Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

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If language learning is your thing, then you probably know and use a few apps. Apps are a largely accessible and democratic tool, often the first many learners use when they tackle a new language. Moreover, a number of apps come for free – or at least with many features available free of charge.

Apps are a good place to start picking up vocabulary and grammar structures. You won’t become fluent studying only on apps, but they can be beneficial within a balanced language learning routine. They’re like the fruit juice in your language diet.
In this article, I will focus on apps to learn Italian giving you access to most features for free. I also picked applications that are available on desktop, as well as on mobile versions both for Android and Apple.

Why are apps good for introverts?

For an introvert, the thought of starting to talk to a native speaker of your target language might stress you. If so, you can start speaking by repeating out loud the words and sentences you learn through your favourite app. Or even record yourself practising new sentences where you use words and grammar points you studied with the app.
This can’t replace actual interaction with a native speaker, but it can be your “safe zone” for a while. Creating a language foundation with the most common words and grammar can give you the confidence you need to start talking for real.

Plus, they are perfect to unwind and recharge at the end of the day. You can take 10 minutes only for yourself, open your favourite app and focus on it. No more crowded streets, loud people or painful small talks. This is me-time at its best.

Incidentally, apps are also great because you can wear your earplugs, bury your nose in your phone and avoid people trying to start a conversation on the bus. No need to hide it, I’ve done it too.

apps to study Italian

Duolingo

No list of language learning apps can be complete without the cute green owl.
Duolingo introduces the language to you bit by bit, through units that you can unlock once you complete the previous one. The order of the units is a good guide for you to follow through your studies, integrating it with other resources. (Check this and other tutor-approved tips to maximize language learning through Duolingo from Kerstin)
Its desktop version also provides basic grammar explanations, while the mobile one only has exercises.
The exercises consist of translations from and to the target language, writing down what you hear, matching words and their meaning, speaking, picking the correct translation.

Sometimes the sentences you find on Duolingo are a bit unnatural, sometimes they’re plain weird. I lost count of the screenshots I sent to my friends while practising to share a laugh with them. However, if a sentence makes you laugh you are more likely to remember it – and with it the vocabulary or grammar it includes.

Even though also the other two apps in the list use gamification, I found Duolingo to be the best at keeping you motivated. Its system of achievements to unlock and lingots to win through small challenges or by maintaining your streak is quite addictive.

Teacher’s tip: You have finished your tree from English to Italian and you think you’re done with Duolingo? Think again! Go back to it and challenge yourself to practice on the reverse tree – from Italian to English instead.

Memrise

Memrise is a flashcard-based app that uses images, audio and mnemonics to help you learn the language. Some of the content is created by Memrise’s team, while some of it is created by users. This means, on one hand, that you might encounter a few mistakes from time to time. On the other hand, this allows for a diversified offer in term of teaching and memorizing methods. There is a wide offer of Italian courses, from the official Memrise Italian course to a deck with words from Inspector Montalbano.

The app is based on the spaced repetition, which optimises your ability to retain information. It tests you on the same information with different kinds of exercises and at increasingly long intervals, to help you remember what you studied. First, you practise in learn mode for an introduction to the vocabulary. Then you can use the classic review to memorize it, and the speed review to test your memory with fast quizzes.

Out of these apps, Memrise is the only one you can use offline in its free version. You can download single decks and study whenever you have no access to the internet.

Teacher’s tip: One of my favourite features about Memrise is the possibility to create personalised decks. This way you can use it to review lessons, create your own mnemonics and tailor your study sessions. Regularly add new vocabulary and expressions to your Memrise deck and practise every day. Five or ten minutes a day are enough to see some progress.

Clozemaster

Clozemaster is a lovely little app that looks and sounds like an 8-bit game and teaches you the language in context through mass exposure.
It’s based on a very simple, yet effective, exercise where you fill in some sentences with one missing word. It teaches you natural language that you can actually use in daily life. When I study with Clozemaster I always keep a notebook at hand, because it has so many useful everyday expressions!
It divides vocabulary into sections for the most common words. You can either decide to start with the first 100 most common words or let the app automatically show you sentences.

