FSI Italian Headstart Course

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What is the Italian Headstart course?

The Headstart language courses were created by the Defense Language Institute to give US service personnel the basics of the language in the countries where they were stationed. These courses focus on the kind of expressions required in the day-to-day situations you are likely to encounter while living abroad, concentrating on effective communication rather than detailed explanations of grammar.

Italian Headstart was first published in 1985 and consists of five modules made up of 3-5 units each. The first three are core modules while the fourth and fifth are optional.

In each section, the new language is presented in the form of a dialog, after which comes a series of drills and exercises designed to let you practice the language. The course is accompanied by an audio recording that allows you to hear the sound of Italian and to practice your pronunciation.

You will also find a detailed guide to Italy, which, although quite old now, still contains a wealth of information about the culture and traditions of the country.

How can you study Italian Headstart?

Headstart courses were designed to be suitable for self-study, so you can work through the materials as you find them. The three core modules should be studied in order, after which you can study the parts of the optional modules that interest you.

Start at the beginning of the first module with the audio recording, which contains all the instructions you need, and simply go from there.

These courses are intended to be flexible, so you can adapt them to suit your own learning style. It is recommended that you listen to the dialogs before reading the text since this will help with your pronunciation, but otherwise, you are free to use the materials in any way you choose. If you find that something works for you, then just keep doing it.

Your goal is the mastery of the language in each unit rather than rushing through an completing the course as quickly as possible. Remember, just because you reach the end of the course, it doesn’t mean you can speak Italian.

Instead, take your time to work through the materials thoroughly and keep repeating until you can produce the language fluently and without hesitation. Most people will need about 30-40 hours to finish the course, but this is no more than a guideline.

Also, you will notice that, since the course was created for military personnel, much of the vocabulary and situations are related to military matters. However, don’t feel you need to memorize everything – rather, focus on what you think will be most useful for you and just let the rest go.

For more details about Headstart courses and how to use them, check out my detailed Headstart Courses post.

Taking it further

Of course, you can’t learn a language just from books, and if you want to speak Italian, you’ll have to take your new language skills and try them out in the real world. Look for native speakers to talk to and try to make speaking Italian a part of your daily life – and if you travel to Italy, make sure you speak it as much as you can. Then, when you do this, you will quickly realize just how much your Italian has already progressed.

Student Guide - Modules 1-3

Student Guide - Modules 4-5


Culture Notes

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