If you're planning to visit Rome, you'll find it helpful to learn at least a little basic Italian: like all major tourist cities, many of the locals speak English, but they'll appreciate it if you try a little Italian, and you'll also be able to visit places and talk to people that aren't so geared up for tourists.
Italian is a quickly spoken language and it can be intimidatingly impenetrable at first. But bear with it and do plenty of practice and you will soon find yourself improving. Here are four ways to practice your Italian:
1. Teach yourself
Although conversation practice is vital to help you properly master a language, you can make a start on learning Italian by yourself. The best way to do this is probably to start with a set that contains a book and a CD; stay away from the phrasebook-style offerings and go for something that will help you to understand the grammar behind the sentences you are learning. A good book of verb tables, while perhaps not the most exciting page turner, will also come in very handy.
2. Learn from films, TV, and radio
This one may not help you get into the detail of grammar, but it can get you accustomed to hearing Italian spoken naturally, and give you a better idea of the way people actually use the language.
Italy has a fine cinematic tradition, so a trip to your local DVD shop would be a good place to start (or these days, it might be a browse through Netflix or Lovefilm). Watching films in Italian with English subtitles can be a good way to get used to listening to Italian speech, especially as you can pause, rewind, pause, rewind... For a guide to some of the Italian films set in Rome, have a look at our Rome on Film section.
Sun, sea, sand, and the Italian language (albeit in a Sicilian accent) with Inspector Montalbano
Relatively little Italian TV gets through to English-speaking world, but lately the Sicilian crime series Montalbano has been getting popular in the UK, the US and Australia: while the characters usually have Sicilian accents, Montalbano is a fun way to spend some time listening to Italian. Just don't end up speaking like Catarella!
If you don't manage to catch Montalbano on TV, episodes are also available on DVD with English subtitles.
Finally, try listening to Italian radio. The RAI network broadcasts its stations over the internet, so if you have high bandwidth, try listening to them.
3. Language schools
Rome is a particularly popular destination for foreigners, and there are plenty of Italian language schools around the city. Although these, like language exchanges below, aren't really suitable for a shorter visit, if you plan to spend longer in Rome they're one way to get started with the language, and offer the opportunity to meet people too.
4. Language exchanges
For that all-important conversation practice, try hooking up with an Italian who wants to improve their English. Browse the classified ad sections of websites like Wanted in Rome, or place your own ad. These language exchanges are often succesful and can be a good way to meet people when you arrive in Rome, although the usual caveats about safety when meeting people online apply.
If you're not yet in Italy, try putting up classified ads in your area; if you live in a large city, it's likely to have some sort of Italian community. You may also be able to find people for language exchange through internet messaging services like Skype.