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Author: Will Jackson

Adriano, Il Cane di Pompei (Hadrian, the Dog of Pompeii)

Adriano, Il Cane di Pompei (Hadrian, the Dog of Pompeii)

Reading dual-language children’s books is a great way to expose your child to Italian and improve your vocabulary. My daughter and I are enjoying the book Adriano, Il Cane di Pompei (Hadrian, the Dog of Pompeii), written by Matthew Frederick and illustrated by Leo Latti.

Adriano, Il Cane di Pompei is about a dog who lives in the ruins of Pompeii. Adriano enjoys his  life in Pompeii of running around the ruins with his friends and eating cose buone da mangiare (treats) the tourists give him. One night he is awakened by the sounds of a group of robbers stealing a painting from one the rooms. Adriano investigates and unwittingly becomes a hero. To find out how, you’ll have to read the book.

My daughter enjoys the book because of the fun story and colorful pictures. While I enjoy those aspects too, I also like that it infuses history into the story by referencing things like il dio Dioniso (the god Dionysus). The introduction of the story also provides a short description of Pompeii.

By reading Adriano, Il Cane di Pompei aloud, I get to practice my pronunciation of Italian, and my daughter gets exposure to a foreign language. She can’t understand English or Italian very well right now, so she gives me a pass if I mispronounce a word. Check out the book, and explore the ancient city with the lovable cucciolo (pup). For more dual-language children’s books, check out my post on Cucu’ Mio Piccolono and Io Sono Piccola.

Below is some fun vocabulary from the book:

  • dipinti: paintings
  • turisti: tourists
  • edificio: building
  • antico: ancient
  • sabbia: sand
  • cane: dog
  • ladro: thief
  • opera d’arte: artwork
  • visitatori: visitors
  • cosa buona da mangiare: something good to eat / a treat
Swimming in the Deep: A Review of In altre parole (In Other Words)

Swimming in the Deep: A Review of In altre parole (In Other Words)

If you’ve read my other post about dual-language short stories, you’ll know that one of my favorite ways to learn Italian is by reading books written in both English and Italian. So, when I discovered In altre parole (In Other Words) on a display table at Barnes & Noble®, mixed with other nonfiction books, I couldn’t pass it up.

In altre parole
is Jhumpa Lahiri’s memoir about her experience with Italian. She first fell in love with the language in her early twenties when visiting Florence with her sister. She went to see the architecture and history, but it was the language that had the greatest impact on her.

[D]all’inizio il mio rapporto con l’Italia è tanto uditivo quanto visuale. Benché ci siano poche macchine, la città ronza. Mi rendo conto di un rumore che mi piace, delle conversazioni, delle frasi, delle parole che sento ovunque vada. ([F]rom the start my relationship with Italy is as auditory as it is visual. Although there aren’t many cars, the city is humming. I’m aware of a sound that I like, of conversations, phrases, words that I hear wherever I go.)

It was like a chance encounter with an intriguing stranger who would change the rest of her life.

“Sembra una lingua con cui devo avere una relazione. Sembra una persona che incontro un giorno per caso, con cui sento subito un legame, un affetto. (It seems like a language with which I have to have a relationship. It’s like a person met one day by chance, with whom I immediately feel a connection, of whom I feel fond.)”

After studying the language for many years, she moves with her family to Rome for a year to completely immerse herself. Her book tells of the challenges and joy of diving deeply into the language and culture. “Per conoscere una nuova lingua, per immergersi, si deve lasciare la sponda. Senza salvagente. Senza poter contare sulla terraferma. (To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore. Without a life vest. Without depending on solid ground.)”

In Italian, Lahiri finds a new mode of expressing her creativity. In doing so, she struggles with the limitations imposed by a foreign language and the imperfection that inevitably results. Yet, the limitations also free and inspire her. Instead of becoming discouraged by the imperfection, she finds the beauty and inspiration in it. “L’imperfezione dà lo spunto all’invenzione, all’immaginazione, alla creatività. (Imperfection inspires invention, imagination, creativity.)

