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How to Learn Italian Vocabulary – Top Tips and Resources

Knowing Italian grammar is not enough to speak the language fluently. You need to know how to name things with nouns, describe them with adjectives, and make them do things with verbs.

Nouns, adjectives and verbs, among other things, such as adverbs, make up the vocabulary of a language. And there’s no way to learn Italian vocabulary other than by practicing. To remember a word in the long term, you need to be exposed to it a number of times.

But the Italian vocabulary consists of… almost 270,000 words! Surely you don’t need all of them to be fluent, even at native speaker level. In fact, 8,000 words is enough to call yourself an advanced speaker. So how many Italian words should you learn, and more importantly, which ones? Read on for the answers, along with strategies for learning Italian vocabulary faster.

Learning Italian vocabulary: Where to begin

Start with the basics

There is a reason why Italian textbooks begin their first lessons with common greetings such as ciao and buongiorno. These are words you will hear and use every day. Would you like to have a coffee at a bar? Buongiorno, mi fa un caffè? You want to book a table for three at a pizzeria? Buonasera, vorrei prenotare per tre. You can’t do without greetings.

So start with the most common words when you learn Italian vocabulary. Learn how to order food in Italian, how to express your feelings, or how to ask where the restrooms are. It’s no use knowing how to translate “dentures” in Italian if you don’t know how to say “tooth”! Here’s ItalianPod101’s list of the 100 most common Italian nouns, with example sentences.

Also, you can’t do much in a language without familiar verbs. Think about the verbs you use most often in English. Essere and avere, “to be” and “to have,” are very common verbs in Italian, along with fare, “to do. offers complete conjugations for a large number of Italian verbs, and here you can find a list of the 100 most common Italian verbs.

How many words do you need to know?

Setting a goal is a great way to learn Italian faster. What are you going to do with the words you learn? Will you chat with locals on your dream vacation, read books in Italian, watch Italian movies?

What you want to do will ultimately influence the number of words you need to learn. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, an advanced speaker may have an active vocabulary of 8,000 words, but if your goal is to ask for a stracciatella ice cream, you won’t need to know that many.

If you’re just traveling to Italy, you can get by with as little as 1,000 words, provided you choose wisely and include the words and phrases you’re most likely to need while on vacation, such as “bedroom,” “reservation,” “a table for two,” “where is…?”, “I lost my…”, etc.

A fluent speaker may have an active vocabulary of more than 10,000 words, but they’ll be able to do much more than order their favorite pizza. If you want to talk about climate change or human rights or any other topic that requires words that are not used on a daily basis, you will definitely need a vocabulary larger than 1,000 words.

Tips and resources to learn Italian vocabulary

Now let’s talk about some strategies you can use to learn Italian vocabulary more effectively (that means “faster”, and that’s always good in our busy everyday lives!).

Search for CEFR vocabulary requirements

Language proficiency in Europe is divided into 6 levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. A1 means you’re a new learner, while C2 means you have a near-native level of proficiency in the language.

This framework, called the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), has made it possible to standardize language learning so that students at each level know approximately the same vocabulary and grammar concepts. For example, an A1 learner of Italian should know the days of the week, how articles work, and what colors are. A B2 learner might need to learn how to write a job application.

This means that you will find online handy word lists with all the words you need to know for each level. If you start with the A1 vocabulary lists, you will learn the most common words in Italian. These are the basics to start with! Here are Italian word lists from A1 to B2:

If you prefer a more structured approach, you can also learn vocabulary by topic. Be aware, however, that you may encounter unusual words this way. Ask ChatGPT or another AI bot to generate some potential beginner topics for you, such as:

  • family members
  • rooms of a house
  • the four seasons
  • the colors
  • days and months

The Nuovo vocabolario di base della lingua italiana

The Nuovo vocabolario di base della lingua italiana is not your ordinary vocabulary or dictionary. It doesn’t give definitions, nor does it translate entries into another language. So what does it do? It lists the first 7,000 most common Italian words and ranks them by frequency.

Click on the link in the previous paragraph. You will find a Dropbox link on that page if you click on “qui il pdf”. Download the PDF and open it. I know, I know, it’s a notorious wall of text! But look closely. You will notice that there are bold and italicized words:

  • words in bold are very common
  • words in regular font are common
  • words in italics are less common words

Make sure you learn bold words first, then move on to regular words. Finally, work on words in italics. It’s that simple!

