italian phrase that had just been pronounced alongside its English translation. This is reassuring and much less frustrating than when I’m unsure of what I’ve heard with most Italian audio lessons or podcasts.
The link between the dozens of examples in each “Repeti con me” lesson is merely that they use the same vocabulary or grammatical structure; they do not tell a story or fit together in any other way. This is excellent from a curious language learner standpoint; I have so often been frustrated with Italian learning methods that explain the subjunctive or a complicated word like proprio and give only three or so examples. You’re left wondering how else the structure can be used. With Think in Italian you’re never left to wonder about this, the examples go on and on for a bit over five minutes of audio. It’s like you’re getting a snapshot of the language element from every conceivable angle.
This approach, however, can also be a little trying on your patience, since there is no link between the sentences or story; it is a pure learning exercise. Fortunately, there are abundant fun, connected audio/reading lessons as well for each level that are called “Leggi con me” (“Read with Me”) that offer a connected series of thoughts or story using vocabulary that is appropriate for the level in question while still authentic and useful.
This is not an app; the Think in Italian course runs from a website and so you need internet access to use it. However, the mobile version of the site is great; I generally accessed this course from my phone. The play, pause, and speed adjustment features worked just as well as on any podcast app.
The Advantages of the Think in Italian Method
The course is easy to recommend for most learners interested in actually speaking real Italian (as opposed to those merely studying for a grammar exam). Here’s why.
Real Italian that Hinges on the Most Popular Words
Clear care has obviously been taken to ensure that right from the outset you learn the words and structures that you’re most likely to actually hear and use yourself in Italy. So in the first lesson, instead of some formal, stilted tourist phrasebook clichés like “Our hotel is on the piazza” or “I would like to introduce you to Mr. Grieco”, we get arguably much more real and likely-to-be-heard sentences like:
- Chi è questa ragazza? — Who is this girl?
- È un’amica. — She’s a friend.
This first lesson focuses on the different conjugations of the present tense of the verb essere (to be), giving a complete all-around look at how you might use the verb in real situations alongside very basic vocabulary. This might be a bit too much for someone with no experience in Italian or other romance languages; if that’s the case you may want to use another method for the first month or two of your studies before starting Think in Italian.
Lessons don’t just focus on grammar or conjugation elements. For instance, there is a lesson that focuses entirely on the word proprio in the sense meaning one’s own; that word is extremely popular but can sometimes be a bit hard for us non-Italians to grasp and use well. After hearing and repeating a few dozen examples of the word in many different contexts, I felt truly ready to tell anyone about anything that I would want to emphasize is all mine.
Also, whereas popular language apps (Glossika, Duolingo, etc.) often include the same content translated into many languages, Think in Italian is designed only for learning Italian, and so the content is particular to the attitudes and vocabulary you are actually likely to use in that specific language. This means you learn vocabulary words centered on things like gossip and tiramisú, and really, what would be the point of speaking Italian without those? This might seem a minor point to some learners, but this is really far superior to some silly generic Rosetta Stone-land where your early focus is on whether a bicycle is colored green or yellow.
An Intuitive Way to Really Learn to Use Italian Grammar
The Think in Italian approach excels in tackling slippery language elements like conjunctions that don’t quite have one-to-one English equivalents. A good Italian grammar book can explain the many different ways that a word like nonostante (although, even though) is used, but you get a much more intuitive sense of how the word is used by listening to and repeating the thirty examples in the “Nonostante plus subjunctive” lesson. Compared with reading a grammar book or even attending a language class, after that 15-minute audio lesson you’re much, much more likely to be able to correctly use nonostante the right way: to explain how things are working out for you, in spite of some bedeviling subjunctive clause.
The more grammar-oriented lessons come along at times that are appropriate for each learner level, and they are focused around helping you better communicate certain ideas (rather than theory). They have linked grammar notes with further explanations for when the audio isn’t enough.
Italian grammar can be confounding and I have often wanted to query the textbook writers about details of a grammar point I’ve just examined. With Think in Italian it’s dead simple to drop a comment after a lesson and Lodola himself responds with feedback—generally, it seems, in less than a day.
Better than Listening to Italian Podcasts
I love listening to a few podcasts in Italian but in terms of language learning Think in Italian is superior for skills gained in a short span of listening (and repeating along with the audio). That’s because even advanced Italian learners will have trouble with native Italian speech in podcasts (particularly humor and chatty podcasts where a bunch of rowdy Italians are loudly talking at once).
When you hear an interesting new word or linguistic structure in an Italian podcast you’re unlikely to retain it because it floats quickly past in a sea of other thoughts, often never to be repeated again.
With Think in Italian you can grab your phone and pause it if you want to, and read the Italian phrase alongside it’s English translation right on your screen, giving you a visual cue to supplement the aural input you’ve just gotten. This makes retention much more likely, especially if you yourself repeat what you’ve heard and even think about ways you might use the same word or phrase in your own life.
But even this pausing is not really necessary with Think in Italian, because the key grammar or vocabulary feature of the particular lesson is repeated in each example phrase in a different way, so if you don’t quite grasp one example you’re likely to get the next one or the one after that. Also, if you miss something in the A section of the lesson you may well get it in the B or C sections that follow, where the examples are repeated.
It’s thus quite easy to do real learning with Think in Italian as a purely audio experience. I made some great improvements while walking, going to the gym, and doing dishes. The caveats are that you don’t want to be doing your Italian audio lesson anywhere with so much background noise that you start to lose some of the sonic detail, and you do want to be in a space where you feel comfortable repeating the phrases out loud to yourself (or at least mumbling) in Italian, which really does help ensure retention.
