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Parola del Giorno | ILGUR | Italy in Literature

Friday, May 23, 2008

Che Tempo Che Fa

Che Tempo Che Fa is sort of like the late show in the United States (with David Letterman or Jay Leno, etc). Hosted by Fabio Fazio, he interviews various guests from Italy and abroad about things that they are doing, things that they have written or things that they have said.

The show recently was host to a bit of scandal when Marco Travaglio was a guest on May 10th. Travaglio made some comments about a certain Italian politician and his link to the mafia and organized crime. People from both sides of the spectrum weighed into the debate and leads to further criticism that the media in Italy is free to do as it wishes without the government chasing their heels. More disturbing, at least in my opinion, was that the next day, the show's host and producer both apologized to the audience leaving one to wonder how much pressure the government exerted on the show "to force" such an apology. Why should the host and producers of the show apologize for the beliefs of another?

Anyway, whatever you may think, the show is entertaining and informative. You can search the show's archive for specific interviews with specific people (the one with Roberto Saviano is worth watching). Some of the show's episodes are available as a podcast. The streaming video is quite clear and the sound quality is good. Will probably require at least an intermediate level of Italian to follow, but no matter what your level, you're bound to learn something new.

PS--If you want to watch the Travaglio episode but it becomes deleted, check out Youtube.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Al Cinema! -- Part 1

Here's part 1 of my list of recommended movies that I think that you will enjoy. The Italian, in my opinion, is pretty accessible and make for excellent practice opportunities. I'll list the titles in English when provided along with the original Italian title:

This movie, Facing Windows (La finestra di fronte), by Ferzan Ozpetek, is a strange love story about two people who always seem to be "two ships passing in the night". I don't want to talk too much about this movie because I don't want to give away the story, but I think that this is a movie that you will enjoy very much. The language is very approachable.

The movie is currently out of print in the US but readily available in Italy from Internet Bookshop Italia.

Another wonderful film that I'm sure you will enjoy is My Best Enemy (Il mio miglior nemico) which debuted at the Italian Film Festival in 2006 in Australia. This wonderful comedy features noted Italian comic, Carlo Verdone. If you wish to purchase this film, check out IBS or Palace Films as part of the Italian Film Festival DVD set. Palace Films operates out of Australia so be sure to check that any purchases made will work on your DVD player in your home country. The Palace Films version has subtitles.

Also from that same film festival comes the mystery (giallo), Quo Vadis, Baby? -- based on a book by Grazia Verasani of the same title. In the story, a private detective receives a strange collection of home movies of her dead sister and decides to find out once and for all the truth behind her sister's death. I haven't had a chance to read the book, but I found the movie to be compelling and arresting, and the story had several unexpected twists that I did not anticipate. You can purchase it from IBS or from Palace Films as part of the festival DVD set.

One of my favorite films of all time is Un sacco bello. This film you'll only find from an Italian vendor (I've given the link for IBS, but you can probably find it from another preferred vendor). This delightfully funny film features Carlo Verdone playing three different characters in three different situations in the film. From hippy, to playboy to the bumbling fool, Verdone pulls off this funny and quirky film. The language used can be a bit tough at times, but it's not impossible, and I guarantee that you will enjoy this film.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Rai News 24 - Streaming Live on your Desktop

If you're stuck at work for 8-9 a day like I am, but you don't want to give up practicing your Italian for some part of the day, check out Rai News 24 (in diretta).

Think of this an the internet version of an Italian CNN -- 24 news streaming on your PC. You can listen and/or watch the news (there's a streaming video and audio feed) while you work if you're at your desk.

To the right of the main video player is a list of the important stories of the day, which you can watch as videos. So if you tuned in after an interesting story, just click on the link, and the video will load in the same player as that of the live news. To get back to the live news, just refresh the page.

