Rocket Italian is an online Italian course made by Rocket Languages. It's one of the more effective online Italian courses available — especially if you’re a serious student looking for a course that prioritises comprehensiveness and depth over cute gimmicks.
Rocket Italian is a "full" online Italian course, designed to be your core learning program when learning Italian on your own.
It has three levels which claim to be able to take you from beginner through to upper-intermediate (CEFR A1 — B2).
(In other words, up to the point where you can speak and understand Italian reasonably well, with a pretty good grasp of the grammar. This is the point where you switch to learning from real-world material, not courses.)
Each level has three main components that make up the course:
One of the strengths of Rocket Italian (or one of its weaknesses, depending on your perspective) is that it offers you so many different ways to learn. It effectively throws the kitchen sink at you, so that it doesn't matter what your learning style or goals are, you'll be able to find content and tools to work for you.
Does it actually work? Let's take a look at each of the components first.
The first lessons you'll encounter in Rocket Italian are "Interactive Audio" lessons — purely audio, podcast-style lessons. You can listen to these on your phone while you’re out and about, or doing housework, walking the dog — whatever.
(Note that the “interactive” part of the “Interactive audio lessons” really just means that the hosts pause to allow you to speak an answer out loud yourself.)
There are 29 of these lessons in each level (25 in Level 3). Each audio lesson is around 20 - 25 minutes long, giving you around 8-9 solid hours of audio lessons per level.
A lesson typically starts off with a complicated-seeming conversation on a particular topic or situation (e.g., Ordering a coffee and a pizza — lesson 1.3, Using public transport — lesson 2.1, At the dinner table — lesson 5.2). This conversation will use a lot of language that you haven't seen before, so it may seem intimidating at first.
The hosts then spend the rest of the lesson dissecting and explaining the language in the conversation. Along the way you’ll run into some important grammatical topics, explained as and when they’re needed. This is a nice way to be exposed to these rules — you'll be able to see how things work in a real-world context, which makes it a lot easier to understand.
The lessons move at a decent pace: The Italian audio is slow and clear, but you still manage to cover a good amount of new language in each lesson. They occasionally wander off and discuss language that is related to the material in the conversation, so you pick up a good amount of extra vocabulary too.
The lessons are also (importantly) not too boring. There's a bit of (scripted) banter between the hosts, and the occasional cultural insight, which adds to the interest of each lesson. (No self-respecting Italian drinks a cappuccino after lunch! Petrol is very expensive in Italy!)
At the end of the lesson you’ll get to hear that conversation again, and you can marvel at how much easier it now seems.
A handy feature is the interactive transcript of the conversation from the lesson. You can access this through the website or the app. All the audio examples allow you to record yourself to practice your pronunciation, and there's a challenging activity where you role-play as one of the characters. Good for practicing your recall when you're on the spot!
If you follow Rocket Italian's recommended learning path, you'll go through a few of these lessons at the start of each module, before going through some of the Language and Culture (a.k.a grammar) lessons that I'll discuss below.
You don't actually have to do it this way.
The Interactive Audio lessons and the Language and Culture lessons do not follow on from each other. They don't reference each other. They're effectively two separate courses.
So if you enjoy using the Interactive Audio lessons — just start out by doing those. Ignore the other types of lesson for now.
There are a couple of situations where this is especially recommended:
So we've mentioned the Language and Culture lessons a couple of times now. Let's look at what these are (and do you really need them?)
In addition to the 29 audio lessons, each level also comes with around 30 "Language and Culture" lessons.
These are essentially a traditional written Italian grammar course, where you'll learn all the various parts of the language — nouns, articles, verbs, questions, etc — but with multimedia elements to play with, and the occasional cultural aside.
These lessons strike a good balance between linguistic analysis and easier-to-get explanations: The technical stuff is all there, but it's explained in a user-friendly way — even if you don't know your adjectives from your adverbs.