Our site was originally approached by Think in Italian and offered a free trial. It marks the first time we have actually taken up one the many such offers we receive — it was the first course that we have found that we could wholeheartedly recommend to readers.
The Disadvantages and How to Address Them
The Think in Italian course is expensive at nearly U.S. $ 40 per month at last check (though much less if signing up for a yearly subscription). There is, at least, a free trial as well as a 30-day money-back guarantee.
In spite of how it is advertised, it is also not a complete Italian-learning solution in my opinion. There are grammar explanations linked to from some lessons but they are not as nuanced and complete as what you will find in good textbooks and references (see below for my supplementary recommendations). Also missing is the key element of practice and feedback, which is why I also suggest below using Think in Italian alongside language lessons with an in-person or online teacher.
For some learners, motivation could also be an issue with this course. Language learning apps are almost always gamified in various ways, meaning that you get animated icons urging you to continue, badges, points, etc. Sure, this is goofy, but it works, and anything that gets you exposed to Italian more often and for longer periods of time is ultimately going to help you make more progress. If motivation is an issue for you, you’ll want to proactively address it while using Think in Italian, for example by setting daily and weekly goals for the lessons you want to accomplish, giving yourself rewards for doing so, and using an accountability buddy or a friendly competition with another Italian language learner to help keep you on track.
For myself, however, the fact of discovering some new elements of Italian and learning to use them much more successfully—and all this while getting a great workout—has been plenty motivating.
While an audio course is great for doing anywhere, some may find that an Italian video course would be more engaging. For those, a very similar style to Think in Italian but in video form is offered by FluentU. It has a library of Italian videos that, like Think in Italian, are suitable for a full range of learner levels and build you up step by step with real-life, conversational Italian.
Suggested Guide for Using Think in Italian
The main advantage of Think in Italian is that you can use it daily on the way to work, while exercising, etc., and pick up a useful element of the language each time. The problem is, if you really want to retain and make these new elements a part of your speaking, you should also use them. This means that you really need to try out what you are learning with another human being who can give you feedback, preferably a native speaker. And you will likely want to also have a grammar reference, textbook, or self-learning guide to help you resolve some of the stickier issues that come up.
Given these considerations and what scientists generally say about efficient language learning, this is how I would thus recommend using Think in Italian:
- Listen to one “Repeti con me” lesson per day, at the very least the A and B sections, which will take 10-15 minutes. You may then want to listen to the final C section that repeats the same material just before going to sleep, which can help greatly with retention.
- Actually repeat what you are hearing out loud while you listen. You need to train your pronunciation by physically moving your mouth. Doing this can also help with retention.
- Take advantage of the comments sections for the lessons to ask questions, especially if anything about the principal structure of the lesson or the examples don’t make sense.
- Write at least five example sentences using the same vocabulary or grammatical structure of the lesson. You don’t need to do this at the same time that you are listening to the lesson, and it can actually be interesting to see what you remember without looking back at the material. Try to think of situations that you yourself might be in where you would need that structure and imagine what you might say and to whom. Save these sentences to check and correct with a language exchange partner or teacher (the next point) or post them on Lang-8 and get corrections there.
- Finally and most importantly, over what you’ve learned with a native Italian speaker. It is important to actually employ what you have been learning in context and to get feedback. This will also help you to see how different Italians use the structures you’re learning in even more contexts. Language exchanges are fine for this and are free, and there are certainly many Italians looking to improve their English on apps like HelloTalk and Tandem—though you’ll want to set up a live audio session and not just use chat. The problem is, often Italians are not so good about keeping language exchange appointments and really putting in the time; it can be much more effective to actually pay for online tutoring lessons (my favorite site for this is Italki, which has a variety of types of teachers and very reasonable prices). Tip: Plan your Italian lessons yourself based on what you’ve been learning by making a list of what you want to practice (including your written example sentences described above) and sending it to your tutor ahead of time. I find it useful to schedule at least three video chat lessons per week and to do so with three different teachers so that I get a feel for different accents and personal ways of using the language. (This variety is incredibly important for Italian, given the wide range of regional and personal ways that people use the language.) They need only be half-hour lessons. Ensure that your teacher knows to correct you for natural-sounding Italian so that you can see whether you are really using the structures that you’ve learned from Think in Italian as a native speaker might.
- Complete Italian and I highly recommend the grammar textbook Soluzioni (second-hand, previous editions of the book found at that link are fine too and are much cheaper). These can either serve as references that you refer to for tricker grammar issues or as a structured learning program to use in parallel, depending on your preferred learning style. I personally find it useful to use two or three learning programs in parallel to get different angles on a language, though this might be too much for some. And four or more programs would definitely just get confusing.
Used well, Think in Italian should take about 30 minutes of your time daily (15 minutes for listening to the audio, perhaps while doing other things) and 15 minutes studying and writing practice sentences afterwards. Add to this the weekly 90 minutes for one-on-one tutoring or language exchanges, (as little as three half-hour sessions per week) that can be scheduled to be done online at any opportune moment in your day, and you have a very manageable but very effective program for quickly acquiring fluent Italian.
Signing Up and Getting the Best Deal on Think in Italian
Overall I highly recommend Think in Italian to mid-beginner to advanced Italian learners (that is, A2 to C1 levels), in particular as an alternative to Italian podcasts for exposing yourself to real Italian structures as used in conversations. It’s a bit expensive, however; the budget option would be to just use it very intensively for only a few months.
Note that there is a free one-week trial with this link:
I used the audio courses intensively myself for a month to brush up on my Italian (before switching back to my main focus at the moment, which is Turkish).
If you have questions about this review or your own experience to share, I’d appreciate hearing all that in the comments.