The great thing about this live feed are:
  • There's nothing to download.
  • It's always on (although I've noticed there are times of the day when it doesn't work, usually late at night and during the afternoon around lunch time in Italy)
  • You get a mix of different presenters which represent the entire country, thus getting an exposure to different accents and regions of Italy
  • News presenters tend to be very good speakers with good diction
  • Stories will give you a good idea of what's going on in Italy
One downside is that the live feed does require a good deal of bandwidth. It might take a few minutes if you're using a wireless connection for the feed to get started. If you're connected via ethernet, you shouldn't notice any slowdowns.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Podcast Profile: Essere e benessere

One of my favorite podcasts that I enjoy listening to every morning on my way to work is the radio program, Essere e benessere (translated as: Being and Wellbeing), with Nicoletta Carbone. The show airs Monday through Friday at 11:00 AM Italian time on Radio24 and typically lasts an hour. If you listen to it live (starting at 10am in London, 5am on the East cost of the USA, 2am on the West coast of the USA), you'll have to bear with the (sometimes entertaining) commercials and traffic reports.

This informative program is a call-in program in which listeners with questions about the current topic call in -- typically it's in reference to a medical/health condition that affects them or someone they know. Callers can phone into the show and ask questions to the guests who are either in the studio with Nicoletta or who call in. Callers also can email or text their message to the show if they can't get through on the lines or don't have the courage to ask their question on live radio.

I think this show is great to practice your Italian with for several reasons:
  1. Since the show features guests and listeners (ascoltatori) from all over Italy, you'll run the gamut of accents, giving your ear a good "workout".
  2. Radio announcers tend to speak very clearly (although somewhat fast at times) - Nicoletta is easy to listen to
  3. The show is informative - each day they cover a different ailment, health concern or health issue; the guests she invites on her show tend to be very well informed and experts in their field. It's also interesting to note the difference in the approaches of health and health care between your own country and Italy.
The web site for the show tends to feature additional information if callers and listeners want to learn more information. The show tends to run between 40-50 minutes depending on commercials and other interruptions of the show. The podcast is generally put on the web site quickly after the show, and you'll find you can probably listen to it at your desk when you arrive at work in the morning.

I try to read about the episode on the web site before I listen to it so that I have a better idea of the context of the show. Knowing that the show is about heart problems, skin conditions or athlete's foot certainly helps as you try to comprehend the Italian being spoken.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


To the right in the sidebar, you'll notice a list of podcasts.

The links will take you to the sites of these various Italian programs. It might take some hunting to find the necessary XML code that you can use to receive the podcasts via RSS. If you have any questions on how to do this, drop me an email. I recommend that you use Itunes to manage your podcasts because it will automatically download and delete items as you listen to them as well as make them easy to send to your Ipod, if you have one.

If you use a non-Ipod mp3 player, then there are other tools out there. Watch for future posts. With Itunes, I manage my podcasts with "Smartlists" that automatically add new episodes as they are downloaded. Podcasts do not advance when you listen to them. So if you start with one episode, it will play and then stop, and you will have to advance it to the next episode. However, with a smart list, it is like listening to a CD. All the tracks will play until you tell it to stop. Each method has its pluses and minuses depending on how you listen. I listen while I drive, so I don't like to fiddle with the Ipod behind the wheel. :)

You can also listen to many of the programs past transmissions right from the sites so if you want to avoid the whole podcast thing, you can just pick and choose and listen at your leisure.

If there's a podcast that we've missed here, please feel free to leave a comment about it so that we can add it to the list.

Another great newsreader is Wizz. With Wizz, you can listen to podcasts right from the Wizz add-on which works with Firefox - you don't have to worry about a huge memory intensive program like Itunes running in the background.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Movies and Language

Some of the best movies ever made have come from Italy, but as resources for improving your language, you have to be careful what kinds of movies you decide to watch.

