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Learning Basic Italian

Doing a bit of research and acquiring some knowledge about this fascinating and beautiful country can truly enhance planning a trip to Italy. Italy affords the traveler a broad variety of ways in which to experience this region. The wine connoisseur may wish to tour the Tuscany region, which is known for Chianti. The history buff will want to visit ruins dated back to the Roman Empire and earlier. Those who get their rush of adrenaline from gliding down the snowy white slopes will enjoy winters in the Italian Alps or Apennines. The art enthusiast will be able to soak up their fill of art in the numerous museums and monuments, which inhabit this country. There is definitely something for everyone, young and old, whether it is art, cuisine, sports, beaches, mountains, amusement parks, and other such fascinations, Italy will definitely be a memorable experience.

What can make your Italian vacation more enjoyable is learning a bit of the language. Sometimes, it is the language barrier which can intimidate a person from taking a trip to a different country, but Italian is not that hard to learn; and no one is saying you must master the language in order to visit. So rich in history is Italy, it is no wonder that the people are as equally diverse in their culture and language. To state the obvious, the official language spoken is Italian, however, there are differing dialects that vary from region to region in this country. Despite the dialect variations, the traveler should not be discouraged, as all Italians are fluent in the official Italian dialect, making it easy for a person, traveling to Italy, to learn simple phrases.

In most tourist areas, surrounding Italy, you will find more Italians that do indeed speak a little English, while in the less tourist attracted places, you will not find many who speak English. When a tourist, traveling to Italy, makes an attempt to speak Italian, it is greatly appreciated and joyfully acknowledged in their reciprocated gestures. Remember, they are quite aware that you are a tourist, so they are not expecting your pronunciation to be top notch, or that you conjugate your verbs and remember which words are masculine and feminine. Nothing speaks more volume then the ‘uneducated tourist’ that walks into a local shop and boisterously expresses their wants, and then becomes annoyed because they are not understood. So, be considerate, and try your best to use some of their language.

Do not hesitate to pull out your Italian/English dictionary, cheat sheet of common words and phrases, or a piece of paper to sketch out what you would like.

The following is a basic lesson and guide to Italian, which can help you get by, simply, during your travels to this magnificent country. Italian pronunciation is very straightforward, with consonants clear and precise, and each vowel clean and untouched by surrounding sounds in the word.

Basic Guide to Italian Pronunciation:

•    a – (ah)
•    è – (eh)
•    e – (ay)
•    i – (ee)
•    o – (oh)
•    u – (oo)
•    C – sounds like the hard ‘C’ in the word cake.
•    ci – (chee)
•    ce – (chay)
•    ca – (cah)
•    co – (coh)
•    che – (kay)
•    chi – (key)
•    g – usually sounds like the ‘G’ in the word get.
•    gi – (jee)
•    ge – (jay)
•    gh – sounds like the ‘gh’ combination in the word spaghetti.
•    gli – (ly)- It sounds like the ‘ll’ in the word million, and the ‘G’ is silent.
•    gn – (ny)- Sounds like the ‘gn’ in the word lasagna.
•    qu – (koo)
•    sc – (sk)
•    sci – (sheh)
•    sce – (shee)
•    r – This letter is rolled
•    z – (ts or ds)
•    h – This letter is never pronounced it is always silent if it is in a word.

Now that the basic pronunciation has been broken down and explained, it will be easier to pronounce words and phrases, or attempt to pronounce words and phrases. Italians speak quickly and with ease of tongue, and you should not be discouraged by your lack of ease. What’s the old saying? “Practice makes perfect.” Even if you do not have perfect pronunciation, your efforts will be appreciated, and your travel experience will be fun just for trying the new lingo.

So, are you ready for some phrases?

•    Salve (sahl-ay) – Hello (formal)
•    Ciao (chow) – Hello/Goodbye (informal)
•    Arrivederci (ah-ree-vay-dehr-chee) – Goodbye
•    Buon giorno (bwohn jor-noh) – Good day/Good morning
•    Buona sera (bwoh-nah say-rah) – Good evening (said after 4:00 p.m.)
•    Signore (seen-yor-ay) – Mr.
•    Signora (seen-yoh-rah) – Mrs.
•    Come sta? (koh-may stah) – How are you?
•    Sto bene (stoh behn-ay) – I am good
•    Parla inglese? (par-lah een-glay-zay) – Do you speak English?
•    Si (see) – Yes
•    No (noh) – No
•    Per favore (pehr fah-voh-ray) – Please
•    Grazie (graht-seeay) – Thank You
•    Prego (pray-go) – You’re welcome. Sometimes, it is also used when asking permission.
•    Mi Scusi (mee skoo-zee) – Excuse me
•    Mi Dispiace (mee dee-speeah-chay) – I’m sorry
•    Dov’è…? (doh-veh) – Where is…?
•    Quanto costa? (kwahn-toh kos-tah) – How much is it?
•    Quello (kweh-loh) – That
•    Questo/questi (kweh-stoh/kweh-stee) – This/these
•    Vorrei…(vor-rehee) – I would like…

These simple and basic phrases can help you navigate Italy with ease, while enhancing your traveling experience.

Written by: Jan Castagnaro

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