Clozemaster strengthens your understanding of sentence construction and of the language in general, as well as teaching you set phrases and some slang.
You can learn Italian starting from several other languages. At the moment of writing you can learn Italian from English, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Hungarian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Russian. Not bad!

Teacher’s tip: Are you studying another of the languages offered in combination with Italian? If you have at least an intermediate level at either, use the language you’re stronger at as your “learn from” language. This way you’ll get double practice at one time!

What is your favourite app for language learning? Do you have another app you would recommend?

Bonus: Tired of feeling overwhelmed by language learning? Then get the Anxiety Kit for Language Learners, free and straight in your inbox.

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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

What a month!
On top of preparing my move from London back to Italy, I managed to smash my phone and arrange postage of my precious books with the worst courier ever.
Despite being sure I wanted to leave London it was actually super tough. No surprises, my housemates became like a family to me and I already miss them lots.

Moving on to the things that went well, I’m happy with my language learning for October.
Amidst the mess of my daily activities, I found a little peace in my study time. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or simply like I wanted to cry for a whole day I took a break and watched a video in French, or practised some Swedish with an app. In the most stressful month of the past year, language learning didn’t feel like an obligation. It actually became my way to cool down and cope with anxiety.
This was possible thanks to a slight change I made in the way I organise my learning goals.

tip for anxious language learners

Benefits of mind mapping and tracking achievements

You might remember that in September I went goal free. Unexpectedly I studied consistently and even went back to learning French regularly.
At first, I didn’t give it much thought. In October, though, I started to see some patterns.
It surely is important to have some sort of plan instead of just randomly piling up unrelated bits of knowledge. However, publicly declaring that I will learn 100 words on Memrise or post a sentence on Instagram every day stressed me.

I have been struggling with anxiety for many years now. Among my coping strategies, regular habits and being organised have been the most effective. So why did planning my language learning in detail only worsen things?
That is because anxiety also makes me insecure and hyper self-conscious. Therefore, writing down accurate goals didn’t make me feel accountable: it made me feel like everyone was looking at me underachieving. Of course, rationally I know it’s not true and no one is here to judge me. But if you try to talk some reason into an anxious person… well, good luck with that.
Shortly, I needed something that made me feel comfortably organised, without making me feel constrained.

To begin with, I stopped setting goals that are too rigid and specific. No more “learn x words, listen to x episodes of a podcast”.
Instead, I write down a mind map of the things I would like to do during the month, in no particular order. There is always time to add something new, delete something that is not working. Then, when I start my study session I pick one of the activities and work on it.

On top of that, I have been playing with Clozemaster and Duolingo before going to sleep, so even at busy times, I practise at least a bit every day.

Then, in the evenings, I record in my diary the achievements of the day. French: Clozemaster, Duolingo, one video. Swedish: Clozemaster, Duolingo, Babbel review. Something like this.
Creating this habit of doing a little bit every day and tracking it afterwards improved my results and motivation.
I don’t feel stressed about language learning anymore, I study without putting pressure on myself and this way I’m learning more and more effectively.

OK, Let’s move on to the actual learning bit!

What did I use to study in October?

French
– A few more lessons on Lingoda (you can read my review here)
– The free 7 days course from Selfrench – great for learning new vocabulary and can be adapted to every level.
– Some episodes of FrenchBlaBla‘s podcast and some videos from Comme une française
– The exercises from TV5 Monde
– Videos from Solange te parle and Cyprien (thanks Katie for recommending him!) & some French music
– I switched to French when catching up with a friend

Swedish
– Babbel (affiliate) for vocabulary review and studying new grammar
– New videos from Clara Henry

French & Swedish
– I kept my streak with Clozemaster and Duolingo practising every evening.

