Films and TV shows can be a great way to learn a language. When I was a teenager living in Italia (my birth country), I started watching British and American productions in their original language with English subtitles to improve my level.
The experiment proved really successful, so much that at some point I started to forget to put the subtitles on because I was able to understand 90% of what the characters were saying. My understanding of the spoken language increased more than what I could have ever achieved in high school. Granted, sometimes the actors have a very thick accent and subtitles are still necessary, but apart from specific films, I can happily watch most things without them now.
So long story short, if you want to learn or improve your Italian, watching films can be an excellent method. È un’ottima idea! (It’s a great idea!)
The one rule to follow: choose Italian for both audio and subtitles!
If you’re a beginner, you may be tempted to select Italian for the audio, and English (or your native language) for the subtitles so that you can keep up with the story and what the characters are saying. My personal advice is: non lo fare! (don’t do it!).
Subtitles in a language other than Italian can rapidly become a distraction from the Italian you’re hearing. Your brain will tend to give more importance to the subtitles, especially if you’re not concentrating enough or are tired, and you won’t learn a lot as a result.
If you choose Italian for both the audio and subtitles, you’ll be able to hear and read Italian at the same time, and that can be much more effective. Imparerai di più, fidati! (You’ll learn more, trust me!)
Watching content with matching audio and text will allow you to immerse yourself into the Italian language, and you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll learn. I speak from direct experience: funziona! (it works!).
This method is useful for any level, whether you are a beginner or more advanced. If you’re just starting out, you may find it a bit overwhelming at first, but it will also force you to concentrate more. Don’t feel discouraged if you only understand 5% at the beginning, because that 5% will likely stay impressed on your memory. Plus, you can start with something you’ve already watched before. That way you already know the story and can concentrate solely on the Italian.
One thing that can be frustrating at times is that the subtitles are often imprecise. For example, in one of the early scenes of The Irishman where Frank (Robert De Niro) and Russell (Joe Pesci) meet, Frank tries to explain what is wrong with his truck:
The audio says:
Non lo so, è strano, sembra che… si ferma, riparte… perde potenza…
I don’t know, it’s weird, it looks like… it stops, it starts again… it loses power…
The subtitles read:
Non lo so. Si ferma, riparte…
I don’t know. It stops, it starts again…
The subtitles give a shortened version of what De Niro is saying and this happens a lot, with some shows being worse than others. Occasionally, they’ll change the words too.
For example in Murder Mystery, Jennifer Aniston utters Cavolo, which means cabbage but is also a mild swear word Italians use to express surprise or anger. In English you would say Oh God for example, and that is exactly what the subtitle reads: Dio. Now, this word is used in Italian too, but cavolo is not the same word as God so there is no reason for the translator to have changed that.
Why this happens, I have no idea, especially because you would think that the subtitles are created out of the lines that dubbing actors read. All I can imagine is that audio and subtitle translations are either done by different companies, or the subtitles are written first and then the dialogues are slightly altered when the actors record them.
But the bottom line is: non ti preoccupare (don’t worry about it). You will still be able to hear and read many new words, and it’s not like you’re going to memorise everything that is said anyway, so concentrate on what you understand and enjoy the show. If you retain five new expressions or words after watching a film, that’s already a great progress!
How to find films to watch in Italian with audio and subtitles
The easiest way to find content where you can select Italian for both the audio and the subtitles is to look at popular streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. There, not only you can find native Italian productions, but most of the original material produced by these streaming companies comes with a variety of languages to choose from, including Italian.
Another good source is YouTube. If you want Italian subtitles, you’ll most likely find only auto-generated ones which can be good enough but will lack precision for certain dialogues. If you prefer to start with English subtitles, then you’re in luck because there is a good number of films to start with.
The paragraphs below will guide you through the various articles we’ve prepare to help you find many films and TV series to watch in Italian!
How to get Italian subtitles and audio on Netflix
Most Netflix originals are available in several languages because Netflix distributes them across all the countries where its streaming service is available. However not every language appears in the options by default when you start watching a film. If that is the case, you need to change the language settings in your account. Find how by clicking on the button below.
Italian Movies on Netflix
In this post, we list Italian films, shot in Italy with Italian actors. This is definitely the best list if you want an immersive Italian experience, not just in terms of language exposure but also the actors, the atmosphere and the various Italian locations. The selection isn’t huge, but ten titles should be enough to start with!
Italian TV Series on Netflix
Like for the films, here we focus on series that are produced in Italy with an Italian cast. Netflix has invested in more than one show, so there is a decent selection to watch.
Best Movies to Watch in Italian on Netflix
Just because the film isn’t an Italian production doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it with Italian audio and subtitles. Granted, if we’re talking about Star Wars, you may find Han Solo’s dubbed voice too weird. (For me, it was the contrary actually. After years of hearing the Italian voice actor, I was shocked to hear the original voice!) But otherwise, there is no reason you can’t fully enjoy the film. And remember, there is an educational goal behind this! Here we’ve made a selection of the most interesting films to watch in Italian.
Best TV Series to Watch in Italian on Netflix
Just like the films, there are many Netflix originals that can be watched and enjoyed in Italian. Netflix has produced a lot of shows, so there is no lack of choice. A good tip can be to re-watch something you’re already familiar with, but if you need some advice, check out our list to see if there is something that inspires you!
The Best Italian Movies with English Subtitles on YouTube
If you don’t have a streaming service, YouTube can be a good resource to consider. There are a few relatively modern films, and lots of old ones (comedies and more) that can keep you busy for some time. We’ve selected the films that have decent audio and video quality, and have double-checked that the subtitles are working.