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How to Speak Italian: Words That Will Help You get Started

By Joseph, published on 12/10/2017 Blog > Languages > Italian > Italian for Beginners: Vocabulary 101

Learning Italian is sometimes easier than it seems. Since so many English words come from Latin or French, there are a huge number of similarities with Italian words. This can be a huge advantage when it comes to learning a language. Learning a language like Chinese or Russian might be more difficult. Learn about how Latin infiltrated European languages.

Have you decided to learn Italian? That’s a great idea! Why not delve into Italian’s historical past.

The best way to practise, improve your comprehension, and learn more is to head straight to Italy and immerse yourself in the language.

However, before you get on the plane, you should probably get to grips with some of the essentials.

Basic Italian Vocabulary

By basic Italian vocabulary, we mean the very basics that will help you get by from the moment you arrive in the country.

You just need a few short a simple words that will help you communicate right from the start with Italians.

Where are the best Italian lessons? Whether you’re on the phone or in the street, you should know these expressions. (Source: Chevanon Photography)

Here are our essential Italian expressions:

  • Yes: si

  • No: no

  • Hello: buongiorno

  • Goodbye: arrivederci

  • Hi: ciao

  • Please: per favore

  • Thank you very much: grazie mille

  • How are you?: come stai?

  • Sorry to bother you (and excuse me): scusi il disturbo (scusi)

  • Nice to meet you: piacere

  • Help: aiuto

  • Good evening/good night: buonasera/buonanotte

  • See you tomorrow!: a domani

  • See you in a bit!: ci vediamo dopo

  • See you soon: a presto

  • How much is it?: Quanto costa?

  • Good luck: in bocca al lupo

  • Today: oggi

Dates:

  • Monday: lunedì

  • Tuesday: martedì

  • Wednesday: mercoledì

  • Thursday: guivedì

  • Friday: venerdì

  • Saturday: sabato

  • Sunday: domenica

  • January: gennaio

  • February: febbraio

  • March: marzo

  • April: aprile

  • May: maggio

  • June: giugno

  • July: luglio

  • August: agosto

  • September: settembre

  • October: ottobre

  • November: novembre

  • December: dicembre

And finally, don’t forget the numbers:

  • 0: zero

  • 1: uno

  • 2: due

  • 3: tre

  • 4: quattro

  • 5: cinque

  • 6: sei

  • 7: sette

  • 8: otto

  • 9: nove

  • 10: diece

  • 20: venti

  • 30: trenta

  • 40: quaranta

  • 50: cinquanta

  • 60: sessanta

  • 70: settanta

  • 80: ottenta

  • 90: novanta

  • 100: cento

  • 1000: mille

Just like in English, there are a few irregularities but you need to start somewhere.

Intermediate Italian Vocabulary

Here are a few examples of what we’ll call “intermediate Italian vocabulary” for starting conversations in Italian.

Introducing Yourself:

  • My name is…: mi chiamo…

  • I’m British: sono britannico

  • Welcome: benvenuto(a)

  • I’m … years old: ho … anni

  • Do you speak English?: parla inglese?

  • I don’t speak Italian: non parlo italiano

  • I speak a bit of Italian: parlo un po’ d’italiano

Sometimes, you’ll struggle to understand Italians.

Just like the British, Italians can speak very quickly in their own language.

Here are a few expressions to help you in situations like this:

  • What? Come?

  • I don’t understand: non capisco

  • I didn’t hear that: non ho sentito

  • Could you speak more loudly, please?: si può parlare un po’ più forte, per favore?

  • Could you speak more slowly, please?: si può ripetere lentamente, per favore?

  • Could you spell that, please?: si può incantesimo, per favore?

  • Could you write that, please?: si può scrivere, per favore?

All these expressions will be useful whether you’re visiting Italy or have decided to live there.

Once you’re there, you’ll need to get around:

  • Right: a destra

  • Left: a sinistra

  • Straight on: dritto

  • Next to…: accanto a…

  • Where is … ?: dov’è …?

If you don’t feel like walking, here are some essential expressions when it comes to transport:

  • Car: auto

  • Bicycle: bicicletta

  • Bus: autobus

  • Train (station): treno (stazione)

  • Aeroplane (airport): aeroplano (aeroporto)

  • A ticket for …: un biglietto per…

  • Where is this train going?: dove va questo treno?

  • Street: via

Everyone needs to eat. Here are some handy terms you’ll need if you don’t want to starve.

