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Italian in Year 1

Beginning Italian (Option A)

Before you arrive

The majority of students who study Italian at Cambridge begin their study of the language when they arrive at University, and the Department offers you an integrated, intensive and highly successful course to prepare you for the Part IA examinations, taken in May-June. At the end of the first year of study, you will have reached A-level standard in your language work. In addition, in your work for the 'Texts and Contexts' paper, you will have encountered - initially with the aid of translations - selections from key works of Italian literature, culture and linguistics from the fourteenth century to the present day. For further details of this course, see the page on Paper ITA3.

Please find below information about what to do to best prepare for your first year in Cambridge as an ab-initio (i.e. starting from scratch) student of Italian. 


Below is a list of the ab-initio language course textbooks and of suggested reading that can be of interest and help. In order to facilitate your contact with the Italian language you are strongly advised to familiarize yourself with the basic rules of sounds, spelling, noun and verb structure.

The main preparation you can do for this course is on Language:

The ab-initio language course textbooks are:

  • Soluzioni, A practical Grammar of Contemporary Italian, De Rome, D., Hodder Education, 4th edition, 2018
  • Attiva il Lessico, livello 1 & 2 (A2/B1 & B1/B2), Le Monnier, 2013
  • Nuovo Spazio civiltà, Civiltà italiana per stranieri, Medaglia, C.,Medaglia F., Loescher, 2021

You should purchase all the course books before you come up to Cambridge, together with a good bilingual dictionary (recommendations below).

If you buy these from The Italian Bookshop you are entitled to a discount.

  • If you have not been taught much grammar before, you may find the following useful: English Grammar for Students of Italian, Primorac, K. and Adorni, S., 2011,Olivia & Hill Press, 3rd edition. This is a particularly helpful reference book that can help in dealing with the grammatical and syntactical terminology involved in the teaching of language at Cambridge. We have some of these for sale in the Italian departmental office.

Language preparation work:

Please make sure you work with all the material you will find in the 'Compulsory pre-arrival material - Italian Essentials' folder in the ITA1 Moodle page as soon as you have your University of Cambridge Raven pass activated. The Section administration team will authorize your enrolment to the Moodle site.


Bilingual dictionaries (suitable for your first year)

  • Collins-Sansoni Italian Dictionary
  • Il Grande Dizionario Garzanti inglese 2003 + CD ROM Oxford-Paravia Italian Dictionary ed. by C. Bareggi, Oxford University Press, 2001
  • Oxford-Paravia Italian Dictionary, ed. by Cristina Bareggi, Oxford University Press, 2001

Visiting Italy

If you have the opportunity, do go to Italy, either to attend a language course, to work, or just to get the experience of the language and culture first hand. The Department has some information about language courses in Italy, and particularly about the British Institute of Florence, with whom we have links: British Institute of Florence.

Culture and Linguistics: Texts and Contexts

A feature of our ab initio course is that the study of the Italian language is combined from the outset with the study of Italian culture of all periods and of linguistics. Details of this part of the course and suggestions for preparatory work are given on the page Paper ITA3

Examinations for Part IA (Option A)

The following tests of your progress will take place at the beginning of June:

  • Paper IT A1: Introduction to Italian 1: Use of Italian.
  • Paper IT A2: Introduction to Italian 2: Translation into English and Oral A.
  • Paper IT A3: Introduction to Italian 3: Texts and Contexts.


In Cambridge

Once you have started to master the basics of Italian grammar you will find the following additional reading lists and links to online resources helpful. Do not attempt any of this before you come up to Cambridge if you are a complete beginner!

Suggested further reading for language work

  • English Grammar for Students of Italian , Primorac, K. and Adorni, S., 2011,Olivia & Hill Press, 3rd edition. This is a particularly helpful reference book that can help in dealing with the grammatical and syntactical terminology involved in the teaching of language at Cambridge. 
  • For further practice, have a look at the exercises available on
  •, Italian grammar for English speakers, Gruppo CSC, Bonacci Editore, 2010. This is a comprehensive basic grammar of Italian, with a variety of exercises and activities that will also be useful for further practice during the academic year. 
  • Any title of your choice from Italiano facile, primo livello (principianti), Alma Edizioni, You are welcome to start enjoying reading and listening to Italian with any of the titles on the list. The stories use about 500 words of vocabulary and are a great introduction to the pronunciation and intonation of the language, as well as some basic vocabulary and structures. 
  • Almost any of the commercially available language courses (intended for tourists or business in the first instance) on CD, audiobook or ebook, are helpful to get a good idea of the sounds and structures of Italian. Special mention may be made of BBC Talk Italian, but please feel free and explore what option is most suitable for you.


During your study of Italian at Cambridge you will rely on the use of good language dictionaries. Below is a list of recommended titles:


  • Collins-Sansoni Italian Dictionary
  • Il Grande Dizionario Garzanti inglese 2003 + CD ROM Oxford-Paravia Italian Dictionary ed. by C. Bareggi, Oxford University Press, 2001
  • Oxford-Paravia Italian Dictionary, ed. by Cristina Bareggi, Oxford University Press, 2001

Monolingual (not likely to be needed until your second year)

  • Devoto G.-Oli C., Il Dizionario della lingua italiana, a cura di L. Serianni e M. Trifone, Firenze, Le Monnier, ed. 2004-2005 (con CD-Rom)
  • Giacomo Devoto e Gian Carlo Oli, Nuovo Devoto Oli Compatto. Dizionario fondamentale della lingua italiana, Firenze, Le Monnier 2002
  • Italiano compatto. Dizionario della lingua italiana, a cura di A. Cattana e M. T. Nesci Milano, Zanichelli 2003
  • Lo Zingarelli minore. Dizionario della lingua italiana, a cura di M. Cannella, Milano, Zanichelli 2001
  • T. De Mauro, Il dizionario di italiano compatto, Paravia, 2004

Web resources

Online dictionaries

Web resources for language work

Web resources of general interest

The structure of the course

The following brief outline of the structure of the Part IA course and examinations is intended to give you some idea what to expect in your first year at Cambridge.

Michaelmas Term

In the first eight weeks most of the main points of grammar are covered, including a study of the subjunctive. Contemporaneously, you will be looking at a modern novel by an Italian writer and you will also begin lectures and literature supervisions for the Texts and Contexts paper (Introduction to Italian:3). Over the Christmas vacation you will be asked to revise the term's work in preparation for a progress test to be held in January.

Lent Term

The study of grammar is continued and completed by the end of term. Vocabulary is developed through formal translation both from and into Italian. Alongside the language course, you will continue, via lectures and supervisions to study extracts from works by Dante, Giotto, Machiavelli, Levi and Rossellini (dir.). Again you must make time available over the vacation to consolidate the term's work. Many of our students attend a specially-tailored course at the British Institute of Florence during the Easter vacation. 

Easter Term

This term will be mainly devoted to revision work in preparation for the examination in Part 1A of the Tripos.

In addition to the classes you will have weekly/fortnightly supervisions in small groups (usually of three students), which will ensure that you receive personal help with any problems you may have with regard to pronunciation, grammar or the study of literature.


In conclusion, it has to be emphasised that the foundation course is fast and demanding. Steady work is necessary throughout the year. But students who begin Italian at Cambridge regularly go on to achieve excellent results in Tripos. And if you plan your work carefully, take full advantage of the personalised teaching in the supervisions, and, above all, make a determined effort to revise and assimilate the grammar during vacations, you are likely to be just as successful as the majority of your predecessors.

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