Three steps for reading in a foreign language: solving the jigsaw puzzle

Why is reading in a foreign language so important for learning it?
Why is reading in a foreign language difficult?
Are there any techniques to make it easier?

Read on to find the answers to these questions.

The power of context and stories
The British Council, in one of their campaigns, told us that it only takes a 1000 words to learn a language. This is true if we consider that even mother tongue speakers use a relatively small vocabulary in their everyday life. However, words must be meaningful and related to context for a learner to retain them. The internet is full of lists of words, nevertheless if you have ever tried to learn Italian by memorising words, you will already know that this does not work.

The power of context and stories does not only lie in making vocabulary memorable, but also has the power of contributing meaning to a word, even a new word, that the student has never come across before. Reading is an invaluable way of learning a language and it is especially powerful for learning new vocabulary and phrases.

Why is reading in a foreign language difficult?
Most students find reading Italian literatures difficult. I can see two reasons for this. One is that the material is too hard because the students are still at the intermediate stage or below. The second is that the level of the student is high enough, but the student lacks the right techniques and the mindset. There is a solution for both cases.

Use graded material
If the material is too challenging, this is because these students are intermediate level or below. In this case, the solution is simple: reading graded material will help learning without being overwhelming. Graded materials are books which are written according to the level of the students. They are based on the number of words used. For example the one marked as 400-500 words are for beginners, 1000/1500 are for pre-intermediate level and so on. Start with one that you think you can manage and as your reading becomes easier upgrade to the next level. Even at pre-intermediate levels the next tips should help.

Use the correct reading techniques
The second problem is when a student reads in the same way as they read in their own language: expecting to understand each individual word. This is a common mistake amongst my more advanced students. Unfortunately, this can become exhausting because there will be numerous words that, when first read, they might not be familiar with.

Solving the jigsaw puzzle
Reading a text in a foreign language is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. When you start, you only see a pile of pieces. If you tried to put them together randomly you might be overwhelmed by the task. So, you might start by getting some clues about the puzzle, for example by looking at the picture on the box and by identifying the borders. In a similar way, before reading start to get some clues about the genre of the book, the book cover, the title, the table of contents, the titles of the chapters and any illustrations available. Our brain is wired to produce meaning based on a variety of clues and our previous experiences, trust yourself and let the brain to its job.

3 steps for reading any texts
So, after you got some clues about the book, you are ready to start, and these techniques should help:

1. First read: get the feel
Read as if you want to get the feel of the book, as if you were immersing yourself in a warm bath. Relax and read the entire section from start to finish. This could be the full chapter or if the chapter is too long, choose to begin with half of it. In your first read don’t use the dictionary. Don’t worry about what you don’t understand, focus on what you do. To go back to our puzzle analogy: use the key words you do understand to piece the rest together.
After finishing, try to summarise what you have understood. Use logic, what do you think happened, so what usually follows?

2. Second read: get the gist
The second read is when you will start underlining some words which you think are key to understand the sentence or the paragraph. These words should be crucial to the meaning of the chunk of text and very few. Even in this second read, don’t use the dictionary. Your understanding after the second read will be far greater compared to the first, even without the dictionary. Read again till the end. Trust yourself and the ability of your mind to understand more than you think.

3. Third read: dig deeper
The third read is when I would use the dictionary. Using it only now will ensure that those words have become already meaningful to you even if you don’t grasp them completely and therefore also more memorable. The work that you have done without the dictionary has given those words some meaning already, and you have built up the overwhelming desire to understand what they mean. In the same way as when you only have a small piece missing in the puzzle, you can already imagine what you are looking for. This process is what enables your long-term memory. This is because our minds have been designed to retain only information that is perceived as important.

Changing your mindset about reading
Ultimately, for reading in a foreign language, we need to change our mindset. Abandoning the fear of unknown words and accepting that we need a fresh way to approach an authentic text written for native speakers. Learn like children do; throwing yourselves into the new, using your imagination and especially enjoying your reading.

To sum it up:
In short, reading in the target language requires the same techniques as solving a jigsaw puzzle. At the beginning it looks complicated but if you stick with it all the pieces fall into place. Follow the techniques described without fear and trust yourself and the process.

Happy reading!

