Breaking the so-called language barrier
How anybody can get by in Italian with just a few simple phrases, a few tricks, and a wealth of good nature
Here are some free online translators, handy for finding words and pasting in chunks of text from Italian-only websites:
• Google Translate
• Bing Translator
There is no language barrier. There's just a bit of a linguistic speed bump on the travelin' highway.
Memorizing a handful of key words and phrases, learning to count to two, and keen pantomime skills will be enough to survive just about anywhere. Plus, in most cities you'll find people who speak and understand enough English to get by in a pinch—though never expect it or depend upon it (read more on the polite use of English).
If you show you want to learn some Italian, locals will often be more than happy to teach you a bit.
Thank You (& Other Essential Phrases)
| thank you
||per favore (pair fa-VOHR-ray)
| Do you speak English?
||Parla Inglese? (PAR-la een-GLAY-zay)
| I don't understand
||Non capisco (non ka-PEESK-koh)
| I'm sorry
||Mi dispiace (mee dees-pee-YAT-chay)
| How much is it?
||Quanto costa? (KWAN-toh COST-ah)
| That's too much
||É troppo (ay TROH-po)
| Good day
||Buon giorno (bwohn JOUR-noh)
| Excuse me (to get attention)
| Excuse me (to get past someone)
| Where is?
| ...the bathroom
||il bagno (eel BHAN-yoh)
| ...train station
||la ferroviaria (lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah)
If you learn how to say nothing else in the local tongue, learn how to say "thank you."
Especially if you don't speak the language, you will be relying on the kindness of strangers (waiters, clerks, guides, concierges, and anyone you stop to ask directions) to help guide you through their country. The least you should be able to do is thank them for it.
It's polite, and it'll encourage them to help you further. I enjoy collecting native ways to say "thank you" every bit as much as collecting postcards or museum books.
After you learn "thank you," then move on to learning "yes," "no," "Where's the bathroom?" "please," "I would like," "Do you speak English?" and "one," "two," "three."
Listen to how locals pronounce things. Exaggerate accents. Speak volumes through your facial expressions. Copy their gestures (but carefully—see the Gestures page for details).
This simple dictionary and phrase list gives you all the most essential words and phrases in Italian.
In addition, bring along a more complete phrase guide and a pocket dictionary of English-Italian/Italian-English.
Using these, you can ask any question, hopefully understand the answers, and decode most of what's on a given menu (if you can't find the full name of a dish translated, often you can at least find out that the second word—pollo—means "chicken," which is usually enough to go on).
Faking Fluency—Shortcuts and Hints
You can look up complex phrases in your Berlitz and try to pronounce them properly, but in the interests of time and clarity, you'll often find it's much more expedient to resort to a combination of charades and international pidgin. Don't be shy about acting out what you mean.
You don't need to know how to phrase a question properly, just how to add an audible question mark by lilting up at the end of the word. Understand?
When trying to read Italian, don't be intimidated by the full sentence. Instead, look at all its parts. Examine each word for things that ring a bell.
Spanish and Italian are close enough when written down that you can often make out half of one if you have a good working knowledge of the other.
Unlike the vast majority of translator apps for the iPhone—merely interfaces to the Google translate engine—those listed below work without Internet access (so you won't incur huge roaming fees); the boldface are the better choices in each price range:
• World Nomads (free)
• 24/7 Tutor (free)
• Cool Gorilla (99¢)
• Word Roll (99¢)
• Odyssey ($9.99)
• Lonely Planet ($9.99)And remember: English is an amalgam mainly of old High German and Latin, so half of your own native language has its roots in Latin, which means it's a half-cousin to Italian. Chances are, you knock the vowel off the end of an Italian word and it's nearly the same as the English one.
(The other, German half of English will be of virtually no use—unless you visit Italy's decidedly Teutonic Alto-Adige region of the South Tyrol.)
An example to illustrate the point:
The Italian sign by an old fountain says "ACQUA NON POTABILE."
Well, acqua, that's like agua, which you know from Spanish is "water."
Non, that's easy, that means "no."
Potabile, well, that's got the word "pot" in it. Hmmm. "Don't boil water in a pot?" Nah. Oh, wait: "potable." Isn't that a fancy word for "drinkable?"
Ah, ha! Acqua non potabile. "Non-drinkable water." (Glance down at the by-now empty glass in your hand).
Look for words and word fragments you recognize and assume, within reason, that they mean what you think they mean.
Make educated guesses, make your share of mistakes, but above all, make an effort to learn what you can and to communicate with Italians on their terms.
The International Language
Free language lessons!
The venerable BBC provides free audio and video language courses at: bbc.co.uk/languages
No, not love. I'll leave it to you to master that tongue on your own (or, ideally, with the help of someone else). And I don't mean English, either, even if that is becoming the de facto international language. Doesn't excuse us from trying to learn the local lingo.
No, what I mean by "the international language" is that collection of words which are the same (more or less) in most European languages, including both English and Italian—though it helps to pronounce them "Italian-style" and, often, add a vowel at the end:
Alt (stop), auto, bank (pronounce it BAHN-kah), beer (roll the "r" and add an "a" at the end), bus (pronounce it BOOss), café, camping, ciao, couchette, English, hotel, information, moment (universal for "wait"), no, OK, foto, police, post (as in -office; again, add an "a"), restaurant, student, taxi, telephone, toilet, and, of course, tourist.
Tips & links
Useful links & resources
PHONES & INTERNET
Cellphone/Smart Phone/Sat phone rentals: Cellularabroad.com, Mobal.com
WiFi portable hotspot rentals: Cellularabroad.com
WiFi hotspot finders:Wififreespot.com
Calling cards: Speedypin.com
Phrase books: Barnesandnoble.com
Online translators: translate.google.com
Electronic translators: Magellans.com
Translator apps: World Nomads
, 24/7 Tutor
, Lonely Planet
, Odyssey Translator
Language learning: Barnesandnoble.com
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