Apologies if this question isn't relevant or is too basic for this site.

I am currently trying to learn basic Italian. I have found that an effective approach to help me memorise the relevant words is to find a vague phonetic connection to an English word with a similar meaning and use it to recall.

For example:

  • Orologio - Horology
  • Divertente - Diversion
  • Verde - Verdant

There's not always a similar word: I can't think of anything in English meaning 'walk' that's like camminare, for example. That makes these words harder to learn, but more often than not there is. So far, I've been able to do well enough making up the gaps through rote learning.

When it comes to building questions, however, I'm struggling. Not only can I not find any English equivalents to hang off, but many of the Italian words are very similar. I'm struggling to recall the difference between them. For example Quanto/Quando/Quale and Come/Cosa all have quite distinct meanings yet, to the unlearned ear, sound similar.

Are there any tricks or useful mnemonics I can use to try and get to grips with forming questions?

  • 2
    Now you know what is it for English learners with all those wh- words... :-) Seriously know, I find your method useful, but when it is not applicable (or even when it is), you might complement it with memorising sentences/proverbs/lines of poetry/song lyrics with the culprit words. For instance, for quando, Quando a Roma andrai, fa' come vedrai (equivalent to “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”).
    – DaG
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 18:02
  • 1
    Please, beware of the so-called "false friends" (words) ! Like for example: lifemilan.it/en/false-friends-a-must-learn-list Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 20:07
  • @RiccardoDeContardi Nice list! But some of them are not quite correct (or, more precisely, they focus on only one meaning): for example assistere means also to help in addition to to attend.
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 20:14
  • 2
    @DaG That's a great idea. It may be short, but if you post it as an answer, I'd consider accepting it if no-one has any better ideas :)
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 20:14
  • @DenisNardin yes, you are right! I could also add journal (real meaning: diario) False friend in Italian: giornale (= newspaper) Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 20:57

1 Answer 1


I did not study linguistic myself, but I got used to handle three languages (from separate language families) in everyday life since childhood. From my experience, the word-to-sound association is a very bad idea, and will eventually confuse your brain, especially when more than one non-native languages is involved. Of course, it depends from person to person, we all have different cognitive and learning skills or abilities. It will also depend on how fast you need to learn the target language.

Here is a method that I found a lot more effective to learn new words in new languages, especially if you have contact with native speakers every day (in particular for the emphasis/pronunciation):

  1. buy a dictionary in the language you want to learn - you can also get an e-book version, but I find this method more effective with the 3D solid paper book between your hands
  2. write a word per day on a small piece of blank paper and write the translation on the other side of the (in the language you're more comfortable with) - if you're a visual person you can also draw or attach an image of the corresponding item
  3. put all the pieces of paper in a jar
  4. dedicate some before-bed time to check the items in the jar and their translation

For more complicated words, or contextual dependent concepts, I suggest you really get a comprehensive dictionary and write the whole sentences instead of just words on the pieces of paper, e.g., the Italian word come in very different situations like:

  1. come sei carino! - EN: how cute you are!
  2. come arrivo alla stazione? - EN: how do I get to the train station?
  3. si è truccato come un pagliaccio - EN: he got his makeup done like a clown
  4. come arrivo a casa, ti chiamo - EN: as soon as I get home, I will call you

and, last but not least, non-literally translatable compound forms:

  1. come la mettiamo? EN: now what?

You can also learn some of these sentences by heart, then think of similar contexts to which the same word-to-concept idea can be applied.

And, it may sound weird (but this is basically how I learned to speak English with no evident Italian accent) but as soon as you feel comfortable with, start watching movies/TV series in original language (no EN subs, or IT subs if really needed) or get involved in multiplayer gaming sessions, and you'll learn so many context-dependent words! And google any word you hear and don't know and put it in the jar - never let an unknown word pass by your brain.

I hope this can help you improve your learning :) All the best!

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