You don’t need to speak Italian if you come to Italy, obviously, but knowing a few basic phrases could definitely help.
Knowing a bit of the language is a matter of survival if you go to remote or off-the-beaten-track Italian locations but mastering a few basic words and phrases can be a great idea even if you go to tourist places, where most people know English.
If you are able to throw a few Italian words into your conversation – some very basic ones, you absolutely don’t need to become fluent in the language – you could definitely win the sympathy of Italian speakers, be them waiters, baristas, shop owners, or just the old guys chatting in the city square.
As I have already said in a post about speaking the Italian language, we are thrilled when foreigners use Italian words and phrases, so why not learn a few if this will win a smile from the nonna at the market stall?
After all, you don’t need to learn many words or phrases, you’ll be fine with just a handful. In this post, I’ve selected for you some of the most basic yet useful Italian words and phrases, the ones that most likely come up if you are visiting the country.
Shall we learn some Italian, then?
Let’s begin with the basics: how to say thank you. “Grazie” is probably one of the most known Italian words yet it is always worth mentioning it as it is always nice to use it. Never forget to say “Grazie” (the right pronunciation is grah-tzee-eh) if somebody does something for you. If you want to be even more thankful, choose “Grazie mille!” and never forget to say “Prego!” if somebody thanks you for something. And adding a smile will do wonders, obviously.
2. Per favore
If you need to ask a favor or an information, even if you are doing it in English, it is always nice to say “Per favore”, which is the Italian for the English word please. “Per favore” should always be used when asking for something but in many cases it is replaced by “Grazie” – as in “Un caffè, grazie” rather than “Un caffè, per favore”. Another Italian way of saying please, equally polite and nice, is “Per cortesia”.
Greeting people is always polite and it is even nicer if you do it in their own language. So, if you come to Italy, you have to learn to say “Buongiorno“, when you are greeting people in the morning or “Buona sera“, if you are greeting someone in the evening. If you want to wish someone a nice day, say “Buona giornata“, while if you want to greet someone in an informal way, just go for “Ciao!”. And if you are saying goodbye to someone, “Arrivederci” is the word for you.
4. Mi scusi
If you bump into someone or need to attract the attention of somebody or if you just need to apologize for something you did, you may need to know the Italian version of ‘I am sorry’. Well, the phrase you need is “Mi scusi“, if you use the Lei form (the formal way of addressing people in Italian) or simply “Scusa” or “Scusami“, if you want to be less formal. Keep in mind that, if you need to make your way through a crowd, you have to say “Permesso“.
Probably, if you are spending some time in Italy, you’ll end up meeting or being introduced to someone local. The phrase you need to use when you are introduced to someone is “Piacere!”, which is the Italian equivalent to ‘Nice to meet you’. If you are meeting a local for the first time and you say “Piacere!‘, he or she would most likely say “Piacere mio!” back, which means ‘Nice to meet you too’.
6. Che buono!
I am sure that if you come to Italy you may need to show appreciation for the food you are eating, at a certain point. If you want to let someone know that you like what you are eating, just say “Che buono!“, while if you really want the speaker to understand your enthusiasm, say “Mamma mia, che buono!“. If you want to express appreciation for something different from food, then say “Che bello!“.
I know that if you are not fluent in the language asking for directions in such language can really get you into trouble, as you may end up not understanding a single word of what is being said to you, but sometimes it is just a matter of survival. Therefore, if you need to ask an Italian where a certain place is, you have to ask “Dov’è…?” (Where is…?) and then add the place you are looking for.
8. Quanto costa?
One of the nicest things to do when you are a tourist in a foreign country – in Italy and everywhere else in the world, in my opinion – is to shop at a local market. Here in Italy, we have plenty of open-air markets where you can buy some really good food at a reasonable price. In most cases, the price tag is displayed but in some other cases – at farmer’s markets, for example – it’s not. So if you need to know how much a certain thing costs, you need to ask: “Quanto costa?“.
9. Non capisco
I know, I know, you try and speak the language, you do your best with wording and pronunciation, and the result is that you get back a bunch of words and phrases by a fast-talking Italian guy and you don’t understand a single word. Besides cursing me and this post, you can say “Non capisco” (I don’t understand) and “Può ripetere?” (Can you repeat?), if you feel brave. Otherwise, you can say “Mi scusi, ma non parlo italiano molto bene” (I am sorry but I don’t speak Italian very well).
10. Mi può aiutare?
I hope that things will always be great for you, when on holiday in Italy, but something might happen and you might need help from a local. If you want to ask for help, you have to ask: “Mi può aiutare?“, if you use the Lei form, or “Mi puoi aiutare?“, if you are more informal. Another way of asking for help is to simply say: “Ho bisogno di aiuto” (I need help).
11. Cin cin!
In order to wish you the best time in Italy, let’s end this post with a nice and lighthearted phrase. Such phrase is “Cin cin“, which is what we Italians say when we make a toast. I truly hope that this one is the phrase you will use the most when you are here!
In order to make this post more useful for you, I have created a downloadable pdf file and an audio file, so that you can hear the pronunciation of such phrases as well.
If you want to get them, you simply have to subscribe to my newsletter. By doing so, you will get access to Your Italian Toolbox, a library of Italian-related materials that includes the above-mentioned pdf and audio files as well. I hope you’ll find them interesting!
And now tell me, what is the first Italian word you learned?
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