Activities I want to do in November

French
– 2 more lessons on Lingoda (affiliate)
– Practice on TV5 Monde
– Listen to podcasts
– Conversation with a friend

Swedish
– I started taking weekly lessons with an online teacher, I’m so looking forward to this!
– Study grammar on Babbel
– Reinforce the grammar topics I feel insecure about
– Work through the Rivstart books

French & Swedish
– Go through my notebooks to review grammar and vocabulary
– Clozemaster and Duolingo every evening
– Listen to music & watch some videos

What are you going to study in November? What works best for you: setting very specific goals or a more flexible planning of your studies?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you purchase through the links provided.

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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

I mentioned earlier that in September my language studies were focused on French, as I had the chance to try Lingoda.

Lingoda is an online language school that offers classes with small groups and private lessons via Skype and Adobe Connect. You can pick one of four languages: English, French, Spanish and German. The curricula and materials are based on the CEFR levels (A1-C2). When you complete a course you have the possibility to get a CEFR certificate. Classes are available 24/7, so whatever your timezone is you can book lessons at the most convenient time for you.

How did it go?

In order to write this review, I received 10 lessons credits, 5 for private lessons and 5 for group classes, so I was able to interact with different teachers and to try a number of sessions focused on grammar, speaking and writing. Though being assessed at a B2 level I was eager to fill some gaps in my grammar knowledge with a teacher, so I took B1.2 lessons.

Learning on Lingoda

Lingoda offers a rich curriculum of classes on several topics, divided into chapters. Each chapter has a theme, covers a couple of grammar points and includes lessons focused on each language ability.
You can download for free all the slides and learning materials in order to prepare for your class in advance or to review grammar/vocabulary. The topics are varied and engaging and whatever your interests are you’ll definitely find something for you.
When I first checked the topics I almost felt a bit overwhelmed: I didn’t expect such an extensive choice of themes. They range from hobbies to family, from media to politics and current events, from cultural insights on France and other francophone countries to living abroad. There are also lessons tailored to specific needs: writing a resume, applying for a job or going to an interview.

My absolute favourite thing about Lingoda is the quality of teachers I got to study with. I had lessons with 7 of them and all were prepared and experienced. They made the lessons enjoyable, effective and fun. They made sure that my pronunciation was correct, worked on my mistakes without interrupting me – one of the signs of a well-trained teacher – and were constantly attentive to any doubts or questions I had. The approach is communicative and you are encouraged to speak as much as possible.

Private lessons

I believe getting full attention from a professional teacher is one of the best and fastest ways to make progress in a language, and my experience on Lingoda confirmed this idea.
For my first three lessons, I studied with the same teacher. She soon identified my weaknesses and gave me spot on tips and reading recommendations suitable for my level. Afterwards, I had two more lessons with different teachers. Both were excellent but it’s a bit of a shame because I would have loved to keep studying with the first one.
During the lessons, I received constant feedback, suggestions on what I needed to improve and how to best do it. In general, I felt that all the teachers I worked with really cared about my progress and results.

If you are interested in studying a specific topic that doesn’t appear in the regular curriculum, then you can book a customised private class. The teacher will prepare a bespoke lesson tailored to your needs.

Group classes

In most group classes I worked with only one other student. Once I was the only one so I got a private lesson, and once we were four students.
This was the first time I had group lessons online and I was a bit worried it would get chaotic. In every occasion, though, the teachers flawlessly managed time, tasks and the attention they gave to each student.

The practical stuff

The website interface is visually pleasant, user-friendly and easy to navigate.
Adobe Connect, the software used for group classes, always worked well for me. I never had issues during the lessons or while connecting.
The booking system is quite straightforward: you can pick lessons for the topic or according to your time availability. When booking a class you receive a confirmation via email that lets you add it to your calendar in one click.

The price for a monthly package ranges from 79€ – 269€ and it can include private lessons, group classes or a mix of both.
You can get a 60 minutes trial class for 0,99€ to talk with a teacher who will assess your level.

What’s not great?