I enjoyed In altre parole, because I connected with Lahiri’s experience with Italian. Like her, I have no Italian relatives or close friends. Yet, there was something in its sound that drew me to it. An obsession that likely will serve no practical purpose, but which I have found myself unable to give up. I was envious of the dive she took into the language by spending a year in Rome, while I swim in the shallow waters of the lake, keeping my salvagente of English close by. Having lived in Southern Italy for over two months in a place where few people spoke English, I know how daunting, yet important, it is to swim in the deeper waters. Hopefully, In altre parole and this website will inspire you to do so one day.

Favorite New Words and Phrases from In altre parole:                                                 

  • A notte fonda: in the middle of the night                                                      

    la luce del crepuscolo
  • Uno stato di smarrimento totale: a state of complete bewilderment
  • Malgrado il rischio: in spite of the risk
  • La luce del crepuscolo: the light of dusk
  • Ciononostante: nevertheless
  • Né di qua né di là: neither here nor there
  • Spina nel fianco: thorn in my side
  • Inutile dire: needless to say
  • La malinconia: melancholy
  • Inquietante: unsettling
  • Un punto di svolta: a turning point
  • Un’accozzaglia di pensieri: a hodgepodge of thoughts
  • Titubante: hesitant
  • Impavido: bold

For more dual-language options, you can check out my other post on Italian short stories.

How to Say Dad in Italian

How to Say Dad in Italian

With Father’s Day (Festa del Papà) quickly approaching, this is a good time to learn how to say “Dad” and other family members in Italian. “Dad” is “papà.” The accent on the a is very important, because without it, you would be referring to the pope. The word for “father” is “padre.”

Mia figlia

Depending on where you are in Italy, you may hear different words for “Dad.” In the Tuscany region, “Babbo” is also used for “Dad,” and “Babbino” is used for “Daddy” like in the famous song, “O Mio Babbino Caro.” To hear the song and read the lyrics, you can check out my post about it.

The following are other members of la famiglia: madre (mother), mamma (mom), sorella (sister), fratello (brother), figlio (son), figlia (daughter), cugino/a (cousin), nipote (niece, nephew, grandson, or granddaughter), nonno (grandfather), nonna (grandmother), zia (aunt), and zio (uncle).

We can’t forget about the in-laws and step-family members: suocero (father-in-law), suocera (mother-in-law, and my favorite family word because it sounds like sorcerer, coincidence?), cognata (sister-in-law), cognato (brother-in-law), patrigno (stepfather), matrigna (stepmother), figliastro (stepson), figliastra (stepdaughter), sorellastra (stepsister), and fratellastro (stepbrother).

Thanks for stopping by and for all the padri out there, “Buona Festa del Papà!”

L’incontro Fortuito

L’incontro Fortuito

On my way home from work recently, I stopped for lunch at a restaurant in a small town called Traver. Traver is in California’s Central Valley, between Tulare and Fresno. Although I pass it almost everyday, I rarely stop in Traver, because there is not much there except for a restaurant and a couple of gas stations. For some reason, I stopped this time, and I’m glad I did.

I placed my order and waited for my food. While waiting, I noticed a man and a woman in their mid-to-late twenties in line to place their order. I sensed they were foreign tourists because of their European fashion and the backpack the man was wearing. When I heard them speak Italian to each other, my suspicion was confirmed.

When my food was ready, I moved to a table near them and asked them if they were Italian. They confirmed they were, and I told them that I speak a little Italian. They were surprised and pleased, and we started talking in their language.

The couple was from Milan and had just spent two days camping in the Sequoia National Forest. They were headed to San Francisco for the weekend, before flying back to Italy. They explained that the people they encountered in America, especially in California, were friendly, which pleased me, having been a tourist in a foreign country. They enjoyed American barbecue, and even had a friend in Milan who recently started barbecuing for his friends. I told them about my time in Italy, and how much I liked the language and culture.  We spent a half an hour talking to each other before I wished them a “buon viaggio” and continued home.

I admit I was nervous speaking with them. Although I have studied Italian for a few years, a sense of anxiety creeps over me when I talk to native speakers. It is one thing to do grammar drills on a computer program. It is a completely different experience to engage a fluent speaker in his native tongue. Making sure the verbs are correctly conjugated and the adjectives match the nouns in gender and number can send my head spinning. I did it, though, even if I may have stumbled over my sentences and sounded like a child at times. It was rewarding experience, one that I will remember for many years.

