When you are in Italy, Italians appreciate that you try to speak Italian even just a few words, una bellissima lingua, a very beautiful language. I am still learning, and having started at age 58, with no other language other than English under my belt, it will be a lifelong journey. That’s fine with me! There is no other country like Italy in the world. The landscapes of beauty, art, history, cuisine, music, literature, and hospitable people are incomparable.
Of course, you would need to study in depth to be fluent and I do encourage learning another language for many reasons, but one is that it keeps our brains healthy. However, for now just so you can add a few phrases in Italian to your vocabulary, let’s look at some common phrases that you can practice before your travels. I’ve added my version of phonetic pronunciation.
Two categories of vocabulary in this post: Basic expressions and coffee lingo
Basic Italian Phrases:
Buon giorno (bwone jorno). Good morning, good day. and you can greet others with this until 3pm. Some areas of Italy change the greeting after 1pm to Buona sera.
Buona sera: (bwona sayra) Good afternoon or good evening used as a greeting after around 3pm.
Buon pomeriggio: (bwon pomareejo) Good afternoon
Buona notte: (bwona notay) Good night, when it’s the end of the evening and you’re going to bed.
Arrivederci (arreevaydehrchee) Good-bye. It’s polite to say this to a store owner when leaving, not just exiting.
Come sta? (komay sta?) How are you? (formal to those you don’t know)
Mi scusi (skoozee) Excuse me
Grazie (graatseeay) thank you
Prego (pray go, like the jars of pasta sauce) You’re welcome. Don’t mention it
Va bene (va baynay) that’s fine
Mi scusi (mee scoozie)
Non parlo l’italiano. I don’t speak Italian
Parla inglese? (Parla eenglayzay) Do you speak English? (formal)
Mi sono perso. (mee sono pairsow) (Masc.) — Mi sono persa (Fem.) I’m lost
Non capisco (non kapeesco) I don’t understand
Sto cercando il mio albergo. (Stoe cherkondo eel meeo albeargo) I’m looking for my hotel.
È bellissimo (Ay bayleeseemo (masc.), bayleeseemah (fem.) It’s very beautiful.
Even though coffee is not grown in Italy, they have perfected its taste and use with a flair. It’s a great idea to speak Italian when you order your coffee. Please remember though that cappuccinos are normally drunk at breakfast so ordering them after 11 am will be looked down upon! Of course, the barista will know you are a tourist, so they accommodate.
Vorrei…vorrehee I would like…
un caffè per favore. (un kaffeh pehr favoray) a coffee please.
Caffè lungo (americano) Cahf-feh loon-goh A filtered coffee (American style)
Caffe latte (cahf-feh laht-tae) Hot milk with coffee
Caffè macchiato (cahffeh ma-kee-ah-toh) Espresso with a drop of milk
Caffè doppio (cahf-feh dohpp-yoh) Double espresso
Cameriere! (cah-meh-rieh-reh) Waiter!
If you want to delve more deeply into the Italian language, take classes online or in your hometown first. Then, if you want to go for it, two of my favorite Italian language schools in Italy are:
Lucca Italian School (LIS), Lucca Italy in Tuscany
Cultura Italiana Arezzo in Arezzo, Italy in Tuscany
Radio Italia Live Music: Learn Italian through song
Online Learning is infinite: Check out my other blog post with suggestions for online learning of Italian.
Travel tip: Buy a good Italian Phrase book! Berlitz Italian Phrase book is great but most published phrase books are color coded by category and easy to follow.
You are welcome to reprint, copy, or distribute Lenora Boyle’s article, provided author credit is included.