Rocket Italian Review
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.
What is Rocket Italian?
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:
- "Interactive Audio" lessons: Audio (podcast) lessons that teach useful language for everyday situations through the context of conversations.
- "Language and Culture" lessons: Reasonably traditional-style written grammar lessons that teach you the parts of speech in Italian, with some extra multimedia flair to help your learning.
- Reinforcement and pronunciation tools: These are built into each lesson, but they're not the main teaching method for the material. They're there to reinforce what you've learned during the lesson.
Versatility is the name of the game
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.
P.S: I recommend signing up for the free trial if you haven't already. You don't need to enter a credit card, and you'll be able to understand what I'm talking about in this review.
The “Interactive Audio” lessons
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.
Level 2 Interactive Audio lessons. This type of audio lesson is based on dissecting natural dialogues from real-world situations. I like the one about getting out of a parking fine.
Anatomy of an Interactive Audio lesson
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.
An interactive transcript gives you more learning tools
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!
Interactive Audio transcript. You can also role-play with this dialogue. (More about that below)
The audio lessons serve two main functions:
- They give you some practical language that you can start using immediately (starting with the usual greetings). This is good if you need a quick primer on Italian before you head on vacation, or if you just want to start enjoying using your new language quickly.
- They also introduce you to important building blocks of Italian in a natural and enjoyable way. You'll start recognizing common constructions and patterns, without needing to sit and study the grammar. It's is a pleasant way to learn a lot of useful Italian language, especially if you don't enjoy studying grammar outright.
My advice for using the Interactive Audio lessons:
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:
- If you need a quick introduction to some practical, conversational Italian. If you need to start using your Italian right away, these lessons will get into the useful stuff faster than the Language and Culture lessons.
- If you believe that you really don't like "textbooky" style grammar lessons. Then ignore the Language and Culture lessons (below) in the beginning. The most important thing is that you stay motivated, and keep learning — so do the thing you enjoy most!
By the time you finish the audio lessons, you'll have a good amount of Italian under your belt. You can either leave it at that, or go back and start working through the Language and Culture lessons after. You'll likely find that a lot of the material in the lessons is familiar now, and you'll appreciate being able to "fill in the gaps" in your knowledge.
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?)
The “Language and Culture” lessons
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.
The Language and Culture lessons have pretty straightforward explanations, and lots of audio examples to practice with.
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.
But wait... do you need to learn grammar?
It's actually unusual these days to find a course that explains Italian grammar so clearly and in so much detail.
A lot of Italian courses either skim over the grammatical rules lightly (Duolingo, Mango, Babbel) or refuse to talk about them at all (Rosetta Stone) — leaving you to figure out the patterns yourself.
There are pros and cons to each approach, and I believe it comes down to personal preference — how YOUR brain likes to process information. I have a brain that appreciates understanding the grammar. (It comes from a fear of getting things wrong!) I find it faster and easier to learn the rules outright, rather than just using observation and repetition to figure it out over time.
But you might HATE learning grammar. You might prefer to just learn the chunks and patterns through exposure and experience.
Rocket Italian gives you both options.
The Interactive Audio lessons work as a low-grammar approach, while the Language and Culture lessons explain all the rules in great depth.
Even if you're a devoted "no grammar" learner, it's useful to have the Language and Culture lessons at your fingertips. If you're ever curious to know how something works, you can just dip into the these lessons to figure it out. (Curiosity is a fantastic fuel for learning!)
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...
- Flash cards: Test your recall of vocabulary from the lesson. You can switch between having the Italian or English to be on “front” of the card, so you can use it to test both your reading comprehension and your recall.
- Hear It, Say It: A piece of audio from the lesson will play without any text to help you understand it. You can either repeat it back (to test your pronunciation) or try to understand and remember what it means (comprehension).
- Write It: You hear a piece of audio, and you need to write it in Italian (to improve your writing).
- Know It: You see words in English and you need to come up with the Italian translation (improving your recall).
- Quiz: Multi-choice quiz based on the lesson.
- Play It (Interactive Audio lessons only): Role-play as a character from the lesson dialogue. You can choose if you want to have English or Italian prompts on screen to vary the difficulty or change the focus of your study (comprehension, pronunciation, recall)
"Play it": Test your ability to act out the conversation you've been studying. You can change the difficulty by showing/hiding the English or Italian text. Here I have to remember how to say those phrases in Italian (testing my recall).
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:
- The tools for a lesson only draw from language covered in that particular lesson. You'll find that it gets a little tedious by the time you reach the fourth tool and you've been through the same 40 vocabulary words several times already. (But you'll know the material really well.)
- You'll learn a lot of single words without any context. This can be fine for simple vocabulary, but it would be nicer to see words used in sentences, rather than sitting unnaturally alone with a bunch of notation to tell you if you're looking for the singular, plural, masculine or feminine.