Fancy join our book club?
We read one selected chapter of a given book and develop speaking in sessions moderated by native teachers.
Click here if you wish to know how our book club works. You can book your session here.

Book Club Reading: Un ragazzo normale

Book Club Selected Reading

Title: Un ragazzo Normale
Author: Lorenzo Marone
Published: 2018

The author and the book
Lorenzo Marone was born in Naples in 1974. He worked as a lawyer for ten years, he then left this profession to become a writer. He published his first book, La tentazione di essere felici, in 2015. This has been translated into 15 languages and it was made into a film (La tenerezza) directed by Gianni Amelio. He has written 8 books and won numerous prizes such as Premio Stresa and Premio Selezione Bancarella. He published Un ragazzo normale in 2018 and won the Premio Giancarlo Siani.

He has also published:
La tristezza ha il sonno leggero
Magari domani resto
Cara Napoli
Tutto sarà perfetto
Inventario di un cuore in allarme
La donna degli alberi

Here are some sources where you can find more information about Lorenzo Marone and his books:

The story
Mimì is the protagonist of Un ragazzo normale. He’s twelve, wears glasses, loves reading and he is super smart. This boy is also obsessed with astronauts, comic books and the film Karate Kid. He lives in a building block in Naples in the area of Vomero where his father is the doorman. Il Vomero is the area populated by the middle and upper classes.

The boy spends all his spare time outside with his friend Sasà or in the two-room apartment that he shares with his parents, his teenage sister and his grandparents.

This child is fixated with getting a spiderman costume that his parents cannot afford, he is in love with Viola, a girl who lives in one of the upstairs apartments and daughter of more affluent parents. He is also into telepathy and tries various experiments with whoever he finds that is agreeable to them.

The book is set in the year 1985, which was a strange year for Naples. For example, it was the year that it snowed. This is an event in Naples, considering that prior to that, it only snowed in the years 1929, 1956 and 1971. During 1985, he also meets Giancarlo who becomes his superhero. Giancarlo is a 25 years old journalist who drives a green Citroen Méhari and writes dangerously about the Camorra. The boy is instantly inspired by the journalist and becomes his friend.

To understand the story completely, it is important to mention that Giancarlo was a real person: Giancarli Siani. He was murdered by the Camorra in 1985 because of his work. At the time he was reporting about the links between politicians, constructions contracts and organised crime.

Why read this book?
This book has been chosen for various reasons. It is beautifully written and it is amusing and moving at the same time. It gives a good view of a very recent past and consequently, offers a more current view of Italy, its values and culture. The author is an award-winning writer, who has enjoyed critic and public success.

Quotes from the book:
“Le cose straordinarie, quelle che resteranno per sempre nella tua vita, arrivano spesso in punta di piedi e all’improvviso, senza tuoni e particolari avvisaglie. Proprio come quella nevicata dell’85.”

“Perché alla fine di quella terribile e magnifica estate capii che gli unici superpoteri a disposizione di noi poveri umani sono i rapporti che riusciamo a costruirci, gli amori, le amicizie, gli affetti. Sono la qualità di queste relazioni a fare la differenza fra chi è super e chi, forse, lo è un po’ meno. Perché quella maledetta sera capii di essere solo un adolescente che si era trovato, per una serie di circostanze, ad avere a chef fare con qualcosa di più grande di lui. Capii di essere un ragazzo normale. Come lo era Giancarlo, un ragazzo normale.”

Join our book club
We read one selected chapter of a given book and develop speaking in sessions moderated by native teachers.
Click here if you wish to know how our book club works. You can book your session here.

Book Club: La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa

Book Club – 7 giugno 2021

La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa di Dacia Maraini

È un romanzo storico, pubblicato da Rizzoli nel 1990 e vincitore del Premio Campiello. È stato pubblicato in 24 lingue ed è il libro di Dacia più popolare. Ne sono state vendute più di un milione di copie.

Chi è Dacia Maraini

Dacia Maraini è un’affermata scrittrice italiana nata nel 1936. Autrice prolifica, tradotta in più di 20 lingue, è una scrittrice, poetessa e saggista di successo sia di pubblico che di critica. Ha vinto numerosissimi premi letterari, fra i quali il Campiello, lo Strega, il Mondello ecc.
Dacia è figlia dello scrittore ed etnologo toscano Fosco Maraini e della nobile pittrice siciliana Topazia Alliata. La nonna materna era una cantante lirica e figlia di un diplomatico cileno. La nonna paterna era la scrittrice Cornelia E. Crosse di origine inglese e polacca.
Dopo un’infanzia difficile, si trasferisce a Roma, mantenendosi con vari lavori. Fonda insieme ad altri una rivista letteraria. A partire dal 1960 inizia a pubblicare i suoi primi romanzi e diventa un’autrice di grande successo.

La Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucrìa

La storia è ispirata ad un’antenata di Dacia Maraini, da parte della madre: Marianna Alliata Valguarnera D’Ucrìa.
La vicenda si svolge nella prima metà del 1700, in Sicilia, nella località di Bagheria. In quel periodo i matrimoni erano combinati dai genitori per assicurarsi che le ricchezze rimanessero in famiglia. È il periodo dell’inquisizione, delle condanne a morte e di pubbliche impiccagioni.
Marianna è la figlia sordomuta del duca Ucrìa e della duchessa Maria. Viene data in moglie a soli 13 anni allo zio Pietro Ucrìa. Diventa madre di otto figli e poi nonna. Il libro narra la sua vita.

To book a book club session, please follow the link and choose your session/s here:

For further information and any question you might have, please email: or phone: +44 7941 092593 (UK number).

If you wish to be added onto our mailing list to receive our newsletter and information on future courses, please insert your email address below:

The Italian Book Club

Blog , , , , , , , ,

Now that you have achieved a higher level of Italian you might want to read authentic material. Reading Italian literature and specifically novels is one of the best ways to improve your Italian language, expand your vocabulary and increase your knowledge of the Italian culture.

Parla Italiano School is launching a new pay-as-you-go reading club which will meet online using Zoom every other week from 7th June. Each session can be taken as one off or as part of a package. Readers wishing to participate will need to have achieved an intermediate or more advanced level of Italian.

The main aim of the club is to discuss the excerpts, to develop speaking and to work on lexis. Please note that we do not read the entire book but only a selected chapter, which can be easily read within the timeframe.  The session will have some structure but also enough flexibility so that the participants can truly express themselves fully. Zoom allows for smaller groups to be formed within the class, so that participants can have plenty of talking time during the session. Students will have the opportunity to meet different, likeminded people who enjoy discussing and exchanging ideas. The teacher will supervise and guide the discussion, she will be available to help and to clarify any items of language if required.

The programme will be carefully selected, it will include contemporary authors such as Dacia Maraini, Claudio Magris, Elsa Morante, Alessandro Baricco and so on. The programme for the first five sessions will be announced soon, and the course will start with the ‘La lunga vita di Marianna Ucria’ by Maraini.

This class is on every other Monday at 9.30am UK time (GMT +1), the session lasts for 1.5 hours. You can book each session separately or you can book a bundle of 5 lessons and get a discount. The maximum number of students per session is 10 and we will operate a waiting list if necessary. Students wishing to participate will need to have read the pages of the book chosen for that session, beforehand. After booking their session, students will receive a Zoom link to access their room.

To book follow the link and choose your session/s here:
Book Club on Zoom

For further information and any question you might have, please email: or phone: +44 7941 092593 (UK number).

If you wish to be added onto our mailing list to receive our newsletter, please insert your email address below::

Lesson 1 Italian for beginners – Introductions

Blog, General , , ,

Here are the basic phrases that you need to get you started in Italian:

  1. Your very first phrases…

(click on the pictures to enlarge)

For example:

Ciao, mi chiamo Laura e sono Italiana.

Can you write something about yourself?

2) Three questions to get to know someone…

Now it is your turn. Can you write something about yourself?

3) Three more questions, to know them better…

Here are their meaning and possible answers:

In order to remember, it is good to practice. Can you write a short paragraph about yourself?


Ciao, mi chiamo Laura e sono Italiana.

Ho 22 anni e abito a Milano. I miei hobby sono: tennis, golf e dipingere.


Do you know how to talk about hobbies? If not, click on the next blog which is all about hobbies, sports and free time!