This was not the first time I have encountered Italians in random places. Seven years ago, I met an Italian couple at a burger stand in Big Sur. These chance encounters add a serendipitous richness and excitement to life. Even though I had never met these people before, I was able to connect with them and establish instant rapport. That is the beauty of learning another language. Italian provided an instant social glue with people who live thousands of miles away. Grazie ai miei amici italiani per la bella esperienza.

If you have had any chance encounters with people who speak a foreign language you are learning, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Review of Giorni e Nuvole

Review of Giorni e Nuvole

Director: Silvio Soldini

Actors: Margherita Buy and Antonio Albanese

Release Date: September 12, 2007 (Italy), July 11, 2008 (USA)

My Score: 7 out of 10

What happens when you discover the financial foundation of your life is crumbling? Giorni e Nuvole (Days and Clouds) explores this in an authentic and moving way.

When Elsa steps on a piece of the lamp she broke the night before, we know something is wrong. While nursing a hangover from the surprise party her husband Michele threw for her, she learns that Michele has been out of work for months and the couple is quickly running out of money.

Elsa feels betrayed and struggles to adjust to the impact of their dwindling finances on her social status and interests. She must quit the restoration of an ancient fresco to work as a telemarketer by day and a secretary for a shipping company at night. Her struggle to adjust to the new role as provider is exhausting and isolating. Meanwhile, Michele falls into a paralyzing depression as he loses his identity as the breadwinner.

Solidini’s film is about what happens to a family when the material trappings and social status are stripped away. Is there enough underneath to endure?

Giorni e Nuvole shows a different side of Italy, one you won’t find on postcards. It is a noisy and grim place, full of people who struggle with the very real problem of “disoccupazione” (unemployment). It also a place of beauty, where frescos from the fifteenth century can be uncovered in a building in the middle of a gritty city.

Giorni e Nuvole is free for Amazon Prime members. You can also rent it by clicking on my affiliate link here: Giorni e Nuvole.  I’ve included the trailer below. If you end up watching it, let me know what you think in the comments. Buona visione!

Italian Lullabies

Italian Lullabies

I’ve been in baby mode for the past few weeks due to the recent birth of my daughter (mia figlia). During this time, I learned two Italian lullabies that I think you will enjoy: “Brilla, Brilla La Stellina” and “Stella, Stellina.” I was going to write about “Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh,” but it is about giving your baby to an old witch and a mysterious dark man (uomo nero), so my wife told me it was too creepy to put on the website. She’s probably right, but if you are curious you can check out the song and somewhat disturbing cartoon here:

“Brilla, Brilla La Stellina” is the Italian version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The lyrics are different, but the melody is the same.

Brilla, brilla una stellina

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Su nel cielo, piccolina.

So small in up in the sky.

Brilla, brilla sopra noi

Twinkle, twinkle over us.

Mi domando di che sei?

How I wonder what you are.

Brilla, brilla la stellina

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Ora tu sei più vicina.

Now you are closer.

(Repeat above verse.)

Brilla, brilla la stellina

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Ora tu sei più vicina.

Now you are closer.

“Stella, Stellina” is about farm animals getting ready to sleep, and it is a great way to teach your child the Italian words for popular animals.

Stella, stellina

Star, little star

La notte si avvicina

The night is coming.

La fiamma traballa

The flame flickers.

La mucca è nella stalla.

The cow is in the stable.

La pecora e l’agnello

The sheep and the lamb

La vacca col vitello

The cow with the calf

La chioccia coi pulcini

The hen with the chicks

La gatta coi gattini.

The cat with the kittens.

E tutti fan la nanna

And everyone goes to sleep

Nel cuore della mamma.

In the mother’s heart.

