This article is a review of ItalianPod101.com, an online resource for learning Italian through audio podcasts.
In this review, I'll take you inside the premium members area of this language course and show you its main features, then share my honest assessment of the quality of the product, so you can decide whether it's right for you.
ItalianPod101 Review: Summary
- Very substantial – tonnes of lessons for all levels
- Easy to use lesson format – audio lessons and handy mobile app
- Dialogues are too short
- Too much “lesson” content, not enough Italian!
- Lots of advertising, up-selling, and cross-promoting related products when you sign up
A premium ItalianPod101 subscription costs $180 USD per year.
ItalianPod101 is an absorbing, useful resource – especially for beginners and intermediate levels.
Their bite-sized approach to learning is a great option for busy people who want quick, concise daily lessons, or who enjoy studying on the go. If you struggle with motivation, you may benefit from this approach, but it’s certainly no shortcut – you will still need to take charge of your learning.
(My top recommendation for Italian learners is Italian Uncovered, which teaches you through StoryLearning®. If you’re ready to get started, click here for a 7-day FREE trial.)
What Is ItalianPod101?
ItalianPod101 is an online subscription programme for Italian learners of all levels.
Subscribers get access to an extensive library of Italian video and audio lessons, as well as a number of other learning tools, such as customizable flashcards and an English-Italian searchable dictionary.
All of the content included in the premium subscription is available to access through a web browser or a handy mobile app.
A Look Inside ItalianPod101
Lessons in ItalianPod101 are organised into five levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. Each level has a range of different ‘series', or thematic modules, with anything from 2 to 105 lessons per module.
This adds up to literally hundreds of Italian podcast lessons, making ItalianPod101 quite a substantial resource. You have the option of choosing which lessons you want to focus on.
The drawback to this design is that it's difficult to know where to start. The home page – your ‘dashboard’ – is quite overwhelming and takes time to figure out.
One feature that helps is called ‘Learning Paths' – these are lessons grouped by topic. Here, you can hand-pick your pathways based on what your personal learning goals are and what level you’re at.
For example, beginners can choose from learning paths like ‘Holidays in Italy’, ‘Business Italian For Beginners’ and ‘Must-Know Italian Sentence Structures’.
I like this idea, because you can choose your own direction from the start – especially if you only need Italian for a specific purpose. It also gives you a clear picture of what you'll have learnt once you complete the learning path.
What's Included In Each Lesson?
Each lesson contains 3 audio tracks:
- Full Lesson Audio
- Review Track
- Dialogue Only Track
Each lesson normally follows the same format:
- Dialogue in Italian – at natural speed, then slowed down
- Repetition of the dialogue with English translations
- Explanation of new vocabulary
- Explanation of new grammar
- Discussion of the story and cultural insights
Once you've completed the main lesson, you can practice in two ways:
1.Use the review track. This lets you practice pronunciation of new vocabulary you've learned.
2.Use the dialogue track. This lets you repeat the dialogue without listening to all of the explanations. This is the track I recommend you work with the most.
At the end, there are lesson notes and a transcript of the full audio that you can read through or download.
Now let's take a look at some of the more advanced features of ItalianPod101 that you can find in Premium subscriptions…
In my opinion, the most beneficial part of ItalianPod101 is the powerful extra features accompanying each lesson.
The dialogue is in an interactive format: each line is clickable, so you can click and hear the audio at your own pace, line-by-line, and you can switch the text between Italian and English.
This works really well and is great for breaking down the dialogue into smaller bits, while listening and reading at the same time. It's a good way to improve your vocabulary and listening comprehension.
You also get a list of key vocabulary from the dialogue. Again, you can click on individual words to hear the pronunciation (at natural speed and slowed down) and see them in writing. There’s an option to add these words to your personal wordbank or flashcard deck, or even take a quick quiz.
This brings us to another cool feature of ItalianPod101: the personalised flashcard system.
If there’s vocabulary you’d like to practice from your lessons, you can simply save it to a built-in flashcard system. These flashcard decks are fully-customisable and use spaced-repetition to help you learn new words. They’re very easy to create and dive into.
