Working at a start-up in Naples while simultaneously trying to learn Italian has meant that quite often I’ve relied on tech to help me know what an earth is happening. This is a collection of things (apps and websites) that I have found useful so far that will hopefully help you if you are attempting something similarly foolhardy (or even if you are not):
Google Translate: This gets a lot of complaints, but really it has been a life-saver for me. The grammar may not be perfect, but a lot of the time it is surprisingly accurate. For me I have found it most useful when translating from Italian to English, as I can check the English version for accuracy. I have found that there are a few things that trip Google Translate up, however. When using it, it is best to do only a few sentences at a time. If translating a large document, go through paragraph my paragraph. Other things that can trip it up are capital letters, abbreviations and brackets. If I get a translation that makes very little sense to me, I go through deleting the above in order to get a clearer translation. The best thing is that if using the app, you can download a language and so have translation capabilities even if you are not around WiFi or mobile data. Needless to say, this has been incredibly useful.
Word Reference: This is a website (and also an app, but I mainly use the website) that is very useful when you need a translation of a specific word, especially if you are unsure that Google Translate has picked up on all the nuances of the term. Multiple synonyms are provided which is very useful for getting the impression, as well as meaning, of a word.
Duolingo: While it may have some mistakes in it, it is absolutely amazing for freeware and the gamification techniques are an excellent way to encourage you to learn. I find it most helpful for helping me memorise things, with the constant annoying need to keep those strength bars on gold! However it is best in conjunction with other resources, such as…
The Iceberg Project Italian Blog: On this site I have found the best explanations of Italian grammar and tenses, which help make sense of the random words that you are given when memorising phrases (suddenly you will notice ‘uto’ appearing in past tense phrases…). It is also a lot of fun, written in a chatty style and a lot of the examples, given that the writer of the blog is a woman, are in the feminine form which is a great help for me. So many ‘I am’ examples are in the masculine form which when you are trying to work out when to put ‘o’ and when to put ‘a’ can get very confusing, and so this is helpful for either gender (another blog post topic will be on gender and language as once a literature student – always a literature student).
Netflix: If you are in the country where you are trying to learn, you will be registered to that country’s Netflix (so make sure it has Netflix before subscribing!) where everything on the site will be available in the language you are trying to learn, so for me Italian. This is fantastic as all the shows and films I have watched are available in Italian, so I can watch while already knowing the plot. I would definitely recommend kids films you remember as being useful for a beginner, so far I have watched Hercules, Aladdin and The Lego Movie (È Meraviglioso!). Of course, watching films and TV shows that are Italian, rather than just dubbed over, is even better when you start to get to grips with the language more. Having the captions on in the language you are trying to learn is great for making connections between spoken words and the way they are written.
YouTube! If you have any recommendations of favourite channels, please do comment. YouTube is a fantastic resource where you can find native speakers, audio dictionaries, Italian pop songs – whatever keeps you interested and means you are listening to the language you are trying to learn. Living in Naples has emphasised how important it is to learn colloquial phrases and pronunciation to get by every day.
I will add to this list if I find another great website or app, and please do comment if you have one that is vital for you – either learning or just coping!