Vocabulary and Grammar Notes

Since “Brilla, Brilla La Stellina” is about a star, here are some other objects you may see in the sky:

  • Cloud: nuvola                                                                                                  
  • Sun: sole
  • Plane: aeroplano
  • Bird: uccello
  • Moon: luna

“Stella, Stellina” teaches your child about different farm animals. Here are some more animals that you may find on a fattoria:

  • Dog: cane                                                                                                          
  • Bird: uccello
  • Horse: cavallo
  • Goat: capra
  • Fish: pesce
  • Donkey: asino
  • Duck: anatra
  • Goose: oca
  • Pig: maiale

The second to last phrase of “Stella, Stellina” is “E tutti fan la nanna.” This is a shortened version of the phrase “tutti fanno la nanna” which translated literally means “Everyone does the nighty-night,” or “Everyone does the sleep.” In its colloquial form, it means “Everyone goes to sleep.”

The verb “fare” means “to make or to do.” It is conjugated as follows:

Io faccio

Tu Fai

Lui/Lei Fa

Noi Facciamo

Voi Fate

Loro Fanno

Fare is a multi-functional verb that can be used to convey diverse meanings from “Lo faccio” (I’ll do it) to “Fai lo scemo” (You play the fool.) Fare is also used to describe the weather, hearkening to Italy’s Catholic roots. “Fa caldo” means “It’s hot,” and “Fa freddo” means “It’s cold.” Translated literally, these phrases suggest that someone (God) is making it hot or cold.

I hope you enjoy singing the above lullabies to your children. I’d love to hear about your favorite Italian lullaby in the comments below.


Read Italian to Your Baby: Cucu’ Mio Piccolino and Io Sono Piccola?

Read Italian to Your Baby: Cucu’ Mio Piccolino and Io Sono Piccola?

My wife and I are expecting the birth of our first child at any moment. One of the activities I look forward to most is reading to her. I was aware of the many benefits of reading to infants, but I was not aware how important it is to expose infants to different languages.

According to an article from The Telegraph, babies who hear foreign speech pick up languages faster because they retain the ability to recognize sounds from the languages they hear. Dr. Nina Kazanina, an expert in linguistic psychology at Bristol, explains that a baby is born with the capacity to distinguish every type of speech sound. However, “By six months an infant can only recognize vowels from its native language … because the the brain is trying to make sense of sounds used in speech in the context of the native language, and so applies a kind of filter to help make it easier to understand words.” Exposing your baby to a different language will help them recognize sounds from that language which will help them distinguish subtle differences in pronunciation in the future.

A great way to expose your baby to a foreign language is through dual-language books. Since this is a website about learning Italian, two books I highly recommend are Cucu’ Mio Piccolino (Peekaboo Baby) and Io Sono Piccola? (Am I Small?).

Cucu’ Mio Piccolino teaches your baby about her different body parts by asking questions like “Dove sono gli occhi di questo bambino?” on one page and answering the question with “Eccoli qua, due occhi scintallanti,” on the next page. Each page contains the English phrase first followed by the Italian translation. The pictures are brightly colored and fun. The phrases are simple enough for the parent who is just starting to explore la bella lingua with his baby.

Io Sono Piccola? is about a girl named Tamia who asks different creatures she encounters if she is small. On the surface, the book is about perspective, but it also teaches good lessons about self-image for your child as she becomes older. Tamia is piccola (small) compared to the friendly giants she encounters but grande (big) compared to the turtle she meets. At the end, she realizes she can be both relative to whom or what she encounters, but overall she is proprio giusta (just right). Like Cucu’ Mio Piccolino, Io Sono Piccola? is full of bright, colorful pictures that will be sure to entertain your baby or even your toddler. It also contains some fantastical creatures, which will help strengthen your child’s imagination.

Priced at under $10 each, both of these paperback books are affordable. A good thing, because you will likely need to buy extra copies once your baby gets a hold of these.

For a dual-language book geared toward children who are a little older, check out the post about Un Giorno a Staten Island Con La Nonna E Santino. If you are interested in reading the Telegraph article I mentioned in this post, you can find it here: “Babies who hear foreign speech pick up languages faster.” If you have a favorite dual-language book that you read as a child or that you read to your kids, let me know about it in the comments below. Buona lettera!

An Italian Christmas Carol: Dormi, Dormi Bel Bambin

An Italian Christmas Carol: Dormi, Dormi Bel Bambin

It’s Christmas season. While you are decorating the tree this year, you should incorporate an Italian Christmas carol into your playlist. “Dormi, Dormi Bel Bambin” is a famous one that I like, and you can find some great arrangements of it online. I’ve included one of my favorite arrangements with the lyrics and translation below.