The big downside, though, is that these flashcards only show you words in isolation. It's much more effective to learn words in context. This is disappointing and makes a potentially useful flashcard tool practically useless.
The only way you’ll really benefit from the flashcards, is if you use them immediately after each session to test your memory.
All of the lesson material is also available for download. Saved podcasts can be useful if you need to listen offline; however, the PDF printables are identical to the online lessons – you’re not getting anything new.
I don’t find this useful, but some people like having physical print-outs to read through. The one advantage to this is being able to do the lessons device-free. However, without the audios, I don’t really see the point.
Bonuses For Beginners
In addition to the lessons, there are a lot of extra resources for beginners which add value for people learning Italian for the first time.
When you're just starting out, it can feel quite overwhelming and you need to get to grips with the fundamentals: grammar, phonology, spelling. The last thing you want to do is waste time and slow your progress by trying to piece it all together from different websites. Here, it's all in one place:
- Overviews of the Italian language
- A guide to Italian pronunciation
- An introduction to Italian grammar
- Extensive vocab lists with audios
Other Notable Features
Some other fun features you might enjoy are the interactive, quick quizzes at the end of each lesson, and an Italian-English / English-Italian audio dictionary.
This dictionary has a search bar – a convenient tool that also allows you to add words to your personal word bank.
ItalianPod101 Review: What I Like
Some things really stood out for me…
- It's a very substantial resource. There are lots of lessons available, especially for newer learners, and the library is regularly updated with new material. There’s also a decent amount of supportive material, such as colourful PDF ‘cheat sheets’.
- The course is well-designed. It's not easy to select and produce graded material for an entire language course. There’s an impressive amount of quality content, and learning is reinforced with the extra features. The repetition of grammar points and vocabulary through the different levels is very good.
- The podcast lessons are short and entertaining, so they're perfect for anyone who needs a fun and easy way to get motivated in the beginning.
- The difficulty levels are just right. Once you figure out your current level and get going, you'll find that the progression from level to level is logical.
- Vocabulary is well-selected and the dialogues are based on real-life situations. This means the lessons teach useful language – the kind of Italian people actually speak in Italy.
- The line-by-line clickable dialogues with audio, transcription and translation are AWESOME. For me, this is the main benefit of the product.
- The handy mobile app allows you to listen to episodes easily on the go, and works on your tablet or iPad as well. In fact, you can sync lessons across your devices. You can even download the podcasts to listen offline, if you prefer.
ItalianPod101 Review: What I Don't Like
On the flipside, I found these things to be weak points…
- The podcasts use too much English and not enough Italian. While this is helpful for beginners, it gets frustrating as you advance. For such short dialogues, you really want to hear as much Italian as possible – otherwise you’re constantly switching languages in your head. This disrupts learning once you’re at a higher level. In fact, even the advanced dialogues are very short and lack the kind of juicy, rich language I like to devour at this stage of learning. Also, the constant banter in English gets a bit much and is distracting, especially as it’s scripted and sounds unnatural.
- Pathway distribution isn’t very equal across levels. There are far more pathways (modules) for beginners than for advanced learners. The modules are also not very well-organized; with so many random topics to choose from, some learners will feel a bit lost.
- The lessons lack practice exercises. I definitely think it’s necessary to consolidate each lesson with more than just a quick quiz. Along with that, there’s no obligation to speak. Better learning happens when you are challenged – especially with plenty of fun opportunities to speak and write the language.
- The on-site advertising, up-selling and cross-promoting of related products, even after you’ve paid for the course, gets pretty irritating. These flashy banners and ‘news’ stories are very distracting and detract from the user experience in a big way!
- The resources seem a bit neglected at times, which is a bit disappointing for something you pay good money for. For example, the demo video on the Italian Pronunciation page is incorrect: ‘Hebrew Pronunciation’! I also find both the video and transcript editing are sometimes poor. ItalianPod hires native Italian speakers, which is a good thing for the podcasts and videos, but not so great when it comes to writing English translations.
