Depending on where you travel in Italy, knowing some basic phrases will help. While you will need it less in larger cities like Rome, it is still very likely you’ll wind up talking to someone who doesn’t speak English.
That’s where this post comes in! I’ll provide an overview of the language and key Italian sayings for travel that anyone traveling to Italy should know. I’ll also give you tips on the best ways you can practice these at home.
Italian Language Overview
Like all other Romance languages (Spanish, French, etc.), Italian originated from Latin. After the fall of Rome, standard Latin began to be gradually replaced by the vernacular (spoken) varieties of the language throughout the lands that were previously a part of the Roman Empire.
This held true despite the fact that Latin did continue to be the language of choice by the educated. It was still used frequently in the Church and in educational facilities.
Roughly 500 years after the fall of Rome, the first written forms of the vernacular language show up. And the development of modern Italian developed slowly from there, directly from the Tuscan dialect.
One thing that is interesting about Italian is that it really wasn’t used as the standard language throughout Italy until sometime after the country was unified in 1861. In fact at that time, only about 2.5% of the country used Italian regularly. However, even today the vernacular languages / local dialects used in different regions of the country are still widely spoken.
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The Language Today
Italian is a beautiful language, due to it’s song-like flow. This flow is directly tied to the fact that almost every word ends in a vowel. If you know Spanish, picking up these phrases should be a breeze, as it has 85% lexical similarity to that language as well as French.
There are just 21 letters in the Italian alphabet – j, k, w, x, and y are not part of the language, except in loan words. It is spoken for 69 million people around the globe, and over a million speakers are in the USA. Despite its relatively small footprint in the globe – it is the fourth most studied language in the world. I personally believe that it is simply due to how lovely it sounds when spoken.
Italian is a phonetic language, and pronunciation is straightforward if you know the basic rules:
Vowels: Italian has the same consonants as English, but just slightly different pronunciation:
- A – Ah
- E – Eh
- I – EE
- O – Oh
- U – Ooh
Consonants: Most consonants don’t differ too greatly, but there are some exceptions:
- H -Mostly silent
- R – R’s are rolled, just slightly less than they are in Spanish
- Z – Sounds a little like a T (think of pizza)
- S – Single S sounds like a Z, while SS is more similar to the English sound
- G – Before A, O, or U it is used as in English. Before E or I, it has more of a J sound
- C – Before A, O, or U it sounds like a hard C sound (cup). Before I or E, it sounds like CH in chalk
Consonant Digraphs: The combination of two or more letters that make one sound:
- SC – Before A,O, or U it sounds like SK in the English scarf. Before E or I, it sounds like a soft SH
- GN – Produces a sound like the ñ in Spanish or the sound you hear in lasagna
- CH – Gives a K sound, like the name Christen 😉
- GLI – The G is soft and the L is more pronounced.
Here are some basic greetings (hi / goodbye) that you’d use on a regular day.
- Hello/Goodbye – Ciao (informal)
- Hello/Goodbye – Salve (formal)
- Good morning – Buon giorno
- Good evening – Buona sera
- Good night – Buona notte
- What is your name? – ¿Como si chiama, Lei?
- My name is… – Mi chaimo…
- Nice to meet you – Piacere di conoscerti
- Have a nice day! – Buona giornata!
- See you later – Arrivederci
- How are you? – Come sta? (Formal)
- How are you? – Come stai? (Informal)
- I’m fine, thanks – Sto bene, grazie.
- Okay / So-so – Così, così
Here are some basic greetings that you’d use on a typical day.
- Yes – Sì
- No – No
- Thank you – Grazie
- Thanks so much – Grazie mille
- You’re welcome – Prego (Also said to announce that it’s your turn)
- Excuse me – Mi scusi / Permesso?
- I’m sorry – Mi dipiace / scusa
- Do you speak English? – Parla inglese?
- I don’t speak Italian – Non parlo italiano
- I don’t understand – Non capisco
- Please – Per favore
- Slowly – Lentamente
- Repeat – Repetere
- Where is the bathroom? – Dov’è il bagno?
- How much does it cost? – Quanto costa?
Helping you count from one to one hundred – and beyond!
|1 – Uno||11 – Undici||21 – Ventuno||40 – Quaranta|
|2 – Due||12 – Dodici||22 – Ventidue||50 – Cinquanta|
|3 – Tre||13 – Tredici||23 – Ventitré||60 – Sessanta|
|4 – Quattro||14 – Quattordici||24 – Ventiquattro||70 – Settanta|
|5 – Cinque||15 – Quindici||25 – Venticinque||80 – Ottantanta|
|6 – Sei||16 – Sedici||26 – Ventisei||90 – Novanta|
|7 – Sette||17 – Diciasette||27 – Ventisette||100 – Cento|
|8 – Otto||18 – Diciotto||28 – Ventotto||1000 – Mille|
|9 – Nove||19 – Diciannove||29 – Ventinove||1,000,000 – Un Milione|
|10 – Dieci||20 – Venti||30 – Trenta|
Days and Time
The days of the week and Italian phrases related to time-telling.
- Day – Giorno
- Week – Settimana
- Month – Mese
- Year – Anno
- Sunday – Domenica
- Monday – Lunedí
- Tuesday – Martedí
- Wednesday – Mercoledí
- Thursday – Giovedí
- Friday – Venerdí
- Saturday – Sabato
- Today – Oggi
- Tomorrow – Domani
- Day After Tomorrow – Dopodomani
- Yesterday – Ieri
- Minute – Minuto
- Hour – Ora
- Time – Tempo
- What time is it? – Che ore sono?
Phrases and words for getting around town.
- Where is…? – Dov’è / Dove…
- The bank – La banca
- The museum – Il museo
- The park – Il parco
- The hospital – L’Ospedale
- The airport – L’Aeroporto
- The church – La Chiesa
- How do you get to…? – Come si arriva a…?
- Turn left – Gira a sinistra
- Turn right – Girare a destra
- Stay straight – Stai dritto
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Phrases and words to use when looking for or eating good Italian food.
- Restaurant – Il ristorante
- Breakfast – La colazione
- Lunch – Il pranzo
- Dinner – La cena
- Appetizer – Aperitivo
- Main Course – Portata principale
- Dessert – Dolce
- What do you recommend? – ¿Che cosa mi consiglia?
- I would like (to order)… – Vorrei ordinare…
- The bill please – Il conto per favore
Italian Sayings for Travel | Final Recommendations
With these Italian sayings for travel in your pocket, you are ready for your trip to Italy! Remember, if you are going to make these stick, you can’t do it without practice! I recommend going through this list of Italian phrases daily for at least a month before your trip.
If you have enough time, you should check out my favorite language resource, iTalki. On this site you can practice with a tutor, formal teacher, or others just seeking to do a language exchange (for free!). The paid lessons have very cheap options, with some as low as $5 an hour. Check it out!