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  • Writer's pictureCamellia Phillips

Best Books to Read for Intermediate Italian Language Learners - with Author Interview!


Two years ago, when I took my B1 Italian language exam, I discovered that my weakest area of language development was reading comprehension. It's quite ironic considering I'm a writer!


So this winter, once we had finally settled ourselves in Sicily as full-time residents, I decided to learn to read in Italian. As an "intermediate" Italian language learner (probably around a B2 now in everything except reading), finding the right reading material was TOUGH!


The Literary Landscape for Italian Language Learners


Here's what the landscape for Italian language books for intermediate learners looks like:


  • Beginner Italian reading materials, often lots of short stories (which didn't keep my attention or keep me turning the pages like I wanted).

  • Intermediate reading materials that lacked compelling plots and, again, leaned heavily on just short stories.

  • Collections of fairy tales, fables and myths, which should theoretically be easy to read but present two unexpected challenges. 1) Many use the passato remoto or "remote past" verb tense that is often used in literature but not as much in daily life. 2) Ridiculous stuff happens in myths and fairy tales so it is hard to tell if you are truly understanding the action.

  • Novels by Italians for Italians that are painfully difficult to get immersed in at my reading level because of the high-level vocabulary and use of that pesky passato remoto verb tense. When I was learning Spanish 25 years ago, I read classics like 100 Years of Solitude. But I am not at that level yet with written Italian.


Cover of the novel: Il Mistero Della Casa in Sicilia, for upper beginner to lower intermediate learners of Italian, showing the exterior of a Sicilian stone house.

I tried reading all these types of books, but nothing was cutting it. I wanted to be engrossed in a good story (written in Italian). I wanted to be transported by the words, not struggling to make sense of them.


I thought I might never find the right reading material. Then I discovered the perfect intermediate Italian language learner book: Il Mistero Della Casa in Sicilia, by Melanie Chircop.


This was it! A page-turning mystery story written at a language level I could understand. I spent an entire day lying on the couch reading Il Mistero Della Casa in Sicilia AND the sequel. I was transported by the story of a haunted house in a Sicilian village (luckily, not our house!).


The BEST Author and Books for Intermediate Italian Learners


After that first lazy day spent reading in Italian, I went on to read every single book by the author, Melanie Chircop. She has six books published right now, with more to come.


Book cover for Il Mistero del Lago di Como, a novel for intermediate learners of Italian, showing a picture of Lake Como.

Thanks to Melanie's books, I'm now reading a regular, non-language learner mystery book in Italian. In just a couple of months, I made incredible progress in my reading comprehension.


I could not keep this to myself. I'd finally found the best books and the best author for intermediate Italian language learners. I had to share it! I reached out to Melanie and asked if she'd be willing to do an interview for this blog. And she agreed!


So go over and grab one of Melanie's books and check out the peak behind the scenes below.


Interview with Author Melanie Chircop


Can you share a little about yourself? From your author bio, I know you teach Italian and live in Malta, which I have only visited for 24 hours—just long enough to know I must go back.


A photograph of the author, Melanie Chircop, who has long dark-brown hair and is wearing an orange blazer.

Hi Camellia and first of all thanks for interviewing me. So, I am a teacher of Italian and English, I studied at the University of Malta and did a Postgraduate degree in Education. I have been teaching Italian for around 17 years now both in state schools in Malta and also online. Only recently I have decided to quit teaching at school so I can focus more on my books.


What inspired you to start writing mystery novels for intermediate Italian language learners? It's such a unique niche!

 

You are right Camellia it is a unique niche. To be honest I never started this journey to become a writer.


As I said before I have been teaching Italian online for a very long time and I always found it challenging to find good readers for learners of Italian. I strongly believe in reading as it has so many benefits in learning foreign languages. I used to use comprehension texts with most of my students, which are good. However, they’re relatively short.


When students are reading a novel there is a sense of continuity and they can read a little bit every day.

Studies show that consistency and repetition are essential in building any habit in life. So in a nutshell, I wanted to create a book for my existing students so that we could use it in our lessons.


However, I still remember the day when I sold my first copy that I knew was bought by somebody who wasn’t a student of mine. I started realizing that this could be more successful than I was expecting. I was blown away by the response I got for Il Mistero della Casa in Sicilia and frankIy I still am now!

 

Can you share a bit about your writing process? How do you get ideas? Do you outline your plots in advance? 

 

This is an interesting question and I would say-it depends! With Il Mistero della Casa in Sicilia, I only started out with an idea. I knew that many foreigners were buying houses in southern Italy for 1 Euro. I wanted to write something about it but at the same time I wanted it to be a little spooky.


I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a ghost story?

With other books like Il Mistero del Lago di Como, I had heard about a real-life story that had happened to a family. Sometimes, I am inspired by real-life events but naturally, I change some parts as I deem fit along the way.

 

From the number of books you have published, it seems you write fast! I'm trying to figure out how to write faster myself. Do you have any writing tips you can share? What is your writing schedule like?

 

Consistency is the key. I tend to write almost every day and there were times when I would wake up at 4.30 am just to work on a book before going to my school job.  


The key is to write, no matter what, even if you’re not feeling particularly inspired.

I tend to sit down in front of my computer and put a 45-minute timer on my phone. This helps me as it reduces the pressure of having to write a fixed amount of words. I know that when the time is up I can stop and have a break.


Image of the cover of the book: Avventure in Camper: short stories for lower intermediate learners of Italian, featuring an image of a camper van.

Surprisingly, this has helped me so much.


Some days I feel like I have so much to write, other days I’m uncertain. I just write and I know I can edit anything at a later stage.


There are times when I’m not sure how to continue a story. So that’s when I would normally go for a walk to clear my head a little. Then after that, I would sit down to brainstorm and jot down any ideas that I have. Sometimes I ask for advice from friends and family who read my books before I publish them.

 

What are the unique challenges of writing for intermediate language learners? 

 

Well, you have to constantly keep in mind the language level that you’re targeting. That is not an easy task but it comes more naturally to me as I have been teaching mainly beginner and intermediate levels for such a long time.


During my lessons I’m used to varying my speech depending on the student I’m talking to. Now the real challenge lies in creating a story with somewhat limited grammatical structures. At the same time, it has to be realistic. I do like to use a lot of direct speech as I believe dialogues are extremely beneficial.

 

What sort of feedback have you heard from readers? 

 

I have had all sorts of feedback. I have been told that my books were helping to increase fluency. Also, some students managed to go on to read an authentic Italian book that was not aimed at language learners after they read my books.


This gives me great satisfaction as this is what my purpose was from the start.  It’s very encouraging to hear these comments and this is what keeps me going on writing.

 

C’è qualcos’altro che vorresti condividere con gli studenti di lignua Italiana?

 

Sì vorrei ringraziare immensamente tutti quelli che hanno comprato i miei libri. Continuate a leggere perché aiuta tanto nell’ apprendimento della lingua italiana. Leggete anche quando vi manca la motivazione. Fatelo lo stesso e rimanete focalizzati sul vostro obiettivo.

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2 Comments


daydrep
Apr 20

So wonderful for you to find exactly what you needed and to interview the author. Great post.

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corinne rovetti
corinne rovetti
Apr 20

Grazie a tutti e due!

Nel mio viaggio linguistico sono pronto a leggere alcuni libri e al mio livello. Questi libri sembrano perfetti. Dove posso comprare i tuoi libri?

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