If you like to subscribe to this newsletter, please insert your email address below:

The Italian alphabet – l’alfabeto italiano

Blog, General , , , , ,

What is a phonetic language?

Italian is a phonetic language and this means that – for the most part – it is pronounced as it is written. This is good news if you are learning Italian. Consequently, compared to other non-phonetic languages, writing in Italian is fairly straightforward.

If you are an English speaker, it might take a little time to get used to correctly pronouncing the last vowel of Italian words. Therefore, practising the actual sound of them helps, as well as practising the whole alphabet.

21 letters only

The Italian alphabet, as compared to the English, only has 21 letters:
16 consonants and 5 vowels.
Here is how to pronounce each letter:

(click on the pictures to enlarge)

The Italian alphabet
The Italian alphabet

So, what about the other letters that are missing: j, k, w, x, y.?

Well, they don’t belong to the Italian alphabet and so are considered foreign letters. Consequently, they are used to spell foreign words which have been adopted from other languages. For example: jolly, kayak, web, xilofono, yogurt.

Here is how to read them:

The letter H

A note must be added about the letter h. This letter is not pronounced in Italian. The h is used as a diacritical mark, which means that it is added to other letters, namely c and g, to change their pronunciation.

The rule of pronunciation for c and g

The sound c can be pronounced in two different ways, as in the words ciao and casa.
In ciao the sound c is soft like the English ch as in Charlie and in casa, the sound is hard as the English k as in kayak.

Here is the rule of pronunciation of c:

In the same way, g can have a soft sound like in gelato, pronounced as j in jelly and hard sound as in Gatto, pronounced as the g in Gary.

The double consonants

Double consonants are also a characteristic of the Italian language. Double consonants are pronounced differently than the single consonants. They are pronounced with more emphasis and for longer but also the length of the vowel preceding the double consonant is shorter as in this example of the palla (ball) and longer before the single consonant: pa:la (shovel).

Any consonant can be doubled in a word with the exception of the h, as it is not pronounced. The double letter q is present in the Italian alphabet only in the word ‘soqquadro’ which means to turn upside down/to create havoc, chaos.

The Italian vowels

In Italian, we have 5 written vowels: a, e, i, o and u. However, in fact, we have seven sounds as ‘e’ and ‘o’ can be pronounced opened or
closed producing two different sounds for each letter. Here is a rough way of understanding how to pronounce these sounds if you speak English:

A a (Anna) 

pronounced /a/ as in father

E e (Elefante)

E is pronounced either /e/ as the a in chaotic (Close sound)

or /ɛ/ as the e in red (Open sound)

I i (Italia)

Pronounced /i/ as in ee in feet

O o (Orso)

Pronounced /o/ as in ow in owe (close sound) as in Orso

O o (Otto)

Pronounced /ɔ/ as in ou in ought (American pron.) (open sound) as in otto

U u uva

Pronounced /u/ as in oo in boot

The grave and acute accents

The accent in this case is usually a grave accent as in papà, caffè, lunedì, però, più, ecc. All vowels can have a grave accent, however only the letter e can have an acute accent for example perché, poiché, etc.

In standard Italian, the pronunciation of the e varies according to the grave/acute accents. The acute accent is pronounced closed, and the grave opened.

Some native speakers – including myself – however, might not differentiate, in the north for example the word perché is pronounced incorrectly with a grave accent.

Relevant vocabulary:

L’alfabeto italiano – the Italian alphabet
L’alfabeto inglese – the English alphabet
La lettera – the letter
La lettera straniera – the foreign letter
La consonante – the consonant
La vocale – the vowel
Il suono – the sound
La doppia – the double consonants
L’accento – the accent
L’accento acuto – the acute accent
L’accento grave – the grave accent

Il carnevale italiano (level A2+)

Blog, General , , , , , ,

Vi siete mai chiesti in cosa consiste il carnevale italiano? Perché si celebra, quando si celebra e perché si portano maschere e travestimenti? Perché gli italiani dicono: “A carnevale ogni scherzo vale”? Continua a leggere per scoprirlo…

Carnevale è un periodo di festeggiamenti cattolico e cristiano. Il periodo iniziava dopo l’Epifania, il 7 gennaio. Oggigiorno però, il periodo carnevalesco vero e proprio cade l’ultima settimana prima della Quaresima. Ha inizio il giovedì grasso e termina la settimana dopo con il martedì grasso. Questo è il giorno prima del giorno delle ceneri.