If I were to make a criticism, it would be that sometimes the lessons are a little too comprehensive. It can feel like the course wanders off on too many tangents, rather than staying laser-focused on the topic at hand. Each lesson can get quite long, and will occasionally cover a couple of grammar points that I would prefer to see split out into different lessons.
But you can be assured that they’re covering everything, and it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re not absorbing all of the digressions and exceptions at this point. It’s comforting to know that the material is there waiting for you if you need it in future.
Both the Interactive Audio lessons and the Language and Culture lessons come with a range of interactive tools to practice what you've learned from a variety of angles — reading, listening, writing, recall and pronunciation.
Reinforcement activities include...
These activities are a worthwhile "bonus" on top of the other lessons, but they probably won't knock your socks off when it comes to entertainment factor. There are other courses out there that have slicker interactive activities (e.g., Duolingo, Babbel), but that's because that's their whole course. It's all they do. With Rocket Italian, the activities are just the icing on the cake.
A couple of minor quibbles:
You've seen this little red microphone sitting on all these screenshots. Let's talk about the pronunciation tools for a moment.
Rocket Italian has two pronunciation testing options built into every single audio example in the course...
If you see a piece of audio in Rocket Italian, it will have these tools. It's a HUGE library of voice examples to work with, and it will definitely get you speaking your Italian out loud.
It depends on what you're expecting from it.
If you're looking for a tool to tell you if your vowel sounds are on point, you might be disappointed. Pronunciation tools based on speech recognition technology are always likely to be very forgiving. That's because the voice recognition is trying really hard to understand you — that's its job!
But if voice recognition can understand what you're saying, then a real, live Italian speaker will probably understand you too. (And that's still pretty good.)
With Rocket Italian's automatic pronunciation checking tool, there is an "easy" and a "hard" setting. On the "easy" setting I could get perfect scores on pronunciation, even when I was speaking pretty terribly. It seemed a little bit harder on the "hard" setting but still usually manageable, even with a not-great accent.
Another way of working on your pronunciation is to simply use your own ears to compare your pronunciation to the native speaker. This isn't quite as fancy, but it can be more reliable than the speech recognition tool.
Again, kudos to Rocket Italian for letting you choose. You can play back your pronunciation attempt by pressing the red play button. Just compare it to the voice model (blue play button).
Listen for the difference. Did you get close? How could you get closer? (Don't forget, if you want to try this for yourself you can sign up for a free trial of Rocket Italian. You'll get lots of these voice examples to play with — even just in the trial version.)
I recommend using the automatic speech recognition at first, to get your mouth used to moving around Italian words. Then come back and use your own ears once you're easily and reliably scoring 100% on the hard setting.
There are a couple of ways you can access the Rocket Italian course and materials:
I typically use the web app on my laptop, but the phone app works really well. You can save the Interactive Audio lessons to your phone to play when you're away from wifi — good for us who don't have unlimited data!
It is also a bit easier to use with the speech recognition and recording tools on your phone — they just work right out of the box. I used to run into issues with the security settings on my web browser when using the web app. (I'm not having problems anymore though, these may have been resolved in the current version of the program.)
At first glance, Rocket Italian's price can seem steep. The difference is that Rocket Italian is a one-off purchase (not a subscription). You buy it once, and you own it forever.
If you purchase the full course (Levels 1, 2, 3 together) you have the option to pay it off in monthly instalments over 6 months. (Note: This is tucked away in a FAQ question on the pricing and purchase page, so it's hard to find. You need to click the link inside that question to access the monthly instalments page.)
There is a very generous guarantee on all purchases from Rocket Languages. If you don't like it, you can email their team within 60 days and they'll refund you your whole purchase. I don't see any other language courses offering this level of reassurance.
The refund rates that I've seen suggest that only 5% of people ever ask for a refund, so people are mostly satisfied with their purchase. But it's still really comforting to know you have that option.