  • Breakfast: colazione

  • Lunch: pranzo

  • Dinner: cena

  • Eat: mangiare

  • Drink: bere

  • Fish: pesce

  • Chicken: pollo

  • Ham (pork) : prosciutto (carne di maiale)

  • Beef: carni bovine

  • Cheese: formaggio

  • Bread: pane

  • Fruit: frutta

  • Pasta: pasta

  • Egg: uova

  • Rice: rizzo

  • Salt/pepper: sale/peperone

  • Water (fizzy): acqua (frizzante)

  • Wine: vino

  • Beer: birra

  • Juice: succo

  • Tea/coffee: tè/caffè

What is the best way to learn Italian? Nobody does pasta like the Italians. (Source: pixabay.com)

With these words and expressions, you should be able to start a conversation with a native speaker, get food, and find your way around town.

Advanced Vocabulary

Let’s go up another level.

You’ve learnt enough in your Italian lessons to speak Italian, start living in Rome, Florence, Milan, or wherever you like in Italy.

Now you need to find a place to live:

  • Free room: camere libre

  • One person/two people: une persona/due persone

  • Visit: visitare

  • Bathroom: bagno

  • Television: televisione

  • Living room: salone

  • Room: pezzo

  • Flat: appartamento

  • House: casa

  • Hotel: albergo

How much do Italian courses in Italy cost? You have to go to Venice! (Source: pixabay.com)

Once you’ve settled in, you’ll need a few daily essentials:

  • Soap: sapone

  • Shampoo: shampoo

  • Toothpaste: dentifricio

  • Razor: rasoio

  • Deodorant: déodorante

  • Toothbrush: spazzolino da denti

  • Toilet paper: carta igienica

  • Tampon: assorbenti interni

  • Perfume: profumo

When it comes to buildings, these are a few useful words to know:

  • Bank: la banka

  • Clothes shop: negozio di abbigliamento

  • Market/supermarket: il mèrcato/supermercato

  • Shopping centre: il centro commerciale

  • Post office: l’ufficio postale

  • Petrol station: la stazione di benzina

  • Restaurant: il ristorante

  • Nightclub: la discoteca

  • Hospital: l’ospedale

  • Police station: la polizia

  • Bakery: il panificio

  • Cinema: il cinema

Tips and Tricks for Making Yourself Understood in Italian

With all the words and phrases in these lists, you should be able to get by with a few simple Italian conversations.

Where are the best places for learning Italian? Rome is one of the greatest cities in the world. (Source: pixabay.com)

Of course, you’ll also need to study online or with a private tutor. This will help with improving your understanding of the language and concepts like verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. That said, there are plenty of ways to make yourself understood in a foreign language without speaking a word of the language of the country you’re in.

Tips and Tricks for Making Yourself Understood in Italian

The first thing you can do is gesture as you speak. You can mime what you’re trying to say. Researchers have proven how important physical gestures are when it comes to communicating. They reckon that 60% of communication is non-verbal. Don’t forget that Italians are famous for expressing themselves non-verbally. Gesture as much as you can.

The Internet: A Useful Tool for Those who Don’t Speak the Language

Thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to find an image of what you’re trying to say. Consider getting a mobile data package. You can also use on-line tools to help you translate words and expressions. Google Translator is the most popular. Your phone could be your saviour if you’re completely lost.

Try Speaking a Language You Both Know

Have you ever ended up completely out of words in a language you can’t speak very well? Don’t panic. In cases like these, you can always look for a common ground.

Maybe you both speak French? Italy does share a border with France, after all. Maybe Spanish? If all hope’s lost, you can always try reverting back to English, not that it’ll help you learn Italian. You can always ask if they speak a language other than Italian.

Here are a few sites that are useful for when you can’t remember how to say something:

  • Collins: an English-Italian dictionary 

  • Wikitravel: this page has guides on how to pronounce Italian words

Above all, don’t forget to learn about Italian history and culture and meet Italians. It’s one of the best ways to learn Italian for free.

Learning idiomatic expressions are also a great way to learn more about the language and broaden your understanding of Italian culture.

If you love sayings and proverbs, here’s a short list of some of our favourite ones:

  • Chi due lepri caccia, una perde e l’altra lascia: You must not run after two hares at the same time.

  • Criticare è più facile che fare: It’s easier to criticise than to do.

  • Aiutati che il ciel t’aiuta: Help yourself and God will help you.

  • Chi monta più alto che non deve cade più basso che non crede: The climb is harder than the descent.

  • A nulla serve piangere sul latte versato: Don’t cry over spilt milk.

  • Chi contro a dio gitta pietra, in capo gli ritorna: If you throw a stone in the sky, it will fall on your head.

  • Fortunato in amore non giochi a carte: Lucky at cards, unlucky in love.

  • Quando si parla del lupo se ne vede subito la coda: Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

You’ll notice that a few of them are very similar.

Being Polite in Italian

When you want to be polite in Italian, you need to use a different pronoun for the person you’re talking to. We call this dare del Lei.

