It can often be hard to find decent language learning resources, and when you do, there are often no reviews available to help you decide which resource is best for you. Therefore, I will occasionally post reviews here to help you decide whether a particular resource will be useful for you.
This post will focus on a particular textbook designed to help you learn Italian.
Textbook: L’italiano all’università 1
Author: Matteo La Grassa
L’italiano all’università 1 is a textbook designed to be used in university courses for beginner level students. It aims to raise the level of Italian from nothing to A2 on the CERF scale by the end of the book. This means it also covers A1 content.
This textbook includes a CD for the listening files and has an online platform to further support the material covered in the book. This site is i-d-e-e.it. Sadly, I can’t comment on the usefulness of this site as I never used it. My book didn’t come with a code to allow me access to the site as it should have. However, I was using this book as a prescribed text from my university so I already had plenty of support available to me and did not need to use the site. I would suggest that anybody who is learning Italian, and is using this book without a structured course, use any resources available to them and should make all efforts to use the online platform.
The book itself is split into 12 self contained units which progress in difficulty. For example, the course starts with simple introductions, the alphabet, nationality etc. However, by the end of the course, you will be reading extended pieces of writing and using advanced aspects of grammar. When considering verb tenses alone, only the subjunctive and the pluperfect are excluded in the book. There are also many guided writing activities throughout. Unfortunately, as with any self study, the speaking prompts will be difficult to engage with. I would suggest finding someone who you can practise speaking with if a textbook is your only exposure to Italian.
The textbook includes revision activities by having either a test or a self evaluation after each chapter. These are beneficial for recognising what you need extra practise on.
Whilst the textbook makes every effort to explain grammar throughout, with attention points and sections of every chapter dedicated to it, I found that it was often difficult to follow the explanations. This was partly due to them being explained only in Italian which is very difficult when you are only 1 week into a course and also because sometimes the explanations don’t appear to explain much at all. So, even though I can use a lot of Italian grammar correctly, it must be said I learnt this aspect of language mainly through my degree and the resources provided by the university. However, if you are already familiar with a grammar point, the chapters will help you practise this. Therefore, I would recommend investing in some other form of learning Italian grammar, whatever that may be for you, and then using the corresponding chapter in the book afterwards. This is very easy to do as the contents page sets out what grammar points are to be covered in the chapter.
Despite its lacking in the grammar department, L’italiano all’università 1 is very good at teaching communication, and the topics chosen are very useful for the average language learner. The book focuses on shopping, train travel, and accommodation amongst other themes.
After the main chapters, the book contains 60 further pages of activities, which contain another 14 audio tracks. These are merely practise activities to further support what has been learnt in the chapters and do not constitute any extra teaching. Thus, it is up to the learner whether they wish to do these exercises during the course or after as a refresher. This section also contains 14 writing exercises. 11 of these have a guided word count, adding up to 1,290 words. A further 3 are just guided tasks with no set number of words. This is incredibly beneficial as it is often easy to forget to write extended texts, especially as a beginner. However, L’italiano all’università 1 does not let you progress without testing your writing skills. The difficulty increases with each task, but no exercise is more than 150 words (unless you want to write more yourself).
The book includes all the answers to the supplementary exercises at the back, meaning a teachers guide is not needed to know if you are doing well. Unfortunately, the answers for activities in the main part of the textbook are not given. However, I have found that my classmates and I have generally found these easy to complete with few mistakes.
Finally, all of the listening files contain transcripts within the chapters. this is very beneficial as it allows you to use the written text when you are absolutely stuck. It also provides an easy way to find vocabulary and learn from it as you do not need to guess what was said. I would recommend not using the transcript for at least 2 or 3 attempts, and 4 if you have the will power. This just allows your listening skills to develop as it is much harder to listen and understand without the transcript, but this is the only way you will improve. Even though the transcripts are available, my friends and I often completely forgot they were there (very annoying when you’ve been struggling with a listening exercise for the 6th time in a row) but this was usually beneficial as we didn’t just give up straight away and our listening skills have come a long way over the year.
Overall, I would recommend this textbook to a beginner learner of Italian. However, I would not use it as your only source of Italian. If possible, find a way of learning grammar that works for you and use that, find someone to practise speaking with, and use other methods of vocabulary learning. This book is very good for putting into action what you know and even learning things from it. However, your level of Italian will only improve quicker if you use other methods of learning as well.