Although English is spoken in most tourist parts of Italy, knowing a little bit of Italian may help you have a better experience, especially if you want to go where locals go or get off the tourist track. A few essential words and phrases will go a long way and locals usually appreciate your effort to speak Italian.
Beginning Italian Vocabulary
- Si and no are simply yes and no. Va bene can be used as a response in situations where you would use OK. As a question it means is it going well or is everything okay. It’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot.
- Per favore and grazie are please and thank you.
- Prego is used frequently in a variety of situations. Basically it means you’re welcome so if someone says grazie, you could reply with prego. But it’s also used for please, make yourself comfortable, go ahead, or certainly. Read Linda Falcone’s in-depth look at prego.
- Buongiorno and buona sera, good day and good evening, are common greetings. Ciao and salve are often used for hello but are more casual. Arrivederci (ah-ree-vay-DEHR-chee) is goodbye, a phrase you can use when you’re leaving a shop or restaurant.
- Signore/Signori and Donne/Uomini are important words to recognize when you need to use the bathroom. While these days toilet doors are often marked with a symbol, you’ll still find bathroom doors labeled signore or donne for women and signori or uomini for men. As a general rule, feminine plurals usually end in e while masculine plurals usually end with i.
Italian Learning Tools
To learn more basic vocabulary in an easy to access format, try Travelflips, a compact portable language flashcard kit for international travelers. The words are written phonetically to help with pronunciation too. Its artisan design aims to recapture the romance of world travel and a recent study found that traditional flash cards are more effective than their digital counterparts. The attractive design of the deluxe sets make them great gifts, too.
- For a complete online course you can do at your own pace, try Rocket Italian.
Read About the Italian Language
Dianne Hales relates her experience learning Italian and gives a scholarly look at the language’s history in La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language.