When you first begin learning a new language, you might be led to believe that your options are limited to traditional methods of study, such as stale grammar books and formal lessons. However, the reality is that there are numerous creative ways to learn in the modern age, right at our fingertips. From educational YouTube channels to in-depth podcasts to novels tailored to specific proficiency levels, there is a wealth of resources available for language learners, regardless of their preferred method of study.
I recently had the pleasure of receiving two short stories for review that fall into the category of what I would consider truly “creative” language resources: “Due amiche e un album di fotografie” (Two Friends and a Photo Album) and “Incontri in Sicilia” (Meetings in Sicily). These stories, written by Serena Capilli, a certified Italian language teacher and coach, are specifically designed for beginners and lower-intermediate learners (levels A2-B1) who enjoy studying languages through literature.
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For over a decade, Serena had been using existing stories to help students of all levels improve their Italian proficiency. However, she soon realised she wanted to create original stories, drawing upon her extensive experience as a language educator and enthusiast.
Her intention was not to write a mere fictional tale, but rather to transform her personal adventurous experiences into stories that students can use alongside their more formal coursework. The result was the author’s debut Italian short story, “Due amiche e un album di fotografie“, followed by “Incontri in Sicilia“.
While the characters in the stories are fictional, the majority of the facts shared, including references to food, drinks, and places, are true. This beautiful fusion of reality and fiction creates an authentic and immersive experience that can be enjoyed by anyone with a passion for the Italian language and culture.
How to use the Italian short stories
Each short story is divided into a series of chapters, with each chapter being no more than two pages long. Key vocabulary and phrases are highlighted in bold and defined at the end of each chapter, accompanied by insights and tips regarding phrases that benefit from further explanation.
The chapter concludes with a section dedicated to cultural insights and local knowledge, along with a set of comprehension questions and short grammar exercises designed to encourage thoughtful reflection on the text. At the end of the story, there is also a section containing all the answers to the exercises, just in case you get stuck.
As an additional bonus, Serena has also uploaded audio files to her blog, where she reads each chapter at a slow and comprehensible pace. (It should be noted that although Serena is from Sicily, she speaks with a very clear and neutral Italian accent, as you can hear from the short excerpt below.)
In order to make best use of these books and internalise the information they contain, Serena suggests doing the following:
- reading the text aloud (or better still, reading and listening to the story at the same time)
- re-reading the text many times and talking about it with Italian speakers
- learning the vocabulary in the stories using the Quizlet flashcard tool (she provides ready-made cards but you do need to create a Quizlet account to access them)
What are the stories like?
I find the stories both well-written and engaging. Despite being simple in terms of content and structure, you truly feel as if you are there with the author, hiking through the Dolomites in Northern Italy or basking in the southern Sicilian sun. And the fact that you are learning in context rather than in the abstract enhances the retention of new vocabulary and phrases, far more than what you would typically achieve through standard textbook learning.
Serena states that going through an entire chapter should take no more than 5-15 minutes, and I would tend to agree with this assessment. Beginners may require additional time to understand the text and look up unfamiliar terms compared to intermediate learners, but I would still say that the level is suitable for anyone ranging from A2 to B1 proficiency, or even B2 learners in search of a refresher.
Important: Potential buyers of this book should know that it doesn’t function as a comprehensive textbook for learning all the essential aspects of Italian grammar. Rather, it serves as a supplementary resource to be used alongside your textbook or formal study guide. For instance, in the grammar section, Serena may occasionally ask you to conjugate a verb, assuming that you have already covered verb conjugation in a separate course.
Would I recommend Serena’s short stories in simple Italian?
Absolutely. It’s not often that I encounter a resource that manages to straddle the line between entertaining and educational, but Serena has accomplished precisely that with her short stories.
Perhaps what I find most striking is that she truly comprehends the essence of crafting a book for the A1-B1 range. She deliberately avoids challenging grammar and verb conjugations, ensuring that even beginners can readily comprehend the content without too much difficulty, but at the same time, the stories never feel dull or forced. Every word and expression has been meticulously selected, serving not only to propel the narrative forward but also to challenge the reader and elevate their Italian comprehension to a new level.
Serena’s books are available in PDF format, Kindle or hardcover via the links below. I couldn’t recommend them more highly!
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Heather Broster is a graduate with honours in linguistics from the University of Western Ontario. She is an aspiring polyglot, proficient in English and Italian, as well as Japanese, Welsh, and French to varying degrees of fluency. Originally from Toronto, Heather has resided in various countries, notably Italy for a period of six years. Her primary focus lies in the fields of language acquisition, education, and bilingual instruction.