As a college student I have many resources available to me that many do not... For example Italian classes each semester. I have always wanted to learn how to speak Italian and after my adventure through Italy last summer I can only say my need to learn it is only growing.
There are many free sites and gimmick products out there, but from my experience the only real way to learn is not going to be quick and easy. I have only taking Italian for two semesters now but feel increasingly confident in my abilities to use the language. I find myself practicing more because I am understanding more. I have started to think about things in Italian, and even when i say things in English I think about how I would say them in Italian.
For me this means I am constantly learning new words. Fortunately for me, being on a college campus means wifi everywhere, and with the abilities of my magical ipod touch, I am able to look up words whenever I want. I have found the best way to learn is through practice. I think the text book I am currently using is great. Just by reading through the chapters, taking your time and practicing the vocab I guarantee you will be able to learn enough to survive an Italian conversation with a native. Here's the book info in case you are interested. Here's the Google shopping results...
As you can see, the price is not al that intimidating, and if your considering buying Rosetta Stone, this may be a MUCH cheaper and way more successful start. My brother recieved Rosetta Stone as a gift, and I tried it... I was having a blast thinking I was learning Italian, but I realized each time i went back to pick up where I started I realized I didnt really remember it and needed to start over which is frustrating, but also maybe I didn't give it a good enough try. However, for me and the way I learn, having a textbook that explains grammar and how things are used, lists of vocab words to study with flashcards and whatnot has been much more successful for me.
The textbook is actually not only about grammar. It is titled Parliamo Italiano a communicative approach. Sure it will teach you rules and grammar, but I think the focus is vocabulary, and getting your point across in conversation. The book provides little sections in each chapter entitled "In oltre parole" which means in other words... here they give you common slang phrases and terms commonly used in Italy. I think this book does a great job and if you have questions you can always find a forum or some website to help you. I also suggest Italian-Verbs.com.... This is a great tool to help you with your verb usage. Also in terms of free translators, i think Google's translator is by far the easiest and best one out there. Its simple and pretty accurate. It also understands some slang stuff, and doesn't just translate each word like many translators do. It organizes the words into proper Italian. a Nice tool... I think i will start posting some free Italian lessons here and even quote the book... But if you are serious about learning Italian I definitely suggest this Parliamo Italiano.
Also, another good thing i have discovered is pen pals. My Italian teacher set us up with some friends of his from Italy, now I am guessing most people don't have friends in Italy, but I am sure if you look around you could find some... For example our pen pals were set up through Facebook, this may be a good outlet to browse and find Native speakers. I would also suggest contacting pretty much any university who offers foreign language, even a high school or middle school who offers Italian. I'm sure teachers and professors would have no problem emailing with you and helping you learn Italian. This has been an invaluable source to me as it has also been a place to ask questions. Which means for those of you not on a school campus it maybe be a big help in answering questions.
Va bene... beh, spero che io sia utile a te e tu puoi imparare Italiano. In bocca di lupo! Means okay, well i hope i am helpful to you, and that you can learn italian. In the mouth of the wolf... Italians use that phrase instead of saying good luck. Its like break a leg. The proper response is Crepi! meaning I hope he (the wolf) dies.