Word gender is mostly predictable, but learn that too

You may already know that Italian nouns can be of one of two genders, masculine and feminine. There’s a different set of indefinite and definite articles for each.

While Italian gender is very predictable (for example, most feminine words end in -a), there is still a decent number of exceptions that warrant attention. Whenever you learn a new noun, make sure you also learn its corresponding article.

There are a large number of Italian dictionaries that display the gender of words, but I personally like WordReference for its clean interface and ease of use. Next to each noun entry, you will find either “nm” or “nf”, which stand for “masculine noun” or “feminine noun” respectively.

Learn cognates

Cognates are words from different languages that have a common origin. Many Italian words are of Latin origin. Although English is a Germanic language, it still has many words of Latin origin that sound very similar to their Italian counterparts. For example:

  • documento (document)
  • animale (animal)
  • onore (honor)

As you can see, it’s very easy to learn Italian vocabulary this way, because these words differ only by one or two letters (and their pronunciation, of course). But beware! Not all similar words have the same meaning. There are a few false friends you should be aware of, such as:

  • caldo (hot, NOT cold)
  • libreria (bookstore, NOT library)
  • parenti (relatives, NOT parents)
  • rumore (noise, NOT rumor)

Click here to find a table of 100+ Italian false friends.

Use flashcards

Flashcards are little post-it notes that you can put in your drawer or stick on your furniture around the house. Do you have a lamp in your living room? Stick a flashcard that says “Lampada – Lamp” on it. Is there a television set? “Televisore – TV”! Uhm, keeping hundreds of post-it notes or having guests over might get a little weird…

So take advantage of technology and the Internet. Anki and Deckademy allow you to create your own set of flashcards to practice at your own pace.

Use context

I know that the urge to learn new words in another language can feel out of control. That was the case for me in the early days of learning German. I would sit at my desk and… how do you say “table”? And “chair”? And “paper”? And…? But that’s the wrong way to approach learning Italian vocabulary.

Post-its and flashcards are a wonderful way to learn Italian vocabulary, but it takes more than mindless repetition to actually be able to use a word in a sentence. You see, words have to do something other than name, describe, or move a thing. You need contextualization in order for a new word to stick.

Write down an example sentence for each new word you learn. If you have trouble coming up with a good example, Tatoeba can help you find one.

And if you want to practice vocabulary in context, Clozemaster is a great resource for learning Italian vocabulary in context . It uses spaced repetition, a well-known and very effective language learning strategy, to present you with sentences of increasing difficulty and cloze exercises (fill in the blanks) to make practice fun.

Listen to music and watch movies

Listening to music and watching movies are great ways to learn Italian vocabulary in context.

Spotify and YouTube are perfect for music, while streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video allow you to watch videos with Italian dubbing and subtitles. You can enjoy content actively or passively, because every exposure counts.

Plus, YouTube has a lot more to offer than just music videos. Here are some resources you can use to learn Italian vocabulary:

Read books and graded readers

Graded readers are books specifically designed for a particular CEFR level. Some are original stories, while others are simplified versions of famous books.

The publisher Black Cat has many to choose from, and you can also find many Italian graded readers on Easy Readers.

Keep a journal or a blog

Platforms such as WordPress and Blogger make it very easy to keep an organized journal, and they are 100% free to use. Keeping an online journal not only allows you to practice Italian vocabulary in context, but also allows you to easily track your progress over time.

You can start your blog by writing simple thoughts, maybe adding what you had for breakfast or what you did at school or work. Before you know it, you will be writing more complex sentences and longer posts, making fewer and fewer mistakes.

Keeping a blog allows you to review words you have already learned, which is very useful for long-term memory. The more you practice a word, the longer it will stick, and the lower the chance that your brain will consider it useless and forget it.

Final thoughts on how to learn Italian vocabulary

As we have seen, learning Italian vocabulary is just a matter of constant practice, which doesn’t have to be boring. Learn something every day, don’t overdo it, and you’ll reach fluency before you know it!

Want some more resources for learning Italian? Take a look:

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Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in Italian.

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