A very common question I get from my students is: “How do you say this in Italian?”.
They want to know what the Italian equivalent of certain English words is and they seem quite surprised when sometimes I tell them that we don’t have an Italian equivalent so we just use the English word. And they are even more surprised when I tell them that sometimes we prefer to use the English word even if the corresponding Italian word exists!
You know, we Italians love the English language and we never miss an opportunity to use it – sometimes in the wrong way, but that’s another story. The English language makes us feel more international and cool and so we love throwing an English word here and there when we speak.
This use of the English language becomes some sort of abuse in certain sectors like marketing, sales, fashion, and business in general – people who work there have their own unique language, which is a mix of Italian and English – but it’s a fact that sometimes using an English word makes the conversation way easier (and this doesn’t have anything to do with Italians thinking that English is cool).
Sometimes an English word describes a specific product whose corresponding word doesn’t exist in Italian, or some other times it is part of an environment that didn’t exist in the past – like social media, for example – and that comes from English-speaking countries (like the US, mainly). And sometimes it is just laziness or people feeling cooler if they use the English language – which is funny because then the same people in most cases can’t speak English properly!
No matter the reason, there are a lot of English words used in Italian and the purpose of this post is to give you a general idea of some of the most common English words that are used in everyday Italian. While doing this selection, I picked the ones that keep their original meaning because Italian is also full of English words that are used with different meaning.
Some of the most common English words in Italian are very simple ones like weekend, babysitter, t-shirt, jeans, picnic, privacy, snob, and the expression OK. They have been part of the Italian language for a very long time now and everybody uses them, even my mother – whom I always use as a reference to explain whether a word is used by all Italian speakers or not.
We use a lot of English words in the food environment. Some of them describe specific foods that do not belong to the Italian tradition, like sandwich, hamburger, hotdog, muffin and cupcake, or places that have been somehow imported from other cultures, like the pub for example. But we use some English words even if we have an Italian equivalent: so we say drink instead of bevanda, snack instead of spuntino, happy hour instead of aperitivo. We also use the word cocktail because it is way easier than saying una miscela di bevande alcoliche.
As I said, the business environment uses a lot of English words. Business, marketing, meeting, brand, gap, feedback, budget are all super common words and, even though a few of them could be replaced with Italian words (meeting is riunione and brand is marca, for example), they are now considered part of the Italian language.
But sometimes people take things a bit too far and use the English language to create new Italian words and make sentences like these: Gli ho forwardato la risposta dopo che ci eravamo smsati e abbiamo schedulato di brieffarci il prima possibile per upgradarci. Non ho avuto feedback. Dovremo shiftare il meeting. As much as I believe that languages are a live thing and that they should change to reflect the changes in society, I think that this is too much, also because you can easily say the same thing in proper Italian: Gli ho inoltrato la risposta via mail dopo averlo sentito via messaggio e abbiamo programmato di sentirci il prima possibile per aggiornarci. Non ho avuto risposta. Dovremo spostare la riunione.
Another environment that uses a lot of English words is that of fashion. People that work in the fashion world may say words like questo vestito è molto cute, or mi piace molto quel makeup, questa gonna è molto trendy, il trend dell’anno sono i pantaloni larghi, oppure vestito così sei molto cool. But this is limited to the fashion world. If we use my mom as a reference, let me just tell you that she won’t understand a word of these sentences.
The world of music uses a lot of English words, like fan, soldout, staff, deejay, show, band, and album. Some of these words have Italian equivalents (soldout is esaurito, show è spettacolo, band is gruppo and album is disco) but it’s way cooler to use the English ones.
Finally, the environment that uses the most English words is that of computers and social media but this is mainly due to the fact that many of those things didn’t exist in the past and they come from English-speaking countries. So we use words like email, link, computer, mouse, webcam, password, file, chat, and smartphone, just to name the most common ones.
There’s one last thing you need to know about these English words in Italian: they are pronounced with a strong Italian accent and Italian people might even not understand you if you pronounce them properly! Isn’t it funny?
By the way, are there other English words you have heard being used in an Italian conversation?
If you want to practice your Italian conversation skills but do not have the time to commit to 1-on-1 lessons or still do not feel confident enough to chat for a long time, I’d suggest you check my program called Italiano Mordi e Fuggi, an Italian conversation practice via asynchronous video.
If you sign up for Italiano Mordi e Fuggi, you will receive a video from me four days a week (Monday through Thursday). Each video will contain a question, that you’ll need to answer in either video or audio form. For each reply you’ll send me, I’ll reply back with feedback and tips to improve your skills.