If you’ve ever felt frustrated while learning Italian – especially right from the start – trust me, you’re not alone.
And if you’re reading this, it’s more than likely that you’re the kind of person who likes learning on their own and are at an age where you don’t want to go back to any kind of school setting.
So now that you’re on your own, you’re doing things like Duolingo or reading articles, like on my site, but you still feel like there’s something missing.
You still feel like you’re floundering because each day you don’t know exactly what you’re going to study or if you’re actually making progress.
The good news, and there is only good news, is that the problem of feeling lost can be solved – whether it’s by figuring out a schedule and some language learning techniques that work well for you or if you decide to buy yourself a road map.
While there are lots of great options out there, one awesome one I’ve seen is Rocket Languages – a really cool company out of New Zealand that have similar road maps for Hindi, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese, among others.
If I had to choose just one thing that I love about them most, it would be that when I log in to the site to do my lessons they’re already waiting for me.
No having to decide what to learn, no wondering if I’m making progress and no having to piece together my own homemade lessons that may or may not be effective.
Rocket Languages has been around for a while, so they’ve had a chance to evolve, and they’ve got the science down pretty well.
They use a method called chunking where you only engage with chunks each day so you’re not overwhelming yourself, and it allows time for your brain to absorb the information, which you can do through their tests that require you to practice hearing, seeing, writing and conversing.
So, let’s take their very first lesson for Italian as an example.
You have a full audio to listen to, which is always a conversation between native speaking hosts, They then break down the conversation so you can learn it piece by piece.
It’s incredibly convenient, and I sometimes wish that I could have the same thing done for shows that I watch dubbed in Italian or while I’m in actual conversation with someone. Above everything else, it offers you a safe and organized learning environment.
Immersion is fantastic, but only if you’re ready for it, which tends to happen at the intermediate or upper intermediate level.
This program is there to help you prepare for the immersion in Italy so you can make the most of it.
In the same lesson you see the audio tracks, and they separate them so you can listen to exactly what you want and even pretend to be one of the people talking for practice.
And finally, you have some extra vocabulary to keep you busy.
My favorite part of this is that I can double click on any of the words in Italian and save them to my personal word list so I can review them later.
You add in the meaning and any notes you might have yourself, and they take it a step further by showing you similar phrases from other lessons so you can see the word being used in context.
However, before I go on to tell you more about how it can help you, I want to be realistic about its limits.
All amazing things have limits, just like humans, and this isn’t a terrible thing.
In fact, it’s fantastic because we then reduce dependence and are forced to wander out on our own to get out of comfort zone.
Anywho. Off my soapbox.
Limits of Rocket Italian
1.) The speech is incredibly clear and easy to understand. You might think this is a benefit, but when you’re actually in conversation with an Italian speaker, it’s going to be far less crystal clear. I recognize that the speech is slow and easy to understand because we’re learning, and I don’t want you to depend solely on this for audio comprehension and then realize that it wasn’t up to par for actually having conversations.
a.) To remedy this, use Rocket Italian for initial learning and then flex your audio comprehension muscles by watching movies, shows, interviews or listening to the radio in Italian.
2.) If you’re not competitive, it’s easy to not show up for a lesson. This limit has to do more with you and your motivation levels than the program, but it’s still worth mentioning. They have some really cool features, like badges and a leaderboard system, that are particularly motivational for people who are competitive. If you’re not and you have a full schedule, not logging on and doing a lesson is a breeze.
a.) You must supplement this by having your own language-learning schedule and being accountable to yourself in some way. One suggestion I have is to find someone else who is learning Italian and keep each other accountable through email, phone or in-person meetings. Then each time you show up, you have to tell the other person what you did that week and how much you learned…preferably in Italian.
3.) It can feel overwhelming to see all of the lessons. Since it’s a big program with lots of information, there are a lot of lessons to go through, and it can feel overwhelming to see them all laid out like that. So overwhelming, in fact, that some people might not start, finish, or just keep jumping around.
a.) Your only real remedy for this is to tell yourself that you’re going to go through each lesson in order in full. You might get bored, and if you want to make progress, that’s the reality of learning a language. Sometimes it’s boring.
4.) You don’t ever have a real conversation in Italian. Now, talking with natives is not a part of the program and what they promise you, but I believe that it should DEFINITELY be a supplement.
a.) You can remedy by this finding language partners on sites like Italki or SharedTalk.
For me, those are the main limits, but the limits may be different for you.
The point isn’t to let the limits get in the way of your progress.
The language learners that succeed in becoming fluent become fluent no matter what.
They use whatever resources they have available to them and they make them work.
If you’re going to learn a language, it’s imperative that you’re proactive.
Some other cool features that they have are things like their forum where you can ask questions about the language and culture, games where you can get the Duolingo feel, and a phrase finder where you can type in any word and lessons with that word will come up, showing you how it sounds and how to use whatever you’re curious about.
It’s a road map that will help you from feeling confused and like you’re wasting time, and it’s ridiculous because it’s so reasonably priced.
If you checked it out and it still isn’t the best fit for you, there are other options.
Here are some paid options:
Assimil for Italian – While I haven’t used this personally, I’ve heard amazing things about the Assimil program and many people have reached a conversational level from it. Check it out here.
Here are some free options:
Lingq – I’ve used this briefly for Mandarin, and it’s cool because it brings together a bunch of learning materials for you in one library. They have a paid version too, but you can get by with just using the free account if you get creative.
Italian About – I’ve had some readers tell me great things about this site where they can get lessons on grammar, vocabulary and phrases all for free. I’m pretty sure they even send weekly emails out with mini-lessons and tips.
Memrise – Memrise uses mems, audio, and constant practice to help you learn.
You can choose mems that are most likely to stick in your memory, and you can create them as well, which will earn you extra points for contributing. It has a game-like feel as you are moving up levels, racing against the clock and gaining points.
Duolingo – Duolingo is cool because it’s free + helps you build a daily practice.
You determine your level, go through levels, unlock higher ones, and then translate some text that ends up being translated on the interwebs for the people reading in other languages. They also have an iPhone and Android mobile application that’s free.
As always, the free options require that you have more willpower and are organized since you’re the one creating your experience, gathering the materials you’ll use, and showing up each day to do the work.
If you’re interested in that path, a great article to start with is this one:
4 Steps to Creating the Most Productive (& Awesome) Language Learning Schedule
Now, I want to hear from you.
Have you tried Rocket Languages or are on the fence about it?
Tell me in the comments below!
A loving disclaimer: Rocket Languages has been a sponsor for the 30 Minute Italian podcast in the past. They did not pay me to write this article, but I did it because I want everyone to know about them.