In my opinion, your best bet is to watch movies that are more current and movies that do not involve dialect. There's nothing wrong with Italian dialect, but for beginner and intermediate students of Italian, I just don't see any benefit from struggling to watch a movie that is entirely in the dialect of Naples or Rome. You'll spend too much time referring to subtitles and at that point, it might just be better to be reading a book.

So my advice:
  • Try to pick movies that are more current (1980's onward) -- the language will be more accessible, and hopefully there's little dialect.

  • Pick movies that will interest you -- you're more likely to pay attention and be attentive if you will enjoy the story. If romances and overly dramatic love stories are not for you, then don't watch a movie just because it's in Italian. You won't appreciate it, and you will probably have trouble following the story. Interest plays a huge part when learning anything.

  • I advise not using subtitles when you watch a movie, or at least try. I know that Italians speak fast, but then they think English speakers speak fast as well. :) Do your best to at least understand the situation. If you're still in the dark, try again with subtitles. You might be surprised to see that you understood more than you thought.

  • Movies are good to watch to improve your Italian because it involves seeing and listening. When someone says something that seems unintelligible to you, but you still understand what they said, how is that so? The answer is "context". Having a context in which you watch something allows your brain to make associations based on what characters are doing or not doing.

    For example, if a character is in the kitchen and cuts themselves and then yells a lot, chances are they aren't happy and are not in a good mood. You can probably guess that they're swearing or yelling at themself for being so clumsy. While you might not have understood what the word meant, you know how it was used in that context and can probably infer the meaning.
Coming soon will be a list of new and old movies that make good learning tools!

Thursday, May 1, 2008



The purpose of this site is to serve as a repository of links and reviews of sites that you can use to improve your Italian, with a heavy focus on listening and speaking resources.

If you're looking to improve your grammar, learn new words, then check out my list of links related to those areas. This site isn't going to teach you Italian, but it will point you in the right direction for resources - both on- and offline to help you with your Italian.

A recent article on by the Italian expert, Michael San Filippo, talked about how students spend too much time on grammar, vocabulary and workbook exercises and not enough time using their Italian in the real world. Maybe this blog can help you change that by showing you what resources are out there.

Learning Italian should engage all of your senses. Reading helps you to build your vocabulary. Writing allows you to express yourself in a new language and helps you to put the grammar that you've studied into practice. Listening will help you appreciate all the hours you've spent studying grammar, sentence structure and all those vocabulary words as well as train your ear to understand the language "on the go" and help you to become a better speaker. And speaking will allow you to communicate in Italian, forcing you to use all of your abilities to make yourself understood. At the end of the day, if you can't speak the language, how will it ever serve you?

It's important to practice all of these areas but placing a slightly greater emphasis on your weakest strengths. If speaking is easy for you, but you can't write well, don't stop speaking. Keep practicing both and try to identify areas where your writing is weak and practice - write letters to friends and family, join an Italian forum or chat room -- whatever you need to do to improve your writing. If reading and writing are easy, but you have trouble speaking, then find ways to talk more in the language. Often times, we avoid things that we do not like because we are afraid to fail, afraid of embarrassment or just plain old shyness. Whatever the reason, learning a language can help you overcome that. Learning a language is about taking risks, and the risks that you take with learning a new language and by putting yourself out there will have its rewards.

Get out from beyond your books, workbooks and staid dialogues/conversations and appreciate Italian as it was meant to by watching Italian movies, listening to Italian music, watching Italian TV and news, listening to podcasts, logging onto Skype and finding a new Italian friend to talk with or joining an Italian conversational group in your area.

All the while as you do these things, remember that you can't translate every word or phrase from English to Italian. As you listen, read, write and speak, try to think as an Italian would. Don't think in English and then try to translate. You won't have time in a social situation to do that, and it's a bad habit to get into. Keep your Italian simple and become more complex as you become more proficient, and understand that when you first begin studying Italian, you can't speak Italian as you speak English.

Be realistic. Know your limitations. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and work around them. Don't give up. Don't get discouraged. Practice, practice, practice!