The benefit of the Conversational Italian books by Kathryn Occhipinti is that they take a real-life, friendly approach to learning which is something I love! It is very welcoming to encourage Beginners to use the books.
Keep reading below for a giveaway for an amazing little phrasebook!
What's missing from most textbook study is the opportunity to actually hear the phrases being said so that you know you're on the right track. And so probably one of the biggest benefit to these books, although not stated in the books itself, is the offering of audio dialogues recorded by native Italian speakers.
The two Reference books that I will be reviewing are meant to be a companion reference book to her main textbook Conversational Italian for Travelers which I do not have. Since the two books I received are reference books, they do not include quizzes or practice pages. Using the two reference books without the main book doesn't make you feel lost, as you can still access the audio to have a sense of the dialogue from the main book.
A great benefit to the Grammar & Verb books together is that their chapters match so you can reference back and forth if you have any questions as they're meant to be used in tandem. The only thing I noticed about this is that some of the “Notes” pages actually repeat in each book so you will have some repeating content. This is so that the books can stand alone without the use of each other and you can have a more rounded experience in using them.
Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Grammar
Type: Reference Book, Grammar
Best for: Beginners
Overall Structure: This book is 191 pages, broken down into 3 Units (Transportation, City Life, and Hotels and Restaurants) 18 chapters and 2 appendixes.
This grammar book covers a lot of the grammar questions a beginner might have. It wasn't meant to be a dictionary-like grammar book, but this is not a con at all. Beginners really don't need to be overwhelmed with complicated information, so if you're a beginner that is taking a conversational approach this would be perfect for you.
Probably one of the confusing things for beginners is reflexive and indirect object pronouns and I think Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Grammar does a good job of presenting examples for a clearer understanding.
The book covers Italian definite articles, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, possessive adjectives, object pronouns, the partitive, and cognates.
What I love:
- Easy Explanations: Talking about grammar can get confusing. Occhipinti goes over grammar points in a friendly way that makes learning it approachable and easy. Confusing grammar points and expressions are given easy examples to learn from
- Practical learning: Because it is Conversational Italian, the focus of the book is the usage of grammar in daily life (and especially traveling to Italy), so the grammar points you learn about is practical and can be used right away.
- Audio: For each chapter, you can listen to the textbook dialogue to see the grammar points used by going to StellaLucente.com. This benefit allows you to have a more well rounded usage of the textbook.
Things to Improve:
- Index: If you are using the main textbook companion you will understand right away the way it's formatted. However using it as a standalone, I would like an alphabetical index in the back so I can look up the specific grammar point I might need help with and know exactly the page to look.
- Color coding: The color-coding of the pages switch from blue, red, green and brown for the Italian phrases or English translations and sometimes I'm not sure of the meaning behind the color code choice. It would be great if there was some kind of standard or color key in the beginning so I know why the colors are switching right away. There are exceptions to this where she describes what the colors are for on certain pages, but they seem to change.
Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Verbs
Type: Reference Book, Verbs
Best for: Beginners
Overall Structure: This book is 223 pages, broken down into 5 main sections: basics, transportation, city life, hotel and restaurant. Italian phrases are usually colored in blue or red, with the English translation in black.
This book covers present, imperative, past, future and conditional tenses with common expressions used in the day to day life. It also makes sure to include some grammar points and idiomatic expression notes so that it's just not a book listing verb conjugations, which I think is great!
Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Verbs does well in its approach of the commonly confused verbs, like essere and stare, abitare and vivere, sapere and conoscere.
While the book does go over the conditional tense, it does not go over the subjunctive. If you are looking for a book in depth of the imperfetto subjunctive mood, this is not the book for you. Although it is written on page 203 that the subjunctive is beyond the scope of the book, it gives a quick introduction of avere and essere‘s singular present and singular imperfetto.
What I love:
- Slow Introduction: The book introduces verbs in a slower way. Depending on your preferred learning method, you may or may not like this,
however, if you are easily overwhelmed you will appreciate this.
- Practical verbs: Because it is Conversational Italian, the verbs that are introduced are ones that you will use right away from the beginning of your studies. (Looking at you, Duolingo, for giving me useless sentences at the beginning.)
- Audio: Again, like the Grammar book, for each chapter you have access to audio so you know how to pronounce the verb correctly when used in a sentence.
