After spending 2 weeks in Italy, I can tell you that it is useful to have the knowledge of some basic Italian words and phrases. Unlike some other European countries where English is popularly and fluently spoken, not all Italians speak fluent English. So its nice to put an effort to learn their language when they are trying hard to speak to you in English and after-all it can be a great icebreaker with the locals. Having said that, people in most touristy places such as museums & restaurants, street vendors and public transport officials have a decently good grasp of English and most airports and railway/bus stations in big cities have signboards in English as well so you need not fret too much. TIP: If you can speak or understand Spanish then it’s a big advantage as Italian is a close cousin.
TIP: Remember that one Italian word can have many different meanings. For e.g. “Prego” means “You’re Welcome” and it also means “Please” based on the usage. Your response to “Grazie“ (Thankyou) is going to be “Prego“ (You’re Welcome), however a waiter can use the same word “Prego“ (Please) to invite you inside a restaurant.
TIP: In most cases “C” is pronounced ‘Chuh’ and “Ch” is pronounced ‘Kuh’ in Italian. For e.g. a Church is called “Chiesa” (pronounced Ki-eh-sa) and Five is called “Cinque” (pronounced Chin-qweh) in Italian.
I put together a few basic words and phrases you are sure to hear and possibly use at some point during your trip and why not?!
Sì. (see) Yes.
No. (noh) No.
Buon giorno! (bwohn-johr-noh) Hello! or Good morning!
Buona sera! (bwoh-nah-seh-rah) Good afternoon! Good evening!
Ciao! (chou) Hello! or Good-bye!
Grazie! (grah-tsee-eh) Thank you!
Prego. (preh-goh) You’re welcome. or Please. or By all means, after you.
Scusi. (skooh-zee) Excuse me, I’m sorry.
Cin Cin! (chin-chin) Cheers!
Allora. (Ah-loh-raa) So. or Then. or Well then. This is another multi-purpose and very frequently used Italian word. It can be used by itself to express impatience such as Come on! or frustration such as Oh Lord!
Per favore. (pehr fah-voh-reh) Please. Especially when asking for a favor.
Bagno. (bahn-yoh) Bathroom.
Parla inglese? (pahr-lah een-gleh-zeh) Do you speak English?
Come sta? (koh-meh stah) How are you?
Quanto? (Kwanh-toh) How much?
With these few basics in your back pocket you are on to a great start to that Italian vacation. I’m sure you will return with a bunch of new words and phrases as well as great memories to be shared.