Learning Italian: Step by Step and Region by Region
Kristina Olson is an Associate Professor of Italian and the Italian Program Coordinator at George Mason University, where she has taught Italian language, literature, and cinema since 2005. She earned her PhD in Italian from Columbia University.
Professor Olson is the author of Courtesy Lost: Dante, Boccaccio, and the Literature of History and several articles on Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. She is the coeditor of Open City: Seven Writers in Postwar Rome; Boccaccio 1313–2013; and the second edition of Approaches to Teaching Dante’s “Divine Comedy” with the Modern Language Association.
Professor Olson is the president of the American Boccaccio Association and previously served as vice president and treasurer. She was also the vice president of the Dante Society of America for two years and a councilor for three years. She serves on the editorial boards of Bibliotheca Dantesca, an international journal dedicated to Dante studies, and Dante Studies, the annual publication of the Dante Society of America, and she is an executive committee member for the Modern Language Association’s Languages, Literatures, and Cultures forum on Medieval and Renaissance Italian.
01: Benvenuti to Italian and Italy’s 20 Regions!
Begin with a preview of the content of the course, as you will study the Italian language within the cultural context of Italy’s 20 geographic regions. Learn about vowels and consonants in Italian, and important principles of pronunciation. Study the subject pronouns, the verbs essere and stare (both meaning “to be”), daily greetings, and practice the elements of a simple conversation.
02: Nouns and Articles / Sicily
Discover the island of Sicily, as you build knowledge of Italian grammar and vocabulary. Dive into a text describing Sicily’s topography, history, and ancient treasures. Using the text, explore Italian nouns as they express gender and number. Then look at indefinite articles in Italian (“a” and “an” in English) and definite articles (“the” in English), and learn a practice dialogue.
03: Nouns and Adjectives / Sicily II
Delve further into the history and culture of Sicily in this lesson. Study the plural forms of nouns, and how numbers are spoken in Italian. Practice both elements using an imaginary dialogue concerning a Sicilian literary character. Learn how to describe people, places, and things with adjectives; how adjectives reflect gender and number; and practice describing a Renaissance painting.
04: Verbs Ending in -are / Lombardy
Take an overview of the region of Lombardy; its geography, culture, and food traditions. Learn the present indicative conjugation for “-are” verbs, covering a group of highly useful verbs. Use your new knowledge in talking about daily routines and discussing a classic Italian film, Il Posto. Review numbers in Italian, and look at one of Lombardy’s gems, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.
05: Verbs Ending in -ere / Lazio
The region of Lazio contains the city of Rome, and much history regarding Italian art, politics, and society. Take in its cultural highlights as you practice “second conjugation” verbs, ending in “-ere”. Build facility with these verbs in the present indicative, using a text about the iconic film La Dolce Vita. Learn idiomatic expressions using avere (to have), and ways of forming questions.
06: Verbs Ending in -ire / Aosta and Trentino–Alto Adige
Start this lesson by reading texts describing two of the northernmost regions of Italy, the Valle d’Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, focusing on their mountainous geography and beautiful landscapes. Then study “third conjugation” verbs, ending in -ire, taking note of important irregular -ire verbs. Also learn the calendar, seasons, days of the week, and vocabulary concerning sports activities.
07: Possessive Adjectives and Pronouns / Puglia
Grasp how possessive adjectives (“my,” “your,” and “our” in English) and possessive pronouns (“mine,” “yours,”and “ours”) function in Italian. Explore their use in text describing the geography, scenic landscapes and coastline, and traditional houses of the Puglia region, and add important vocabulary about the family. Practice what you’ve learned in discussing Tre Fratelli and Le Mine vaganti, two films set in Puglia.
08: Prepositions / Abruzzo and Molise
Travel to the beautiful regions of Abruzzo and Molise, which feature stunning natural scenery, fine cuisine, and much history. Dig deeply into the use of prepositions in Italian (as in “from,” “with,” and “about” in English), which connect all the parts of speech. Also, note how prepositions express unspecified quantities, and learn vocabulary about the weather and seasonal activities.
09: Modal Verbs, Sapere, and Conoscere / Liguria
“Modal” verbs are verbs that precede another infinitive, as in “I want to eat.” Work with dovere (to have to), potere (to be able to), and volere (to want to), as you discover Liguria’s natural beauties, picturesque towns, and culinary and artistic riches. Then investigate the verbs conoscere and sapere, which relate to knowledge, and look into the creations of Genoese architect Renzo Piano.
10: The Imperative Mood / Campania
The imperative mood expresses commands, as in, “Repeat after me,” in English. Explore the two types of imperative verbs in Italian, the informal and the formal, and when to use each. Also, study irregular forms of the imperative. Practice the imperative by describing the popular Campania region, famous for its capital of Naples, its ancient sites, beautiful islands, and the scenic Amalfi Coast.
11: Direct Objects / Emilia-Romagna
Here, your subject matter for practice is the beautiful central region of Emilia-Romagna, which boasts the medieval city of Bologna, stunning Adriatic beaches, and a wealth of famous food specialties. Study direct object pronouns (as in “it” and “them” in English, standing in for nouns), as well as two vital adjectives, buono and bello, and use them in describing the sights of Emilia-Romagna.