Dormi, dormi o bel Bambin / Sleep, sleep o beautiful Child
Re Divin, Re Divin. / King Divine, King Divine.
Fa la nanna o fantolino / Go to sleep, baby
Re Divin, Re Divin. / King Divine, King Divine.
Dormi, dormi o bel Bambin / Sleep, sleep, o beautiful Child
Dormi, dormi, Re Divin./ Sleep, sleep, King Divine.
Fa, la, la, la, la
Fa, la, la, la, la
Fa, la, la, la, la
Fa, la, la, la
Fa, la, la, la
Fa, la, la, la
Fa la, la, la
Perché piangi, o mio tesor? / Why do you cry, o my treasure?
Dolce amor, dolce amor / Sweet love, sweet love.
Fa la nanna, caro figlio / Go to sleep, dear Son
Tanto bel, tanto bel. / So beautiful, so beautiful.
Dormi, dormi o bel Bambin / Sleep, sleep o beautiful Child
Dormi, dormi, Re Divin / Sleep, sleep, King Divine.
Dormi, dormi o bel Bambin / Sleep, sleep o beautiful Child
Dormi, dormi, Re Divin / Sleep, sleep, King Divine.
Fa la la la (Repeat 7x)
O bel Bambin. / O beautiful Baby.
Dormi, dormi o bel Bambin / Sleep, sleep o beautiful Child
Re Divin, Re Divin. / King Divine, King Divine.
Fa la nanna, o fantolino / Go to sleep, baby
Re Divin, Re Divin. / King Divine, King Divine.

Here are some fun Italian words and phrases for the holidays:

una mangiatoia
una mangiatoia

Soprammobile: ornament
Angelo: angel
Albero di Natale: Christmas tree
Buon Natale: Merry Christmas
Babbo Natale: Santa Claus
Biglietto d’auguri di Natale: Christmas card
Mangiatoia: Manger
Regalo di Natale: Christmas gift

I can’t write a post about Christmas in Italy without mentioning “La Befana.” La Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). Epiphany is a holiday that celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.

un albero di Natale

According to Italian folklore, La Befana fills children’s shoes with candy and presents if they are good or coal if they are bad. Instead of milk and cookies, the children’s family leaves Befana some wine and food. She is sometimes portrayed as a friendly witch because she flies around on a broom.

Slate has a fun article about her that you can find here: “Forget Santa. You Should Celebrate La Befana.” If you are tired of Elf on the Shelf and want to add a fun Christmas story to your child’s library, check out La Befana: An Italian Night After Christmas or The Legend of Old Befana.

If you have a favorite Italian Christmas tradition or carol, please share it in the comments below. Buon Natale!


New Dual-Language Children’s Book: Un Giorno a Staten Island Con La Nonna E Santino

New Dual-Language Children’s Book: Un Giorno a Staten Island Con La Nonna E Santino

As I mentioned in a previous post, dual-language stories are a great way to learn Italian. Regardless of which language-learning program you use, you will eventually need a break from the grammar and vocab exercises. Dual-language stories provide that welcomed relief and are a fun way to learn.

D.J. Higgins, an Italian teacher from Staten Island, New York has written a dual-language children’s book called Un Giorno a Staten Island Con La Nonna E Santino (A Day in Staten Island with Grandma and Santino). The book is about Santino, an American born Italian who runs a restaurant in Staten Island with his grandmother (or “nonna”). Santino falls in love with a woman and prepares the meal of a lifetime, while striving to live in two cultures at once.

The “warning” at the beginning of the book gives us a glimpse into Santino’s mind and the shenanigans that are about to enfold. He states, “There are no snobs allowed! Non sono uno snob! If you are looking for a conventional ‘learn Italian’ textbook put this book down and save us the frustration! You are entering into the wild world of Santino and sono pazzo!”

Complimenti a Mr. Higgins for creating a “dual language learning vehicle” that both young and old fans of Italian will enjoy! Check out this fun book here:  Un Giorno a Staten Island Con La Nonna E Santino.

Buon divertimento!