Things to Improve:
- Glossary & Index: Although when a verb is first introduced the definition is shown together, I think it would be stronger to have a glossary in the back of all verb forms with an index of page number for when it was mentioned. And also if I want to see everything about the conditional form, I would be able to look this up. This would make it a stronger study companion.
- *****: In order not to introduce too many verb conjugations at once, some forms will be blocked out with asterisks like so: ****. To me this was confusing and I would've preferred for that column not to even be shown instead of just having a it blocked out in this method.
Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases
Best for: Beginners, Short Term Travelers, Tourists
Overall Structure: This book is 96 pages, broken down into 5 main sections: basics, transportation, city life, hotel and restaurant. Italian phrases are usually colored in blue or red, with the English translation in black.
Language phrase books sometimes get a bad rap, but I believe in a natural, conversational approach to Italian language learning. Language evolves rapidly and technology influences the way we speak. Phrase books try to focus on natural phrases, though some can contain phrases that are just not widely used.
I believe Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases does a good job of balancing. While it doesn't contain phrases related to the body (hopefully you won't get sick!), you'll see phrases for everyday situations like making reservations, going shopping and making friends–or even flirting. Just know that if you tell a girl “Tu hai il viso della Madonna” she might not know how to react.
The phrases in the book mostly default to Lei, like most books which is for communicating politely. Many Italian youth choose to forgo the Lei and use more informal speech which she covers in the chapter Dare del tu/Dare del Lei and gives appropriate phrases for asking to use the familiar form of “you” with each other.
What I love:
- The price: It's a very small investment.
- The size: Designed to fit in your pocket, it's probably one of the slimmest and compact phrasebooks I've owned. It's lightweight and easy to flip through.
- Menu Reader: Dai, we all love Italian food. Occhipinti includes
a vocabulary section for the important things like pasta shapes and traditional dish ingredients.
- Grammar notes: This book tries to teach you a bit more about the grammar with grammar notes, as well as idiomatic expressions. It is a great introduction for beginners who want to learn, and for travelers that want to make a good impression.
Things to Improve:
- Modernization: I would love to see phrases in regards to WhatsApp texting, asking for the WiFi password, tagging photos on Facebook or Instagram, etc. This would make it more relevant to traveling today where a lot of Italians (even older ones!) use WhatsApp to communicate, and creating a social media connection is more common than asking for someone's email address.
- Navigation: Color-coded pages would make it sleeker and easier to quickly thumb through to find what you need. Although there is a bit of color, I feel it could be better organized with different colors instead of only shades of blue for the chapters. Also some of the sections don't seem intuitive–for example, the phrases for sightseeing is listed under the “At the Hotel” chapter.
I think these books are great for you Beginners that may feel intimidated to start learning Italian and want a friendly, structured way to approach your studies.
I would recommend giving this regimen a try:
- Listen: Listen to the audio dialogues for the chapter you are working on.
- Take notes: Take notes on what verbs or grammatical patterns you might have questions on.
- Browse the chapters: Look through the chapter in either Just the Grammar and/or Just the Verbs to fill in the gaps of your knowledge based on your notes.
- Practice: Practice repeating the dialogue from the recording. Read some of the phrases from the book. Practice making some of your own sentences.
- Take more notes: Still have questions about some verb conjugation or grammar point? Write it down in your notebook you use for studying.
- Ask your tutor or language exchange partner: Use the time in your next lesson or exchange to role-play the dialogue and have a chance to get your questions answered. Don't have a tutor? Non vi preoccupare. Get some tips on how to find your perfect tutor.
Conversational Italian Phrase Book Giveaway!
Kathryn Occhipinti has generously offered Italian Self Study readers a chance to win a free copy of Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases. This is perfect for your next trip to Italy as a short term traveler, or a tourist that wants to speak. You won't have to worry about connecting to WiFi by bringing the book along to check for phrases or reading a menu. (US residents only, sorry!) Enter by July 3 to win!
Aein is an American artist, designer and writer who fell in love with an Italian, and then fell in love with Italian language & culture. She is the founder of Italian Self Study, and is passionate about learning Italian. When she's not studying Italian, she is designing logos and websites her studio Hopemade, designing Italian inspired apparel or taking a break with un po' di caffè. Buy her a coffee to support Italian Self Study.