12: Indirect Objects / Friuli–Venezia Giulia
Continue your study with the indirect object pronouns, which function as in “I give the book to him” in English. Also explore double object pronouns, as in “I give it to him.” Then practice the verb piacere, which expresses likes and dislikes, as you explore the multilingual region of Fruli-Venezia Guilia, highlighting its beautiful and diverse scenery and the fascinating city of Trieste.
13: Irregular Nouns / Basilicata
The less-visited southern region of Basilicata contains rich treasures of history and culture. Discover its ancient rock-carved houses and lunar landscapes as you return to Italian nouns, working with their plural endings and irregular forms. Then add the interrogative nouns and pronouns (“who,” “what,” “why”), as you learn about Carlo Levi’s celebrated novel which made this region famous.
14: Reflexive Pronouns and Verbs / The Marches
Reflexive verbs direct the action onto the subject, as in “I wash myself.” Practice key Italian reflexive verbs along with their pronouns for talking about daily routines and wellness. In the Marches region, reflect on its picturesque scenery, Renaissance and medieval architecture, and the legacy of Raphael and Rossini, and learn the vocabulary of the body as well as how to tell time in Italian.
15: Reciprocal Verbs and Negatives / Veneto
The splendors of the Veneto region are your material for this lesson, from its iconic visual artists and the glorious city of Venice to its traditions of literature and theater. In speaking about the region, add reciprocal verbs, which describe actions that are shared reciprocally, as in, “They love each other.” Also, explore negative constructions and the expressive range of Italian adverbs.
16: Present Progressive and Suffixes / Piedmont
Study text describing the rich attractions of the Piedmont region, its alpine geography, the beautiful capital of Torino, and famed artisanal products. Work with the present progressive construction, which describes actions occurring in the present moment, as in “I’m eating lunch.” Learn about Italian suffixes, word endings that convey extra meaning, and about expressive Italian hand gestures.
17: Indefinite Pronouns, Ci, and Ne / Sardinia
Indefinite pronouns describe nonspecific qualities or quantities, as in “some,” “any,” or “many” in English. Study how these work in Italian, as you discuss ancient sites, agriculture, and tourism on the scenic island of Sardinia. Also, explore the unique pronouns ci and ne, which replace phrases within sentences. Then see how the beauties of Sardinia have been depicted in Italian films.
18: Passato Prossimo with Avere / Umbria
The verdant region of Umbria is known as “The Green Heart of Italy.” Read text about its natural beauties, art and architecture, artisanal industries, and religious history. Work with the basic past tense, the passato prossimo (“Have you eaten?”). Learn to form this compound tense with avere (to have), and use it in discussing Umbrian culture. Also, study regular and irregular participles.
19: Passato Prossimo with Essere / Tuscany
Tuscany is perhaps Italy’s most celebrated and popular region, and the cradle of the Renaissance. Learn about its breathtaking medieval cities, beloved food specialties, and its iconic artists and writers. See how the passato prossimo tense is used with the auxiliary verb essere. Study expressions of time, and practice your skills in describing the life of Florentine painter Sandro Botticelli.
20: The Imperfect Tense / Calabria
The imperfetto (the imperfect) describes actions in the past that were ongoing or not completed, as in “I was reading.” Read text about the untamed beauty, prehistory, and Greek/Byzantine legacy of Calabria, noting the use of the imperfetto. Learn to conjugate the imperfetto, and practice choosing where to use it, as opposed to the passato prossimo, in text on the treasures of ancient Calabria.
21: The Impersonal Voice / Liguria II
Take a second look at the natural beauty and artistic culture of Liguria. Study the impersonal voice, which is used to refer to an unspecified subject, as in “One should” or “Everyone knows.” See how this voice expresses what people can do, see, or experience. Then return to modal verbs, as well as conoscere and sapere, and see how these verbs take on different meanings based on the tense used.
22: The Imperative with Pronouns / Campania II
Return to the culturally rich Campania region as you review the imperative mood (commands), and learn how the imperative functions with pronouns (where “Eat the pizza!” becomes “Eat it!”). Explore both the informal and formal imperative, double pronouns (“Give it to her.”). Then practice them in describing Campania’s ancient cities, scenic beauties, and beloved culinary specialties.
23: The Future Tense / Lazio II
Speak about the sights and history of Rome, the eternal city, as you learn the future tense in Italian (“I will go.”). Practice the conjugation of the future tense, and explore the verb stem changes that characterize it. Take into account the different meanings of the future tense, including its use to express probability, as well as the future perfect construction (“I will have gone.”).
24: Comparatives, Superlatives, and Arrivederci! / Tuscany II
Conclude the course with a return to the beloved region of Tuscany. Expand your knowledge of the past tense in discussing Tuscany’s topography; food culture; and literary giants Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Learn to make comparisons, of equality (“as good as”) and of inequality (“better than”). Finally, explore Italian superlatives (“the worst”, “the best”).