Review of Living Language Italian

Review of Living Language Italian

Product: Living Language Italian*

Price: $150/year for Italian Online Course; $49.99 for Italian Complete; $179 for Italian Platinum Package

My Rating: 7.5 out of 10

After completing the Fluenz program, I decided to work through the Living Language Italian program I received many years ago as a gift. I’m currently on Lezione 4 and am 80 pages into the coursebook. In this post, I’ll give you an overview of what Living Language has to offer, and I’ll tell you what I like and dislike about their products.

Living Language’s Four Step Method. Living Language’s teaching method contains four steps:

  1. Build a Foundation: use your native language as a bridge for Italian and start speaking immediately using essential words and phrases.
  2. Progress with Confidence: use a building block approach with each new lesson building on the prior lesson.
  3. Retain What You’ve Learned: combine audio and visual input and written exercises to help you retain the material.
  4. Achieve Your Goals: clear and simple explanations of Italian grammar help you develop practical language skills and build confidence in your speaking and comprehension abilities

Course Content

I am using the coursebook and audio CDs from Ultimate Italian Advanced. In full disclosure, the version I’m using was published in 2003, so there have been many improvements. The version I am using is most equivalent to the Italian Complete product that is currently offered.    

This is the 2003 version I am currently using.

The lesson starts with a dialogue in Italian, followed by the English translation. After the dialogue there is a discussion of the vocabulary used in the dialogue. The bulk of the lesson comes next in “Grammatica E Suoi Usi,” which contains about four short grammar lessons. The “lezione” I am currently on currently working through contains discussions about direct and indirect object pronouns, the conjunctive pronoun “ne” and plural nouns and adjectives. After working through “Grammatica E Suoi Usi,” you will likely need a break, because the material can be challenging, but the process is rewarding.

Idiomatic expressions follow the grammar portion, and there is a short article about business in Italy before the exercises. There are five different kinds of exercises ranging from conjugation to translation, and the answer key is in the back of the book. Don’t cheat!

Pros and Cons


    • Course Book. I really enjoy being able to use a book for the lessons. I can read, highlight passages and make notes. I can also take it anywhere with me and do not need access to the internet or an electronic device to use it.
    • Content Amount. A lot of content is packed into every lesson.
    • Idiomatic Expressions. To really sound like a local, you need to be able to say more than just “Mi chiamo Will.” You need to learn some idiomatic expressions that may not translate precisely into English like “Ragazzi, avete un bell’aspettare,” which means, “Guys, it’s no use waiting.” Each Living Language lesson provides many idiomatic expressions which you will find useful when traveling to Italy.
    • Price: For just $49.99, the Italian Complete package is one of the best values on the market.


  • Lack of Repetition. The courses could use more exercises and repetition of the content you learn. Fluenz does a great job with this. To compensate, I write down new phrases and challenging vocabulary in a spiral-bound notebook which I review after every one or two lessons. To be fair, though, I am using a version from 2003. Even with this version, I still have access to 100 additional exercises with answers online. The new products Living Language offers offer even more exercises.  

    The notes I take as I work through the course.
    The notes I take as I work through the course.
  • Lack of Different Levels. Unlike Rosetta Stone and Fluenz, Living Language does not offer products for different levels of comprehension. There is a course for the beginner, but there is not an intermediate course or an advanced course offered anymore. If you already have some background in or comprehension of Italian, you can still purchase one of the older products like I’ve been using by clicking here: Living Language Ultimate Italian Advanced, although the cultural and business references may be a little outdated.


The ability to use a book and have access to online materials is really appealing and a nice change from digital only products. If you prefer having something in your hands to mark in and read like you did in school, Living Language is the way to go. If you are content with just a book, some audio CDs, and access to online exercises, the Italian Complete product is a great deal. If you want the option to do the lessons online and have access to a personal e-tutor and the online community, you can get the Italian Platinum Package.  Living Language could its product line by offering different levels of Italian like it used to.

If you have used or are currently using Living Language, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it below.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Like most of my other reviews, I use affiliate links in this post. This means I receive a commission if you click on the link and end up purchasing the product. This process saves you time and helps fund this site so I can continue to provide you quality content. Whether you are starting or continuing your journey in learning Italian, I hope this post is helpful to you.