As I mentioned earlier I would have loved the possibility to choose a teacher and keep working with them in my private classes. It would make me feel more comfortable and motivated and I think progress is faster with an instructor that knows your needs and learning style.
Also, if you want to take a specific lesson within a group class, you will have to wait until the online school schedules that lesson. Generally you will have about three slots to choose from during the week, otherwise, you can arrange to study your desired topic in a private lesson.
Finally, if you are very tight on time this might not be the best option for you, as their plans go from a minimum of 5 private lessons or 10 group classes a month.

Summing up

My experience with Lingoda was overall very positive, especially thanks to the amazing teachers I studied with. Let’s sum up:

Pros
  • Outstanding teachers
  • Free downloadable materials to prepare your lessons or review any topic
  • Rich and engaging class curriculum
  • Easy to use and to navigate
  • Lessons available 24/7
  • CEFR certificates available
  • It’s possible to have completely customized private classes
Cons
  • One cannot choose a teacher to work with regularly
  • Not great flexibility when you want to book a class lesson on a specific topic
  • Not recommended for people who can’t attend at least 5-10 hours of classes every month
Who is it for?

Lingoda is the ideal choice if you want to progress fast, you are committed to dedicating at least 5 to 10 hours in a month to online lessons, and ready to pay a bit more than on the most used learning platforms (but still less than you would with a private teacher elsewhere).

Ready to give it a try?

English with Lingoda
French with Lingoda
Spanish with Lingoda
German with Lingoda

Have you ever taken group classes online? How did it go? What is the most important factor for you when taking classes online? Let me know in the comments!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you purchase through the links provided. However, all views are my own and this is an honest and impartial review. I only work with brands that I use or would use myself and that I would recommend to the readers of this blog.

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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

Oh my, it’s good I didn’t plan anything for September because my plans would have been all over the place!
First and most importantly, at the end of October, I will be leaving London for good. I’ve finally made up my mind and I should have done so earlier: the longer I was here, the more I was aware I would never love this city. I will be back in Bologna for a couple of months and then move on to Sweden at the beginning of 2018.
You can probably imagine this change involves lots of work, stress and worries. Until I settle again my language learning won’t be a top priority, unfortunately. It will hopefully be my way to unwind, though.
language learning recap

So what have I done in September?

Unpredictably, September was focused on French. I had the opportunity to try some free online classes on Lingoda (affiliate) and I am oh so happy I accepted.
It was a positive experience that reminded me how much I love this language and helped me assess my current level and my limits.
I am standing at a solid intermediate level: I can understand pretty much everything I read and most of a conversation. I have some gaps in grammar that I believe I can fix with some focused reviews. Most importantly, I need to acquire vocabulary and more complex structures to bring my French production to the next level. This is kind of a fun phase because I can do so with authentic materials.

Swedish didn’t get much attention for September, but I studied some sentences every day with Memrise or Duolingo. Yay for little good habits at busy times!

I got a bit nostalgic about Japanese after an interview on Koipun, where I talked about life in Japan and learning languages. But for now I need to be patient, I’m only keeping my ear trained with some videos. By the way, do you know Dogen? He makes humorous videos for advanced learners: he’s so fun and I can’t stop being impressed with his pronunciation!

A lot of my study time this month went into an awesome course on Future Learn (affiliate) about teaching languages through short film: so much inspiration for my work! The course is ending this week, but if you rush you’re still on time to enrol and discover more on the topic.

What’s next?

As you can imagine, I won’t commit to much for October. There are things to sort out, stress to keep under control and quality time to spend with my “London family”.
I will still try to do a little bit every day, be it an app, a few videos, grammar exercises or a post on Instagram.

As I’d like to take proper lessons for a couple of months before moving to Sweden, I might start looking for a Swedish online teacher. I won’t start studying until November, but if any of you lovely people knows a good teacher or website throw it my way!

Not a whole lot of goal planning here, but let me know what you’re studying this month and good luck 🙂

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Elena

I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.