In my opinion, Italian really lives up to its nickname—la bella lingua. Literally, the beautiful language. Just hearing it makes me happy.
Languages don’t come easy for me, per se. But when I’m traveling to another country I do always try to make sure I learn a few handy words and phrases to help get around, help me not feel quite so alien, and also because I think it’s respectful to other cultures—it’s their country, and it’s not their job to be able to communicate with me.
I find the Italian people very welcoming and while you’ll find a decent amount of English spoken in Italy, you’ll get a TON of credit for attempting to at least start a conversation in their language. And among many older people or out in less tourist-visited places English won’t be as common. So here are some phrases to make you feel like an international person of mystery…
10 common Italian phrases to make your trip easy
Italian is actually pretty easy because it’s consistent—especially the pronunciation! (Take *that*, English…)
The pronunciation rules of Italian are ironclad and so super easy to pick up (I may do a post on that some day). Syntax is what’s challenging, but if you’re just using a few words or phrases then that’s not a concern. I’ve included a phonetic pronunciation with each phrase and then some background on what it means and how it’s used.
Buongiorno or buonasera, ciao
Pronunciation: bwohn-jor-no, bwohn-uh-sehr-uh, chow
“Good day” (or “good evening”), and then ciao is more casual, like “hi” (and “bye”). This is basically how to say hello in Italian. You might hear variations such as buon pomereggio (good afternoon) and buonanotte (good night) but they’re slightly less common.
Pronunciation: pear fuh-vohr-ay
Please. A very important word to know 🙂
“Thank you”. Also important. And important for saying “no, grazie” to persistent vendors. Usually you’ll hear “prego” in return, which is how they indicate that you’re welcome.
Mi scusi (or just scusi)
“Excuse me” or “I’m sorry” (like if you bump into someone). Honestly, this phrase can really get you around in a lot of countries, not just Italy. You might also hear “permesso” if someone is trying to get through a crowd.
This is key for asking directions, because dové means “where”. So you’d say things like “dové il stazione?” (where is the station?), “dové il Duomo?” (where is the Duomo?), etc.
Pronunciation: qwant-oh cost-oh
“How much does it cost?” Any Italian worth their salt is going to haggle the price down a little if you’re buying from a street vendor. First you have to ask how much it costs, and you have a better chance of haggling successfully if you do it in Italian. Technically you’d ask “quanto costo?” for anything that’s a masculine noun and “quanta costa?” for a feminine noun, but you get credit for trying regardless.
This means “I would like”, so it’s perfect for ordering at a restaurant or bar and sounding like you know what you’re talking about. So you can say “vorrei un cappuccino, per favore” and look very cool.
“When”, so you can ask when a bus comes, when a restaurant opens, etc. One example would be saying, “Quando é il treno per Milano?” (when is the train for/to Milan?).
A destra, a sinistra
Pronunciation: ah deh-struh or ah sin-ee-struh
To the right and to the left, respectively. (Now slide, slide…) If you ask someone “Dové il Duomo?”, there’s a decent chance you’ll hear one or both of these in the person’s reply along with a lot of gesturing, so it’s good to be able to recognize them. Also, heads up—Italians give insanely fast and complicated directions, so I always found it easiest to just listen to the first few steps and then ask a different person for the next set of directions.
Mi chiamo _____
Pronunciation: me kee-ah-moh
“My name is ________”. It literally means “I call myself”, as chiamare is “to call” in Italian. But this is how you’d introduce yourself. You may also hear/use “Sono _____”. Take it to the next level by saying, “Piacere” (pee-uh-chair-ay) when the other person then introduces themselves. This effectively means “It’s a pleasure (to meet you)”.
And as promised, 5 more if you’re ambitious…
Puó aiutarmi, per favore?
Pronunciation: pwoh aye-yu-tar-me pear fuh-vohr-ay
“Can you help me, please?” It’s always good to know how to ask for help.
“Tell me,” usually said when you look like you’re trying to ask a question. It’s a charming Italian way of saying, “what do you want?”
Pronunciation: koh-may stah
“How are you?” A really easy conversation opener, and just polite conversation in passing (this is a slightly more formal version but it’s better to err on that side). An easy answer can be something like “Bene, grazie” (bih-nay, grah-tzee-eh), which just means “good, thanks”.
Pronunciation: eh bwoh-noh
This is an appropriate way to express that food is good. There are two different Italian words for “good” (bene and buono), but buono would be more about food. If it was really amazing, go for a “buonissimo!”
Non parlo italiano bene.
Pronunciation: non par-loh italiano beh-nay
“I don’t speak Italian well”, you’re basically owning up to the fact that you’re not going to catch most of what they say. Or if someone comes up to you with a question, you’re not going to be much help.
I hope this helps you prep for your next Italian adventure! If you have any questions, drop me a note in the comments!
Try out your new vocabulary in these Italian-speaking areas:
- A Day Trip to Pisa
- The Ultimate First-Timer’s Guide to Cinque Terre
- Exploring the Hill Towns of Northern Croatia (Italian can be used in a pinch)
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