Sunday, March 23, 2014

Zeppole - La Vita Toscana Blog

La Festa di San Giovanni was this past week (19 March) and to celebrate, I made some delicious zeppole and posted the recipe on my other blog, La Vita Toscana.

Zeppole are not typically Tuscan - they are found more in the southern part of Italy.  However, they are delicious and rather easy to whip together.

Try it for yourself.  You can find the recipe and instructions at

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning the Language

L' bella lingua...
Italian...the beautiful language...

There is no doubt about it - Italian is one of the most romantic of the romantic languages.  Just about everyone knows at least a few words in Italian, thanks to Dean Martin music, Godfather films and the love of Italian food.  But what if you want to really learn the language.  Maybe you want to visit Italy and would like to know some basic phrases to get you by a bit easier...maybe you want to learn this romantic language in order to woo a love interest...or perhaps you want to be able to speak to Italian friends or relatives on their level.

Learning a new language can be difficult, but there are a variety of ways that you can help yourself make it a bit easier.

1.  You already know some Italian words.
I know you do.  Really.  If you have listened to a Dean Martin song, watched a tv program or movie with Italian characters, or eaten at an Italian restaurant, you already know some words and/or phrases.  Think about it. Buongiorno (good morning/good day), arrivederci (goodbye), and ciao (hi/bye)...almost everyone knows those words. already know how to greet people in Italy!

2.  Books
An Italian-English dictionary is an important reference to have. Get a good one to have on hand. (The one I have is the Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary.) There are tons of language learning books available on the market (and I have quite a few of them now). There are phrase books geared more toward travelers who may want to learn a few key/important phrases, such as: Come stai? (How are you?) Vorrei una pizza con funghi.  (I would like a pizza with mushrooms). Other books can help you learn grammar rules, verb conjugations, vocabulary, etc.

3. Online lessons (FREE!)
There are many places online where you can take language lessons.  Many offer some lessons for free, but also have paid "premium" content to which you can subscribe. is where I first started taking lessons. is another great site that I use as well.  What is nice about some of these sites is that when you submit your exercises to be reviewed, they are reviewed by native speakers.  You will be asked to review some exercises of other members who are learning your native language.  In this way, it is possible to make friends in other countries and help each other learn.  I have made several friends in this way and I highly recommend it!  Some sites will have a chat function where you can send messages or chat either with text, audio or video.  This is great to help you improve pronunciation.

4. Conversation Exchange is a free service to find people to talk to in order to help you learn the language.  You fill out a profile and then you can search for people who speak the language you are learning, who are also learning your native language.  You can become pen-pals and write emails to each other or get on Skype to talk...or even meet for coffee, depending if there is someone in your area looking for an exchange.

Conversing one-on-one is a great way to learn a language.  Skyping with friends that you make via the language learning sites or with a conversation exchange's really a great way to learn to listen and speak correctly.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that unless you have some actual conversation, your language skills will not be so great.  Communication is a two way street, so unless you practice at it, you'll only get to be "so good" at the language.

5. Music, Television, and Movies
Another great way to learn how to speak, listen, and understand a new language is to hear it being spoken. Unless you live in an area where there are a lot of people speaking the language, a good way to do so is to listen to radio and music or to watch television programs and movies.

I started listening to Italian music a year before I ever set food in Italy.  I was hooked almost immediately. Radio Italia has online streaming of their shows ( if you would like to hear some music (and conversation by the on-air personalities...and some advertisements).  Radio 24 is a talk-radio station that also has online streaming ( has several television programs available to view on demand online.  They also have an app for the iPad, which is what I use to watch some of my favorite Italian television programs when I am not in Italy. Another television corporation,, also has video that you can watch online. You can also try pulling up some shows on YouTube.

Netflix has a few Italian films available to view.  I've watched several there, as well as ones that I have checked out from the library. has several titles available too, but make sure that you get DVDs that are compatible with the players in your country.

5. Apps
There are tons of apps for smart phones and tablets that will help you practice Italian.  I have several on my iPhone and iPad.  Check the reviews and try them out.  I only get the free apps (because I don't like spending money when I don't have too).  There are a lot of good ones out there, just take a look around the app store.

6. Rosetta Stone (or other similar products)
These can be expensive.  I purchased Rosetta Stone and personally...I think I got more out of the online free courses and conversation exchanges with friends than I did with Rosetta.  However, that's not saying that it won't work for you.  It is definitely a good way to increase your vocabulary.  I actually stopped using it after finishing the first disc.  I may pick it back up again, just for the purpose of practicing.

Learning Italian, or any new language for that matter, takes a lot of time, practice and patience. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, because you will. Luckily, Italians are very quick to help you learn and to speak their language properly. They will not make you feel like an idiot at all, and normally will be very kind and patient.

Keep practicing and before you know it, you'll be able to speak, read, and understand la bella lingua in no time!