La parola carnevale deriva dal latino “Carnem levare”, e significa appunto levare o togliere la carne dalla dieta. Si riferisce infatti alle celebrazioni e feste precedenti il giorno delle ceneri, che demarca l’inizio della Quaresima, quando inizia il digiuno e la rinuncia alla carne.

Carnevale è un festeggiamento antichissimo, caratterizzato da feste esuberanti e variopinte, dove tutto è permesso e dove sono di regola scherzi, giochi, finzione e mascheramenti. Viene celebrato con il teatro mettendo in scena commedie divertenti con personaggi mascherati. In queste commedie, immancabilmente, i ricchi e potenti vengono presi in giro e ridicolizzati.

Anche oggi, questa idea del ridicolizzare i potenti è rappresentata per esempio nei famosi carri allegorici che sfilano per le strade delle maggiori città. Venezia è conosciuta in tutto il mondo per le sue celebrazioni di carnevale come lo è Viareggio.

Anche i bambini celebrano il carnevale mascherandosi e mettendo in scena recite di teatro. È anche tradizione uscire per strada per essere ammirati nei loro costumi e gettare coriandoli e stelle filanti.

Il cibo è sempre importante in ogni celebrazione italiana e a carnevale gli italiani mangiano delle frittelle dolci particolari. Sono simili in tutta Italia anche se prendono nomi differenti. In alcune regioni si chiamano chiacchiere, in altre bugie, cenci, carafoi, ecc.

Il tipico motto di carnevale è: a carnevale ogni scherzo vale. Perché a carnevale ogni burla, beffa, e scherzo sono non solo permessi, ma richiesti! Allora, a carnevale, state attenti quanto aprite la porta perché un sacco di farina potrebbe cadervi in testa!

Our Italian classes online starts soon, please visit our website: Group Italian Classes on Zoom

For more information please email: or phone 07941 092593

If you like to subscribe to this newsletter, please insert your email address below:

The Italian Carnival

Blog, General , , , ,

So, what is the Italian Carnival, why do people celebrate this, when do they celebrate it, why do they dress up in costumes and what is the importance of the masks? And furthermore, why do Italian say: A carnivale ogni scherzo vale? Read on to find out…

Carnevale is a Catholic festive period which starts after the 6th of January. However, the main festivities and celebrations are carried out in the week preceding Lent. It starts on Thursday (‘Giovedigrasso’) and ends the following week on Tuesday (‘Martedi grasso’), which is the day before Ash Wednesday (‘Il giorno delle ceneri‘).

The word Carnevale comes from the latin “Carnem levare”, meaning ‘remove the meat’ and it refers to the celebrations and feasts preceding Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent when people would fast and abstain from eating meat.

Carnevale is an ancient tradition which was characterised by a period of exuberance, excess, folly, mockery, and a sense of general release. It would be celebrated with theatre and especially with comedies. The main characters, dressed in costumes and wearing a mask (la Maschera), would enact practical jokes at the expense of the rich and powerful.

Today, carnevale maintains its ancient idea of mockery and of making fun of the powerful. For example with the elaborate carnival floats which are paraded in the major cities. Some of the most famous celebrations are in Venice and Viareggio, but most cities will have a celebratory parade.

Children celebrate Carnevale by dressing up in costumes and a mask, taking to the streets and throwing confetti and streamers around.

Food is always important in any Italian celebration and at carnevale Italians eat a special type of sweet fritter. It is eaten in all Italian regions but called with different names. In some regions they are known as chiacchiere, in others frappe or bugie, cenci, carafoi, etc.

The famous saying of carnival is: a carnevale ogni scherzo vale. At carnival all tricks, jokes and practical jokes are allowed, so be careful when you open your door, a bag of flour might just fall on your head!

Our classes starts soon, please visit our website: Group Italian Classes on Zoom

For more information please email: or phone 07941 092593

If you like to subscribe to this newsletter, please insert your email address below:

Learning Italian at Parla Italiano: what to expect from our zoom classes

Blog , , , ,

Have you ever thought how great it would be to start learning a new language, but never really did anything about it? Perhaps you felt it was daunting or thought that you were never good at languages at school. Perhaps you have tried and have been disappointed.