My task is to remember the (blurred) Italian word for "extremely good". The notation tells me I'm looking for the feminine version. I can record my answer, or just hit "reveal".
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...
- AI-assisted speech recognition: You record yourself saying a phrase in Italian, and Rocket Italian (using Google's speech recognition engine) will tell you what it thinks you said in Italian. It will highlight the parts you got right and wrong, and give you an overall score out of 100.
- Your own ears: You can record yourself saying a phrase, and then compare it side-by-side to the sample spoken by the Italian voice artist.
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.
Yes, the speech recognition is actually listening. Rocket Italian passes the meow test!
Does the speech-recognition pronunciation checker work?
It depends on what you're expecting from it.
- Will it tell you if you would likely be understood by a patient and forgiving Italian speaker? Yes.
- Will it tell you if your pronunciation is good? No.
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.)
Me testing the voice recognition: First I did it properly. Then I switched a few words. Then I said the right words, but completely butchered the pronunciation. (Note: When it hears numbers it writes them as digits rather than spelling them out — not ideal.)
Alternative: The "use your ears" pronunciation perfection method
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.
Other Rocket Italian features
- "Survival kits": These are lessons filled with vocabulary and useful phrases — similar to phrasebook type material. In Level 1 it covers things like family vocabulary, colors, foods, proverbs, clothing, and household items. Each lesson comes with a downloadable audio lesson, similar to the Interactive Audio lessons.
- Community forum: You can jump in here to ask questions. Often the course tutors will be able to answer, so that's nice. It's not super lively though.
- Points, streaks, leaderboard: There are gamification features which give you intangible rewards for using the software — if this is what floats your boat and keeps you motivated.
The Rocket Italian app
There are a couple of ways you can access the Rocket Italian course and materials:
- Through the Rocket Languages website: This is how you'll use it on a laptop or desktop computer. It's a web app, so there's nothing to download or keep updated — it's just like visiting a website.
- Through the Rocket Languages app: On your phone or tablet you can grab this free app for iOS or Android. It syncs with your Rocket Languages account and keeps your progress updated no matter which device you're using.
The Rocket Italian app gives you access to the full course on your phone or tablet. You can save the Interactive Audio lessons to your phone to play offline.
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.)
Good things & Bad things
Things I like about Rocket Italian:
- It gets you speaking and understanding Italian quickly. The Interactive Audio lessons give you a quick, easy introduction to a lot of useful language.
- But it's also very comprehensive. The Language and Culture lessons act as a full grammar course, revealing the building blocks of Italian. It's rare to find a course that goes into this much depth. You'll also get over 2000 individual audio examples to play with in each level, which is insane.
- It works for different learning styles. Readers, listeners, and people who learn by "doing". It works equally well for people who want to understand the rules, and people who just want to get out there and start speaking.
- It's entertaining. I enjoy the cultural insights in both the audio lessons and the written lessons. The audio lesson conversations are often quite fun, especially in later levels. They feel natural and not overly "engineered".
- It's not just one big gimmick. Rocket Italian isn't trying to sell you some language-learning snake oil. It's built on solid principles. It's not as flashy as some competitors, but it delivers a lot more.
- The "Language and Culture" lessons are detailed, but dry. To be fair, it's hard to make this material fun (I've tried!) The audio examples and cultural asides do help lighten things up though.
- Voice recognition pronunciation tool might be misleading. If you take a 100% score to mean "my accent is perfect", you would be mistaken. But it's a good tool if you understand what it's actually doing, and it'll definitely get you speaking out loud.
- It's missing some personality. Your experience might feel different, but to me it feels like a course that has been built by engineers and linguists. It's efficient and versatile, and the content is well-structured, but it's just missing that little bit of personality that would make it even better.
Rocket Italian pricing
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.
- Each level purchased individually is $149, but there is always a coupon that will take $50 off the price.
- Levels 1, 2, 3 purchased together gives a much larger discount. There will usually be a coupon taking about $189 off the price, bringing it down to $259.
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.)
The 60-day money-back guarantee
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.
The final word?
Rocket Italian is one of the better "full" Italian courses on the market, and likely the best if you're looking for comprehensiveness, not gimmicks.
The price tag is pretty reasonable considering how much you get in this course and the lifetime ownership. (With all 3 levels you get 90+ Interactive Audio lessons, about 90 Language and Culture lessons, over 6000 audio examples with pronunciation practice.)
The material covers all the essentials (and then some). It goes further and deeper than many big-name language courses, and has multiple teaching methods, making it good for different learning styles.
There's a free trial, and an outstanding 60-day money-back guarantee, which shows that Rocket Italian is pretty confident in their own product.
It's an excellent package for anyone serious about learning Italian. Recommended.
Visit the Rocket Italian website »