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Italian Reading List

Reading Advice for New Students

Italian Language

Whether you have an A-Level or you start as a beginner, language classes in your first year will give you a firm grasp of grammar, develop your vocabulary and language skills and prepare you for the Language Preliminary Exams at the end of Trinity Term. Teaching in your first year will consist of 4 to 6 hours a week (depending on entry level) comprising grammar and vocabulary, listening and reading comprehension, speaking, writing, prose (translation from English into Italian) and translation (from Italian into English). Material will be provided by the Language Tutors, who will also advise you on independent learning and weekly assignments.

Material for classes will be provided by the Language Tutors, who will also advise you on independent learning and weekly assignments. You will need to purchase the following grammar book prior to the start of Michaelmas Term:


  • The Ultimate Italian Review and Practice, by David Stillman, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2019).

Post A-Level students:

  • A Reference Grammar of Modern Italian, by Martin Maiden and Cecilia Robustelli (Routledge, 2007; second edition).

All students should acquire a good bilingual dictionary such as Oxford-Paravia or il Ragazzini. These and others will be available in the Oxford libraries and reputable online dictionaries (please see list below) may also be used.

In addition, other texts you may find useful during the year are:

  • Upgrade Your Italian, by Clelia Boscolo (Hodder Education, 2005)
  • Modern Italian Grammar Workbook, by Anna Proudfoot, second edition (Routledge, 2005)
  • Modern Italian Grammar. A Practical Guide, 3rd edition, by Anna Proudfoot and Francesco Cardo, (Routledge, 2013)

Information for Beginners:

Diagnostic Test:

Prior to the start of the academic year, you are required to take a language test online. You will be sent a link at the beginning of September and you will be required to do the online test between 10th and no later than 20th September 2024. The test will enable us allocate you to the appropriate class and it is therefore important that it reflects your actual knowledge at the time. Please make sure you complete the test, otherwise we’ll be unable to assign you to the appropriate group.

Advice on how to prepare:

During the first year you will acquire a sound knowledge of the Italian language with regards to morphology, syntax, spelling and vocabulary and be able to speak, read advanced texts and write using a good range of structures. The language course will start by covering the basics and students are not expected to have prior knowledge. However, in order to benefit the most from the teaching (and not be too daunted by its fast and intense pace) students are strongly advised to prepare in advance and begin studying the following grammatical points over the summer prior to coming to Oxford: Nouns: gender and plural formation; Definite and indefinite articles; Adjectives: gender and plural formation; Verbs: Present indicative of regular and irregular verbs; Passato prossimo (regular participle formation); Forms of the Imperfetto.

It would be particularly useful to start learning regular (as well as some irrregular) verb forms by heart (at this stage present indicative, participio passato and imperfetto), which will allow you to focus more on use and practice and give you an excellent starting point for the whole academic year. You can prepare through self-study on any good grammar text you may already have, or with the recommended The Ultimate Italian Review and Practice by David Stillman that you’ll be using in class during the year. You can make excellent progress by working on your own, going through the above grammar points, doing some exercises, reading, listening etc. You can practice your Italian grammar and other skills also using online courses, such as the following:

You will find here explanations of the basic structures of Italian grammar, as well as many exercises. Highly recommended.

A selection of exercises on grammar points, vocabulary and listening (with the transcript). From beginners to advanced, arranged by levels.

Online Dictionaries:

You will always be encouraged to use a good-sized bilingual dictionary throughout your years at Oxford, whether you have purchased your own copy or whether you are going to study in your College Library or in the Taylorian Library. Dictionary apps, such as the Ragazzini bilingual dictionary, are also an excellent tool and easier to carry around. The following reputable dictionaries are also available online (free):

Bilingual dictionaries:

Monolingual dictionaries:


  • Dizionario dei Sinonimi e dei Contrari
  • Rizzoli
  • Treccani Sinonimi e Contrari


During your first year you will be studying four novels, a film, poetry, and reading texts from a variety of sources. You will be expected to develop your skills so that by the third term you can read the primary texts in Italian. You may start reading some Italian short stories with parallel text. There are many available, including the recent Great Italian Stories. 10 Parallel Texts, ed. by Jumpha Lahiri (Penguin, 2024).

Preliminary Examination Overview

All first-year students reading Italian will be taking a Preliminary Examination (Prelims for short) at the end of their third term, in June. This will consist of four parts (or papers), two of which (I and II) constitute the language component, and the other two (III and IV) the literature and cinema component. Paper IV is the only part that requires preparatory reading prior to coming up (see below); the rest is shown for information purposes only. At the end of your first year you will sit an examination aimed at assessing your knowledge of Italian language and literature. Please find below some advice on how to begin to prepare for it before you come to Oxford.


The language, both oral and written, plays a crucial role at Prelims, in itself and because it is essential to the understanding and interpretation of literature read in the original. It should be noted that emphasis is on grammar in all its practical applications, and that the examination will be the same for all candidates, whether they had any prior qualification in the language or not. It is therefore important that especially those who are beginners should endeavour to acquire some basic knowledge of the language before coming to Oxford. Once here, all first-year Italianists will receive intensive language tuition through a variety of classes (grammar, prose, oral, video, etc.) and even tutorials some of which are specially designed for beginners.

(a) For those with A-level Italian or equivalent

You should consolidate and extend your knowledge of Italian in any way possible, whether through regular reading of Italian newspapers, through reading of books beyond the preliminary course, or simply through careful study of prescribed texts. You should also spend time building up your knowledge of Italian grammar, however uninspiring this may sound.

