How to speak Italian when you can't
I know very little Italian, but I've chatted to one taxi driver
from Cagliari airport to the centre of Rome (a forty minute
drive) and to another from Naples airport to the city centre.
Neither spoke more than ten words of English.
I was able to do this because of two things. Firstly, I know
maybe two hundred words of Italian. Secondly, and more
importantly, when you visit a foreign country people are
generally pleased when you talk to them in their language,
however imperfectly and respond positively. A tourist talking in
Italian stands out as different, not just another tourist, as
most tourists don't make this effort.
The fact that you can't understand a lot of what is said doesn't
matter. Did I understand most of what either driver said to me ?
Of course not. But that didn't matter. We were still having an
I haven't learnt any Italian grammar. I'm not trying to speak
correctly . Now you could call this lazy, but I live in Europe
where you can hear and speak any number of languages. So my aim
is just to communicate at a very basic level when I visit a
country, to make an effort, to show appreciation of the language
If you are not formally learning the language and instead aim to
communicate in the widest possible sense, it is possible to pick
specific areas and learn words and phrases that you have a good
chance of using.
So what have I learnt ? Not much is the answer.
Basic expressions. Yes, no, please, thank you, I don't
understand, I'm lost.
Numbers. A few phrases used to show appreciation e.g. Italy is a
beautiful country. A few conversational phrases. Where are you
from ? My name is ......
A few adjectives such as big, small, hot, cold which are always
I've also learned expressions I will need in obvious situations.
E.g. When I visit Italy, I travel by boat, metro, bus and taxi
and so I now know the key words and expressions to buy tickets,
ask directions and so on.
I don't want to have to eat in tourist restaurants and so have
learnt basic words for ordering food. For example, one of the
best meals I ate in Italy was near Vatican City in a local
restaurant with no English spoken.
The language you pick depends on what you will be doing and how
much time you have to memorize it. If for example, you intend to
do a lot of shopping, why not learn the appropriate vocabulary?
E.g. How much does it cost?, or it is expensive , but remember
to pick the phrases that you see yourself using.
If you decide to learn a little Italian, every time you visit
Italy and practice what you have learnt, you will be astonished
at how much more you acquire. For example, I will always
remember the Italian word chaotic, because as we were driving
through the Naples traffic, the driver kept pointing at the
traffic, smiling and saying "caotico" and "traffico". Now, there
were all sorts of words in between which I didn't know, but that
didn't hide the meaning of what he was saying to me.
Many people don't have the time to reach a high standard in
another language, but if before you leave for Italy you learn a
few words and a few expressions, not only will you be showing
your appreciation for a beautiful language, but you will enjoy
your visit to this fascinating country even more. Before you set
off, visit www.linguata.com or www.downloadalanguage.com
for more articles and language learning software.