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 Pompeialoud, 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 andIo Sono Piccola.
Below is some fun vocabulary from the book:
opera d’arte: artwork
cosa buona da mangiare: something good to eat / a treat
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
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
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
Un punto di svolta: a turning point
Un’accozzaglia di pensieri: a hodgepodge of thoughts
For more dual-language options, you can check out my other post on Italian short stories.
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 TheTelegraph, 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!
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!”
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:
Build a Foundation: use your native language as a bridge for Italian and start speaking immediately using essential words and phrases.
Progress with Confidence: use a building block approach with each new lesson building on the prior lesson.
Retain What You’ve Learned: combine audio and visual input and written exercises to help you retain the material.
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
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.
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.
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 Languageis 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.
If you need a break from flashcards or grammar drills, try reading a short story in a dual-language book. Dual-language books are a fun way to improve your Italian that give you a glimpse into Italian culture and history.
Dual-language books provide the Italian text on one page with the English translation on the opposite page. With dual-language short stories, you see the vocabulary you have been studying in context, and you can better understand the nuances of the Italian language. The sentences in the short stories are richer and more complex than what you would find in grammar exercises. Take for example this line from “La Madre” by Natalia Ginzburg. “I ragazzi trovavano strano d’esser nati da lei.” (Translation: “The boys thought it strange to have been born of her”).
The dual-language book I Grandi Racconti Italiani del Novecento(Great Italian Short Stories of the Twentieth Century), provides a brief biography of the author in English before each story and gives you a sample of some of the most famous Italian authors like Giovanni Boccacio and Leonardo Sciascia. If you enjoy the story, you can explore more works by the author. Racconti Italiani 1 is also great, but is a little harder to find in stores and online.
Pick up a dual-language book and add it to your Italian language tool kit. You’ll be glad you did. If you have any favorite stories or dual-language books, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
If you are planning to travel in Italy, I recommend taking a minidictionary with you. Sure, you can probably Google the translation of a word if you need to, but this assumes you have access to wifi when you need it or you are okay with incurring roaming data charges while you look up the meaning of “gamberetti” on your cell phone before ordering at a restaurant in Siracusa.
I took the Oxford Italian Minidictionary with me during my three visits to Italy. It was a handy tool that fit in my pocket and provided quick access to the meanings of the many strange words I encountered during my travels. Even if you are relatively competent in Italian, you are likely to encounter words that you have never heard before. A pocket-sized dictionary can help bridge the gap between what you have learned and what you will actually encounter in Italy.
Many of the business owners in the popular tourist places speak some English. However, if you are learning Italian, why not try to speak their language, instead of insisting they speak yours? After all, you are the visitor to their homeland.
I like the Oxford Italian Minidictionary because of its size (about an inch thick and 3 inches tall) and its content. Along with thousands of words and definitions, it has a list of helpful phrases in the middle of the book separating the the Italian to English section from the English to Italian section. This small investment will reap big rewards in your Italian adventure.