(b) For near-Beginners, or GCSE level

You will take the same language (and literature) examinations after three terms as those in (a); for this purpose, competence well beyond A-level will be required. You therefore must make substantial progress with your language before coming to Oxford. You should follow the advice given in (a), and give priority to acquiring a firm grasp of the grammar.

(c) Further advice on language:

Whether you have an A Level or you start as a beginner, language classes in your first year will give you a firm grasp of grammar, develop your vocabulary and language skills and prepare you for the Language Preliminary Exams at the end of Trinity Term. Teaching in your first year will consist of 4 to 5 hours a week (depending on entry level) comprising Grammar and Vocabulary, Listening comprehension, Reading comprehension, Essay writing, Prose (Translation from English into Italian) and Translation from Italian into English.

Material will mostly be provided by the Language Tutors, who will also advise you on independent learning and weekly assignments. You are required to purchase the following grammar books prior to the start of Michaelmas Term:

For all students:

  • Soluzioni: A Practical Grammar of Contemporary Italian, by Denise De Rome (Routledge, 2015), fourth edition.

Those who applied to Beginners Italian should consider purchasing also a copy of:

  • The Ultimate Italian Review. Review and Practice, by David M. Stillman (McGraw-Hill, 2013).

At a more Advanced level, we also recommend the following reference books:

  • A Reference Grammar of Modern Italian, by Martin Maiden and Cecilia Robustelli (Routledge, 2007; second edition).
  • Using Italian Vocabulary, by Marcel Danesi (Cambridge University Press, 2003).

You are strongly advised to acquire a good-sized bilingual dictionary (such as Oxford-Paravia, Zanichelli, Collins), also available in libraries. You may also use the following online dictionaries, but we recommend you always write down the word or expression you’ve looked up in your own vocabulary notebook:

Bilingual dictionaries:

Monolingual Italian dictionaries:

Once at Oxford you’ll have access to the language learning resources at the Language Centre Library and the Taylor Institution, where you can find all of the above and much more.

The Pre-Sessional Course before the start of Michaelmas Term will give you a great boost, but in order to benefit from it you need to arrive with an already well-developed knowledge of Italian.

Courses in Italy

Spending some time in Italy during the summer before coming to Oxford is a good way to prepare for your first year here, although it should be emphasised that this is optional and that the language can be learnt even at home.

Useful information on language courses in Italy can be obtained from the Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8NX. Tel. 020 72351461. Website:  Reading, speaking and/or going to Italy will be much more rewarding if based on a formal grounding in grammar.

Language test

All new students will sit a brief language test when they arrive to oxford. The purpose of this test is to organize first year language groups according to your entrance level. It is not a selective test and non-A-level students have nothing to fear.

Literature and Cinema

Each of the two papers, studied in the first year, has a set of prescribed texts:

1. Modern Italian Narrative and Cinema (Paper IV)

Prescribed texts (any edition of the following, in Italian):

  • Primo Levi, Se questo è un uomo [1947] (Einaudi or other publisher)
  • Italo Calvino, Il cavaliere inesistente [1959] (Einaudi)
  • Natalia Ginzburg, Lessico famigliare [1963] (Einaudi)
  • Igiaba Scego, La mia casa è dove sono [2010] (Rizzoli or other publisher)

Prescribed film:

  • Marco Tullio Giordana (director), I cento passi [2000], available on DVD (Medusa, 2001)

N.B. This paper will be studied in the first term, and therefore at least the first three novels must have been read (either in the original Italian or in translation) by the time you come up in October.

Background Reading:

A very useful introduction to Italian history and culture is Christopher Duggan, A Concise History of Italy (Cambridge UP, 1994). An excellent introduction to modern Italian literature is Robert Gordon, Introduction to Twentieth-Century Italian Literature (Duckworth, 2005). For film studies, you might want to familiarise yourself with the subject through the following: David Bordwell and Kirstin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction (London: McGraw Hill, 2008, 8th ed).

2. Aspects of Italian Lyric Poetry (Paper III)

(a) The Italian Sonnet from the Middle Ages to the Present. A selection of around forty sonnets, which will be available at a later date in the Modern Languages Faculty Office, will be studied as an introduction to poetry in general, and to the exercise of close critical commentary.

(b) Giuseppe Ungaretti, a selection of poems (to be specified) from the collection L’allegria, contained in Vita d’un uomo: 106 poesie (1914-1960) (Milan: Mondadori Oscar); and Eugenio Montale, a selection of poems (to be specified) from Ossi di sepia (Milan: Mondadori Oscar). The work of these poets will be studied in detail for close commentary and essays.

N.B. This paper will be studied in the second term, starting in January. (a) is an anthology of sonnets through the ages, copies which will be made available at the Modern Languages Faculty Office or online at the end of the first term. It requires no preparatory reading at this stage, although, if you wished, you could read some of (b).

In the UK Italian books can be ordered at any of these bookshops:




Alternatively, you could order them directly from Italy through an Internet vendor, for example Internet Bookshop Italia or Amazon Italy.

For further information about Italian at Oxford you may visit the Sub-Faculty of Italian website.

The need to work as hard as possible on the language cannot be emphasized enough. Apart from the language, the only other part requiring preliminary reading is Paper IV, as mentioned above. If you have any queries or if you need further advice do not hesitate to contact me at any time.

Dr Marco Dorigatti, Lecturer in Italian

Brasenose College, Radcliffe Square, Oxford OX1 4AJ

Prefer to work from a paper copy? Download a printable version of the Reading Advice and the Reading List.