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Updated 10 Oct 2012

Anyone who has holidayed in Italy will be familiar with the way the locals interact with tourists who speak Italian. While English is widely taught in schools, most Italians prefer not to speak it in their home country. I had a horrible experience in Florence years ago when a local shopkeeper huffed and puffed at my English-speaking friend only to then treat me most hospitably when I addressed him in Italian.

For expats, a basic knowledge of Italian can really impact your experience in the country. In my case, a bit of Italian went a long way to helping me assimilate. Just being able to converse with shopkeepers, co-workers and neighbours made me feel like I was at home and living like a local.

There are plenty of ways you can learn Italian in Rome. In an ideal situation, you would take an intensive course a couple of months before you leave your home country. Don’t stress if that’s not possible as there are still heaps of opportunities for you to learn on the job.

Short Italian courses in Rome

When I first arrived in Rome, I was haughty enough to think my high school Italian would blow everyone’s socks off. I could deliver lengthy monologues about my family, career prospects and Italian immigration to Australia in the 1960s, but when it came to day-to-day conversation, I was hopeless.

Still, it wasn’t until a local bus driver mocked my pronunciation of bus, “é autobus bella”, that I thought I should get some help and enrolled in a short course at my local community centre.

When you’re in Rome, you’ll see signs for these classes all over your quartieri. They’re usually run by an expat or someone with an English-speaking background, and can be great if you don’t have a lot of time or aren’t really interested in a lengthy university-style education. In my case, a short course was far more affordable than anything in an institutionalised setting.

If you want something a little more official than a knowledgeable expat, you can try non-intensive weekly classes at schools like Torre di Babele. Rome University’s La Sapienza summer school also has short courses that mix language lessons with art and archaeology classes, but you will need to speak basic Italian already.

Language schools in Rome

This is the most popular option with expats. Language schools tailor to all Italian language levels and there are literally hundreds to choose from in Rome.

A word of warning: be sure to thoroughly research your school before you sign up. Not all of the advertised Italian language schools in Rome are as reputable as they seem. So before you part with a huge wad of cash, make sure the course delivers exactly what you’re looking for.

Most language schools will assess your Italian level before placing you in a class. This is important, especially if you already know some Italian. I languished for months in a class that was far too easy for me. I impressed my classmates, but wasted my money learning things I already knew.

If you’re really serious about studying Italian, you should pick a school with ASIL accreditation. ASILS stands for Associazione delle scuole di italiano come lingua seconda (Association of Schools of Italian as a Second Language). It’s a governing body that effectively ensures you’re getting the best Italian education possible.

Only six schools in Rome have ASILS accreditation and you can see which ones at Scuola Leonardo da Vinci is one of the more popular as it has the greatest range of classes and even pairs you with native speakers to improve your pronunciation.

One-on-one tutoring

This can go one of two ways: you can either sign up for tailored courses at an ASILS school like the Centro Linguistico Italiano Dante Alighieri Roma or you can seek out a bilingual local.

Don’t immediately dismiss the idea of learning from a local. Private tutoring at a language school can be prohibitively expensive. On average, you’ll spend about 40 euro a lesson. If you do your homework and pick a local who tutors at home, you can save a lot of money and still get the same high quality, individualised education.

Ask at your local high school or liceo to see if any of the English teachers do private tutoring. If that yields nothing, have a look online or on community notice boards like Friends in Rome.

Private tuition is particularly good for anyone who needs to learn business Italian fast, not to mention the fine art of socialising with local clients.

Though I wouldn’t recommend private tuition if you’re new to Italian and want to learn more than a few key phrases. One-on-one lessons work best for those who already have a solid language foundation and are really looking to build up their skills and pronunciation.

While it might seem daunting at first, learning Italian just takes persistence, and as most expats will tell you, there’s no better place to learn it than surrounded by locals to practise on. 


Elisa Scarton Our Expat Expert

Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, and fell in love (how cliché?), and decided to stick around. Cutting her teeth in frenetic-paced Rome, she now writes a Tuscan travel blog and online travel guide about her new home, the infinitely beautiful Tuscan Maremma, so that others can get a taste of la dolce vita.

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