It's a good idea to learn a few basic Italian words and phrases before you travel to Italy. Although English is spoken in most tourist parts of Italy, knowing a little bit of Italian may help you have a better experience and help you to feel more comfortable while in Italy.
Dianne Hales, author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language (buy from Amazon) and Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered (buy from Amazon) says, "I've spent more than 25 years learning as much Italian as I possibly can, but the question I'm often asked is 'What do I need just to get by in Italy?'"
These are Dianne's recommendations for the least Italian vocabulary you should learn before you go to Italy:
- Greetings. Know how to say "Buongiorno" (bwohn-JOR-noh) for "Good morning" or "Good Day"; "buona sera" (BWOH-nah-SAY-ra) for "Good evening"; and "arrivederci" (ah-ree-vay-DEHR-chee) for goodbye (obligatory when you leave a shop or restaurant).
- Disclosure. Say up front, "Non parlo italiano" (nohn PAR-loh ee-tah-leeAH-non) for "I don't speak Italian." A good follow-up question: Parla inglese? (PAR-lah een-GLAY-zay) Do you speak English?
- Courtesy. Please, thank you, and you're welcome are the most important phrases in any language. The Italian phrases are "per favore" (pehr fah-VOH-ray); grazie (GRAHT-zee-ay) and prego (PRAY-goh).
- Personal preferences. Wherever you go, someone will ask, "Va bene?" (VAH BAY-ne): "Is it going well? Is everything okay?" If it is, you can reply "Si, bene!" (see BEHN-nay) for yes, all is well. "Mi piace" (mee pee-AH-chay) means "I like"; non mi piace, "I don't like it."
- Prices. Bottom line, you're going to be buying food, tickets, souvenirs and other irresistible things. Before you do, you'll want to know, "Quanto costa?" (KWAHN-toh KOH-sta): How much does it cost?
Buon viaggio! Have a good trip.
Read more from Dianne Hales:
- Leonardo da Vinci and Mona Lisa in Florence
Editor's note: If you'd like to learn more Italian while you're in Italy, consider taking an Italian language course as part of your vacation. It's a great way to practice Italian while you learn, meet new people, and experience local life and culture. Often you'll have the option to stay with a local family or in a self-catering apartment, where you can practice shopping for food in Italy. It can be a great experience.