A country of fascinating history, breathtaking scenery, some of the finest art in the world, and positively delicious cuisine, Italy has always been a popular travel destination. Though those living in the touristy areas might speak English, you’ll find that locals in the towns and cities off the beaten track don’t speak much English at all. That’s why you should always aim to learn a little Italian to make your trip easier.
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One of the romance languages, Italian is Latin-based and shares many similarities with French and Spanish. It is also a phonetic language, which means it’s not too difficult to learn. Check out these 10 words and phrases you should know before going to Italy.
11 Si & No & Ciao
The three basic words that you should always master before you get to Italy are si, no, and ciao. These translate to yes, no, and hello/goodbye. You’ll definitely need these three words, no matter where you’re going in Italy and what you plan on doing.
Ciao is the more casual way of saying hello than the more formal salve. Even if you have to communicate mostly in English, saying ciao to locals will let them know that you’re at least making the effort to honor their language. And the beauty of the word is it works for both hello and goodbye, so you don’t have to learn two separate words. Bonus!
10 Per Favore
Manners will always get you further than rudeness will. If you are polite to the retail and wait staff in Italy, you’ll probably get better service. This is especially true if you show manners in Italian rather than English. To truly show manners and courtesy, you’ll need to know the words per favore.
This basically translates to please. Even if you have to ask for something in English, saying per favore at the end of your request will let the person you’re asking know that you appreciate the favor they’re doing for you.
Vorrei is a word you won’t often find on its own in the Italian-English vocab lists and apps for travelers. That’s because it’s not a noun; it’s a verb that is used as part of a sentence. But if you don’t know any Italian, knowing this word can help you to communicate when trying to buy or order something.
Translating to “I would like,” vorrei is a word that will come in handy when you’re in a shop or restaurant. If you don’t know the name of a particular gelato, you can simply say vorrei and point to it. Remember to roll those R’s and pronounce it as vorr-ay.
If you want to be polite when talking to Italians, then you’ll need to know the word for thank you. That’s grazie. This is pretty easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, since it’s very similar to the Spanish gracias. Note that in Italian the ending sound is an E rather than an A. Whenever somebody does something for you, thank them with a quick grazie.
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When you’re really grateful for something, you can say grazie mille, which means “thank you so much.” The word mille actually means one thousand, so this definitely shows your appreciation!
Depending on where you travel to in Italy, it’s highly likely that you’re going to run into a lot of crowds. From the Colosseum in Rome to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to Piazza San Marco in Venice will all be full of people. So it’s useful to know how to make your way through a crowd like a real Italian.
When someone is standing in your way and you need to get passed, simply say permesso. This is literally asking for permission to get through. Ironically, the crowds you’ll need to get through at tourist hotspots will be foreigners anyway, but you’ll still impress any Italians who are listening!
6 Non Capisco/Non Parlo Italiano
In the less touristy areas of Italy, you might find that locals just start talking to you in Italian because they don’t understand English. So you’ll need to know how to let them know that you don’t understand. Non capisco is the quickest and easiest way, literally translating to “I don’t understand.” You can also say non ho capito, which means “I don’t have understanding.”
To make things really clear, you can say non parlo italiano. That means “I don’t speak Italian.” If you’d like someone to repeat something slower, simply say Puoi ripetere, per favore?
4 Quanto Costa?
For those who are going to Italy to take advantage of the phenomenal shopping opportunities, this phrase is non-negotiable to learn. Quanto costa? simply means “how much does it cost?” When you’re in a shop or at a stall, you can also just say quanto, which means “how much?” The vendor will gather that you’re asking about the price without needing to add costa.
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Be careful not to say quanti? instead of quanto? as the former means “how many?” instead of “how much?” Knowing a bit of Italian here might also make you less of a target for scammers that try to rip off tourists with expensive prices.
3 Mi Piace/Non Mi Piace
You might not be able to become fluent in Italian by the time you travel to Italy, but knowing basic phrases to communicate your wants and needs will help you a lot. The phrase mi piace will definitely come in handy during your travels. This means “I like.” Literally, it translates to “it pleases me.”
If you want to tell someone that you don’t like something, or something doesn’t please you, simply say non mi piace. When referring to plurals, as in you don’t like a group of things, the correct phrase would become non mi piacciono, or “they don’t please me.” But the locals will get the gist of what you’re saying, even if your conjugations are a little off.
At one point or another on your Italian trip, you may have to ask for directions. Since not all Italians speak English, even in the more touristy areas, your best bet is to know a few Italian phrases that will help you here. When all else fails, the word you really need to know is dove. This means where.
To ask for directions you would say dov’è, which means “where is?” or dove sono which means “where are?” Dov’è il colosseo? is how you’d ask where the Colosseum is. To ask where the restaurants are, you’d say dove sono i ristoranti? In Italian, dove is pronounced as dough-vey.
The likelihood that you’ll need to call for help on your trip to Italy is low. But it can still happen. That’s why it’s important to know how to ask for help in an emergency, just in case you need it. To do this, simply say aiuti! which means help!
There are a few other words that you might need to know if an emergency arises. These include medicina, which is medication, dolore, which is pain, incidente, which is accident, ospedale, which is hospital, polizia, which is police, and ambasciata, which is embassy.