- The vocabulary lists and flashcards work with single words out of context, which is a big missed opportunity. It's much more effective to learn words in context… I know I go on about this quite a lot, but it’s important! You do see the words in context within the dialogues, and there are often sample sentences on the flashcards, but I'm a big believer in keeping words in full sentences at all times – especially when revising.
- Lots of teaching, not much immersion. One issue I have with the lessons is the fact that they are just that: “lessons”. The audios and videos focus a lot of attention on teaching vocab and grammar in English. While the teaching itself is pretty decent, this is definitely not an ideal, immersive experience. (After all, if you had to learn Italian on the streets of Italy, nobody would be explaining every word to you!) Language absorption is about spending as much time as possible with that language. I would love for there to be more material for extensive listening, so you can just listen and enjoy without always having to learn something new.
- Vocabulary lists from the lessons don't always contain all the useful words from the dialogues. Only a few words are chosen from the audio, which is disappointing when there’s a particular word you wanted to practice. Having to then look it up in the dictionary makes the user experience less awesome. The vocab list also sometimes has words that never even came from the dialogue, but are related to the topic. While there's no harm in seeing related vocabulary, the fact that you haven't heard it in the dialogue makes it a bit random.
How Much Does ItalianPod 101 Cost & Is It Worth It?
ItalianPod101 works on a freemium model. This means that it's free to create an account and use the first three lessons of each module. But you'll still need to pay for most of the best content, as these features are only available to paid subscribers.
There are various different subscriber options and as you might expect, the longer you subscribe for, the cheaper the deal. I find the prices quite reasonable.
If you take a one-year premium subscription as our baseline – this costs $180. That's a lot more than the cost of a book, but substantially less than other commercial products like, say, Rosetta Stone ($399) or Pimsleur ($345 for 30 lessons).
Overall, I think ItalianPod101.com is a substantial and well-made resource for learning Italian that's easy to consume. And, despite my issues with the teaching format, I think you'll find it useful if you decide to sign up.
However, if you're looking for a comprehensive beginner programme that will take you all the way to the intermediate level in Italian and that uses a much more fun, engaging and effective method, then I've got something that might suit you better…
Italian Uncovered: A Better Alternative To ItalianPod101
While ItalianPod101 is reasonably well-structured and has lots of lesson content, it's not the most fun Italian programme.
That's where Italian Uncovered is different.
Italian Uncovered is a comprehensive online beginner course that takes you from a complete beginner in Italian up to an intermediate level. And it's fuelled by a fun and unique method called StoryLearning®.
StoryLearning is a process that was invented to teach you languages naturally. It’s so natural, in fact, that it’s based on how human beings learn their native language.
In the course, you'll learn through an exciting original story in authentic Italian, written especially for beginner learners. Every word is intentional, designed for optimal learning to take place.
Though you learn through story, you also have a teacher and experienced language learner by your side all the way through the course. She offers support with explanations in English and tips to help you learn the material fast.
Uncovered teaches all of the key aspects of the language: reading, listening, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and speaking. So by the time you've finished, you'll be a confident intermediate level Italian speaker, ready to go out and actually use your Italian in the real world!
What You Get With Uncovered
- Complete 20-module course to learn to speak Italian with confidence through StoryLearning™. This is a method that relies on your brain's natural way of learning.
- 80+ video lessons with your experienced Italian teacher. You'll learn with the same method that's attracted worldwide attention, from the BBC, Independent, Open University, European Commission, El País, and more!
- Learn the secrets I used to learn 8 languages and how to use them yourself to learn to speak with confidence & take part fully in conversations with native speakers.
- Fully downloadable programme so you can learn faster – anywhere, any time, and on any device… even without an internet connection!
- Complete learning material, including audiobook, translations, printable worksheets… everything you need to get started and find success with your language learning!
- Expert pronunciation training videos, so you can perfect your pronunciation and speak like a native from the start.
- Money-back guarantee, so you can buy without risk today, and get a full refund if you don't love it.
If you're determined to learn Italian and looking for the most fun and effective Italian course around, I'm confident you'll love Uncovered!
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