What are the best websites to learn Italian online? Manners are as synonymous with Italians as the Vespa. (Source: Tim Gouw)

The personal pronoun “Lei” can be used in both the masculine and feminine to talk to a single person and conjugates with the 3rd person singular of the verb. Whether it’s the personal pronoun, the direct (La, L’) or indirect (Le) objects, it’s always written with a capital letter!

Titles are also very important in Italy. In Italy, degrees are valued. In fact, you can be dubbed “avocatto” or “dottore/dottoressa” once you complete a degree. This is due to some differences between the Italian university system in the past.

Just like in English, manners in writing can be very important. You can also see expressions like “gentilissimo” for starting a letter in the same way you would use “dear” in an English letter.

There are plenty of ways to be polite in Italian:

  • Piacere: Please

  • Grazie: Thank you

  • Scusi?: Pardon?

  • Mi scusi: Excuse me

  • Mi dispiace: I’m sorry

  • A presto: see you soon

  • Arrivederci: goodbye

  • Buongiorno: hello

  • Bene grazie: I’m fine, thank you.

  • Come sta ?/come stai ?: How are you? (formal/friendly)

  • Prego: you’re welcome

  • Grazie: Thank you

  • Scusi: pardon

  • Per favore: Please

Professional Italian Vocabulary

In terms of development and gross domestic product, Italy is one of the highest ranked countries in Europe and the world. It’s Human Development Indicator (HDI) puts it 27th out of 190 countries.

Which is the best way to learn Italian? Dressing correctly is also very important in Italian society. (Source: freestocks.org)

With one of the most significant markets in the world, Italy is particularly famous for luxury products and Italy remains one of the UK’s top trading partners. Whether it’s to impress business partners, clients, or look for new contracts, being able to speak Italian can do wonders for your career.

However, when it comes to doing business in Italian, there are a few things you should know:

  • Discussions are often very animated

  • Italians are likely to make physical contact

  • Quality is as important as quantity (especially when it comes to wines)

  • Italians hate arrogant and condescending behaviour

  • Italians can sometimes be lax when it comes to timekeeping (though you should still be on time)

There’s a certain balance in Italian business between modern management techniques and older notions of camaraderie and respect.

Whether you’re in tourism, catering, or offering luxury products, you’ll have to work on your Italian writing and speaking in order to communicate during meetings and seamlessly integrate yourself into Italian businesses.

Given that the world is becoming increasingly globalized, it never hurts to have an additional foreign language, too. Why not choose the world famous Italian.

Here’s a short list of some important Italian vocabulary for anyone working in Italy:

  • il lavoro: work

  • il lavoretto: job

  • in subappalto: subcontracting/outsourcing

  • il contratto di lavoro: work contract

  • il contratto a tempo determinato/indeterminato: fixed-term/permanent contract

  • la forza lavoro: the workforce

  • l’assunzione: hiring

  • il periodo di prova: trial period

  • la disoccupazione: unemployment

  • rimanere disoccupati: become unemployed

  • lavorare in proprio: self-employment

  • delocalizzare una fabbrica: relocate a factory

  • salire nella gerarchia aziendale: climb the ladder

  • il datore di lavoro: employer

  • il principale: the boss

  • la manodopera: manpower

  • il dipendente/l’impiegato: employee

  • l’operaio: worker

  • lo stagionale: seasonal employee

  • la pensione: retirement

  • il sindacato: union

  • risolvere una vertenza: resolve a conflict

  • scioperare: go on strike

  • fabbrica: factory

  • sopprimere posti di lavoro: cut jobs

  • Quanto costa?: How much is it?

  • E a buon mercato: That’s cheap

  • E troppo caro!: That’s too expensive

  • Si puo abbassare il prezzo?: Could you lower the price?

  • Vorrei comprare…che, di questo!: I would like to buy that!

  • Adoro/Odio: I love/hate

  • Soldi: Money

  • Sto solo guardando: I’m just looking

  • Dove si trova la banca?: Where is the bank?

Music: How Italian Travelled the World

While most music now seems to be exported from the US, it was the Italian language that defined most of the terms.

How much are Italian courses? Opera became popular all over the world. (Source: Flash Bros)

In fact, long before Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles, it was in Italy during the Renaissance and Baroque periods when music was developed.

Bear in mind that music was so important here at the time that almost every musical term in the world originates from Italian.

Even without ever having studied Italian, if you’ve studied music, you’ll know a lot of Italian words:

  • A cappella: In the style of the chapel. Singing without instrumental accompaniment.

  • Adagio: slowly

  • Allegro: fast, quickly and bright

  • Altissimo: very high

  • Andante: at a walking pace

  • Concerto: concert

  • Crescendo: growing

  • