Five of the Best Series to Learn and Improve your Italian

Lily Donnelly

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Read Time: 5 minutes

Reading grammar books, memorising vocabulary lists, talking about the tennis you played last weekend…language learning can be tough. One way to make it easier? Throw yourself into a foreign-language series and you might find that people tell you to ‘watch and learn’ for a very good reason. Here are five of the best series to learn and improve your Italian, or for those of you who just want to show off about watching a series with subtitles. You may notice a distinctly meridionali (southern) theme, and my six-month stint in Sicily is entirely to blame. I am biased, and proud.

1. Gomorra

Now on its fourth season and about to film a fifth, Gomorra is a series based in Naples and inspired by the book written by Roberto Saviano. The journalist spent a decade infiltrating the Camorra – AKA the Neapolitan Mafia – to expose the reality of organised crime, and this addictive series is the dramatic, violent adaptation of what he saw. The plot follows a savage mafia war that breaks out after a major boss is arrested, with rival clans tearing their city apart. You may fall accidentally in love with its two anti-heroes, Ciro and Gennaro Savastano, as you watch them navigate betrayal, brotherhood and bloodshed.

Warning! Just like the fast-speaking characters that make Money Heist hard to follow, a lot of this series is in Neapolitan dialect, which is near-impossible to understand even for Italian speakers. But fear not, as there are English subtitles.

Where can you find it? Now TV / Sky. Check out the book here

2. Baby

Baby is yet another Italian series inspired (very loosely) by real-life events. In this case, Baby Squillo, a glamorous scandal that unfolded in one of Rome’s most exclusive neighbourhoods. The protagonists take the form of two private school girls – Ludovica the loner and rebellious Benedetta – who become entangled in an underage prostitution ring used by the Italian elite, and whose close friends and family explore themes of sexuality, fidelity and honesty. Watch drama unfold around them and their secret love affairs as you learn how to speak with the speed of the Romans. If the Italian capital is your next destination, head to our Rome page to find out where you should be hanging out.

Where can you find it?  Netflix

3. La Mafia Uccide Solo d’Estate – Mafia Only Kills in Summer

Now more than ever, we are in need of distraction. Thankfully, this wonderful series from Walter Presents is here to transport us to 1970’s Palermo, Sicily. The relatively normal life of ten-year-old Salvatore Giannmaresi, narrated by the adult version of himself, is anything but. His inquisitiveness often gets the better of him: he pokes his nose into the putrid affairs of the Cosa Nostra – the Sicilian Mafia – but always comes up smelling of roses. Watch his father tackle corruption from his office, his mother and sister survive the school corridors, and his unpredictable uncle drag them all into trouble. Whatever happens, there’s always good food and bad jokes around the dinner table. Filmed on site, there is plenty to please the eye. Check out our Palermo page to find out where the locations are!

Where can you find it? 4OD 

4. Il Commissario Montalbano – Inspector Montalbano

Vigàta is a magical place. So magical that it doesn’t actually exist. But this is where you’ll find Inspector Montalbano, star of the series and solver of all mysteries. This beloved RAI series truly shows Sicilian life – the detective enjoys a bowl of spaghetti à la vongole with vino bianco almost every lunch time, and swims in the Mediterranean Sea beneath his balcony every morning. Each episode is like a feature film (and is two hours long), where Salvo uses old-fashioned investigation to get to the bottom of every crime, be it fuelled by passion, betrayal or revenge. Expect to hear “mio marito è morte” (my husband is dead) at least every two episodes, and soon you’ll be answering the phone with “pronto” just like the locals. Fun fact! Luca Zingaretti, the actor who plays Montalbano, is the brother of Nicola, leader of the Italian Democratic Party (or Partito Democratico). That’s all I have to say on the matter.

Where can you find it? BBC iPlayer

Check out the books here and read them in any order!

5. L’amica Geniale – My Brilliant Friend (Naples)

Here we have another series that takes you back in time, namely to 1950’s Naples. Young Elena Greco (also known as Lenù) makes a questionably brilliant friend, Lilà Cerullo, in a small, impoverished town outside of the city. Lenù is a timid soul, brought alive by the intelligent and inquisitive Lila, and both rise to the top of their class, beating the boys whilst they’re at it. As high school approaches, Lilà is denied an education by her controlling father who forces her to work instead, whilst Lenù gets the lucky end of the lollipop and is tutored through her exams. As you might imagine, this causes a life-long rift between them, but they can never truly be apart. Watch as this inseparable pair come of age in this brilliant drama. Warning! Like Gomorra, L’amica geniale also features a lot of Neapolitan dialect. Depending on your level, either turn on your English subtitles or set them to standard Italian. You’d be surprised how quickly you advance! 

Where can you find it?  Now TV

Check out the book here

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