How to read books in Italian (when your Italian isn’t so good)

Reading is an excellent way to keep improving your Italian. But… if your Italian isn’t so good, reading can be a struggle. You spend so much time looking up words that you forget what you’re reading about. (If you are like me, you forget what you’re talking about too!)

But here’s where modern technology comes to the rescue. Reading an e-book on a tablet may not be your favorite way of reading (I know I personally still prefer the printed word) but for reading in a foreign language – especially one you don’t know that well – it’s the way to go.

I personally use an iPad and I’ve been known to use all of the best known reading apps from time to time – including Kindle, iBooks, and Nook. One reason for this apparent fickleness is simply the availability of the e-book I want. But as of right now (and I reserve the right to update this opinion in the future) Kindle is the clear winner. That’s because Kindle now includes a built-in Italian to English dictionary and a link to Bing’s translator service! What could be easier? Reading is now a breeze and fun! Here’s an example of how the app works using the Italian classic Pinocchio.

Kindle's built-in Italian to English Dictionary
Kindle app for iPad’s built-in Italian to English dictionary in action

 

Kindle and Wikipedia
The Kindle app also includes a link to the Italian version of Wikipedia

 

Kindle and Bing Translate
Kindle app for iPad has a built in connection to Bing Translate so you can highlight whole paragraphs and instantly see a translation.

 

In addition, some books, like the above referenced Pinocchio, also have an audible version! That means you can listen as well as read.

Still depending on your level, reading is tough (Pinocchio is actually quite advanced). What to do? Here are my personal recommendations to make reading a fun part of your continuing education in Italian.

  • Try to always read at your level or just above. Don’t bother trying to read Dante. It’s way too advanced for you. It’s too advanced for some native Italians! You want to read things that will challenge you, but not make reading painful. If it’s painful, you probably won’t learn anything, even if you manage to keep doing it.
  • Look for books translated into Italian from English. Now why wouldn’t you want to read a native Italian book? You do! Just not at first. Native Italians will use references to Italian culture and idioms that you won’t be familiar with. You’re struggling right now to learn new words so let’s not confuse matters. Get the words first, and it will be easier to understand the cultural references later.
  • Look for Easy Readers. There are A LOT of cheap readers available for Kindle. They’re not all the same level, so be sure to check out a sample first. If you’re an absolute beginner, I recommend this one: Easy Italian Reader by Riccarda Saggese (In this case, if you prefer a paper version, go for it. All you need to read it is included in the text and even if you don’t know a word of Italian, I bet you can still read it!)
  • Look for books that include an audible version. It costs extra, but audio will help you develop an ear for spoken Italian. You can read first for comprehension, and then listen after you know what’s going on. (If all you really want to do is develop your ear, I recommend Yabla.)

How do you find books?

Start your search here: Amazon Italian Editions for Kindle

Some popular authors that have Italian translations available for Kindle:

J.K. Rowling books (Harry Potter)

Michael Crichton books (Jurassic Park)

Robert Ludlum books (Jason Bourne)

Tom Clancy books (Jack Ryan)

Lee Child books (Jack Reacher)

James Patterson (Zoo)

Search for more! Here’s a list of fiction authors with Italian language editions on Amazon.

In the native italian category is Elena Ferrante’s Amica Geniale series. These books are very popular in Italy, but Elena Ferrante is a pen name and so far nobody knows who the real author is! A nice bonus, the entire series is available in audible versions

If you like non-fiction, Alberto Angela writes some cool books about Roman history in Italian. They are very descriptive so they’re great if you want to focus on learning new adjectives.

And though, while not currently my favorites, I still use iBooks and Nook fairly often when books are not available for Kindle. One book in particulate that is available as an e-book for iBooks (but not Kindle) is:

Io Non Ho Paura – original is Italian. Includes an eBook, audiobook option, AND a movie version! (Just remember if you buy a DVD to make sure it will work in your player – DVDs are still produced based on region. Annoying, I know. Just be aware and check the specs on your player.)

If you like Dan Brown, you won’t find his Italian editions for Kindle but here they are for iBooks.

Want more recommendations? I’ve set up an Amazon Store for My Italian Diary. As I discover new books, I’ll be adding them there, so you might want to bookmark it.

Do you know any good books in Italian? Do share! Post your favorites in the comments! If you don’t mind, let us know what level you think they’re best for.

Happy Reading in Italian!

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1 Comment

  1. Meghan

    August 11, 2017 - 9:15 pm

    This is a great post, grazie! I am reading (very slowly) the Italian edition of the first Harry Potter book, and while I only have it in print form, it’s a little easier because I know the English version so well. I have my Google translate app open on my phone as I read and make my way slowly through. Loved your suggestions here.

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