At Parla Italiano we believe that learning a language is all about motivation and fun. The role of our teachers is to guide you and make it possible for you to learn. Our teachers are qualified and prepared, they are able to make the learning process simple and doable.

We have been teaching Italian for more than a decade and the new methodologies enables people to learn quicker, to really speak the language and even to speak from lesson one. Long gone are the days when you needed to learn by heart words and conjugations without ever using them in class or even uttering a single word.

Our classes are small, taught online on zoom and you can expect interaction and speaking from lesson one. Speaking and all the other skills (listening, writing and reading) are developed in each lesson and grammar is introduced gradually. After one term of classes you should be able to talk about yourself, ask basic questions, order at the bar and at the restaurant, express preferences and so on. The atmosphere in class is positive and encouraging. Mistakes are considered part of the journey. And most importantly, you should have fun while learning.

Our classes starts soon, please visit our website: Group Italian Classes on Zoom

For more information please email: or phone 07941 092593

If you like to subscribe to this newsletter, please insert your email address below:

Il nostro Natale (livello A2)

Blog, General , , , , ,

28 Dicembre 2020

Il blog

Ecco un’altra puntata del nostro blog. Questo può essere complementare alla vostra lezione di italiano (Italian class). Può aiutarvi a capire la cultura italiana (Italian culture) e la lingua italiana (Italian language).

Come inizia la nostra storia
Sono un’insegnante di italiano come lingua straniera e ho vissuto a Londra per decenni. Sono sposata con un uomo inglese e abbiamo due figli. Nel settembre 2020 abbiamo deciso di trasferirci nel mio paesino originario che si trova in Italia fra il Lago di Como e le Alpi.

Il dramma continua
Mio marito a dicembre è dovuto tornare a Londra per lavoro, aveva pianificato di restare per due settimane, quelle richieste per completare la quarantena. Sarebbe tornato il 21 dicembre per iniziare con noi le vacanze. Quindi il 20 dicembre ha fatto tutti i preparativi per partire la mattina dopo in macchina. Invece, nella notte ha ricevuto un messaggio che diceva che le frontiere erano state chiuse. Ci siamo così immaginati un Natale senza di lui. I bambini erano delusi e infelici e anch’io! Che tristezza!

L’apertura delle frontiere
Abbiamo passato giorni di malumore e sconforto aspettando nuove notizie. Finalmente dopo 48 ore hanno deciso di riaprire le frontiere. Robin ha fatto il tampone, che è risultato negativo ed è partito nel pomeriggio del 23 ed è arrivato nella notte del 24. Al mattino, i bambini lo hanno trovato a casa, che felicità. Al suo arrivo dovrà fare ancora due settimane di quarantena, ma almeno sarà con noi in Italia.

Il nostro Natale
Abbiamo passato un Natale gioioso e felice. Il Natale non è tale senza un pranzo abbondante e delizioso. Abbiamo servito vari antipasti, un primo, un secondo accompagnato da vari contorni, dolci di pasticceria, caffè e liquori. Al pranzo sono seguite alcune ore di puro relax, e più tardi da giochi da tavolo in famiglia. Abbiamo anche giocato a un gioco a cui non giocavo da decenni, Shangai (anche conosciuto come Mikado). Abbiamo passato una giornata stupenda!

La neve
Stamattina e` il 28 dicembre ed è arrivata di nuovo la neve. Il paesaggio è veramente bello. Nella notte gli spazzaneve sono passati più volte per liberare le strade e in paese alcuni addetti stanno sgombrando marciapiedi e stradine con dei piccoli spazzaneve a scoppio. I bambini ne sono affascinati mentre li seguono con lo sguardo dalla finestra. Non vedono l’ora di uscire!

Alcune domande per voi:
Sapete cosa significa: ‘sarebbe tornato’ (paragrafo 3). Di che tempo verbale si tratta?
Le risposte la prossima settimana sulla pagina Facebook.

Our next blog and the answers to the questions above will be announced on our Facebook page, please like it and follow if you wish:

If you like to subscribe to this newsletter, please insert your email address below: