Are you scared of speaking Italian? Are you afraid of making mistakes? No, worries. We Italians make them all the time (myself included).
I know, I teach Italian and I shouldn’t admit that sometimes I make little mistakes when speaking my own language. That’s very unprofessional of me, right? Well, no, I don’t think so.
Let me explain you a bit better. I have been studying languages, linguistics and language theory all my life. The approach of my teachers has always been very strict. You had to know all the grammar rules, pay attention to the pronunciation, and always use the best choice of words.
Such an approach turned the language into something dark and cold, a set of rules you have to follow, where the correctness of the sentence was more important than the effectiveness of communication. And also made us all students very scared and shy when speaking because we didn’t want to make mistakes.
Thank God, I applied to a Master’s in Teaching Italian As A Foreign Language and everything changed. The amazing teachers I met there taught me that the language is a living thing, something that is constantly changing, a tool that we have in our hands to reach one main goal: communicate with other people.
And this is why, when I teach Italian or help my students with speaking with Chiacchieriamo, I always encourage them to speak and be brave, correcting their mistakes but never letting the fear of making mistakes interrupt the flow of their conversation or the willingness of communicating – which is what languages are for, right?
Moreover, we native speakers make a lot of mistakes as well. Do you think that all Italians speak perfect Italian? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong than that. Our spoken language – and sometimes our written Italian as well, which is way worse – is full of little and big mistakes.
Today I want to give you a boost of self-esteem and I will list you some of the most common mistakes Italian speakers make – needless to say, not every speaker, not every time.
A wrong use of the subjunctive: probably the most common mistake by Italian native speakers. The subjunctive is normally used with verbs which express wishes, thoughts, beliefs, worries, and doubts, so it would be right to say “La cosa più importante è che tu stia bene” (the most important thing is that you are fine) but you often hear “La cosa più importante è che tu stai bene“.
I pronomi gli/le
Oh, here comes another very common error I hear all the time – by my fellow countrymen, not by my students! Well, gli and le are indirect object pronouns: gli is the third-person masculine singular, while le is the third-person feminine singular. Guess what? It is very common to hear: “Gli ho detto di smetterla” (I told him to stop) when speaking of a female person.
When you are a kid, your elementary school teacher keeps repeating that you shouldn’t make a certain mistake. With us, it was the use of “ma però“, which are two adversative conjunctions meaning exactly the same thing. So you just need to use either ma or però and shouldn’t use them together, but probably many Italians didn’t have my teacher at school because it’s a mistake I hear all the time!
This is a tough one. Recently, it has been considered one of the worst mistakes in Italian language yet many people do it all the time – guilty as charged, your honor. It’s such a big part of spoken Italian nowadays, that I really have to pay attention. Piuttosto che must be used in adversative or comparative sentences “Preferisco andare in bicicletta piuttosto che guidare” (I prefer riding my bike rather than driving) but it is commonly yet wrongly used with the meaning of or: “Possiamo andare a Parigi piuttosto che a Londra” (we can go to Paris or to London).
Purtroppo/pultroppo, proprio/propio and a gratis
Well, I have just told you that I forgive people who make mistakes and that sometimes I even make them myself, if I don’t pay attention. That being said, I would never accept pultroppo instead of purtroppo (unfortunately), propio instead of proprio and a gratis instead of gratis (for free). My ear just aches when I hear them – and I hear them quite frequently!
Definite articles before first names
There are some errors that are clearly linked to the area where you live. For example, in the north of Italy, in Lombardia especially, it is super common to use the definite article il or la before first names. Therefore, it is very common to hear: “il Gianni” or “la Luisa“, which is a mistake, since in Italian you use the definite article only before surnames (“i Rossi” for example) or before a first name when there’s an adjective or a title (“il maestro Giuseppe Verdi” or “il bravissimo Andrea Bocelli“).
Incorrect use of certain intransitive verbs
If the mistake described above is peculiar of the north of the country, this one quintessentially belongs to the south of Italy. Southerners use entrare, uscire, salire, scendere, which are intransitive verbs, in a transitive way. So you may hear: “Mi scendi le chiavi?” (the speaker is somewhere downstairs and is asking someone to bring him or her the keys) or “Esci tu il cane, stasera?” (will you take the dog out tonight?).
So, you see, there is no need to worry too much about speaking Italian. We are not perfect and won’t judge you! By the way, what is your biggest fear when speaking our language? I’d love to know!
If you are interested in improving your Italian language skills, I’d suggest you check Chiacchieriamo, your way of chatting with an Italian without moving from home.
Chiacchieriamo is a Skype chat which helps you practice and improve your Italian with a native speaker. If you want to give it a try, you can request a 30-minute free chat, so that we can meet each other and see if you like the service.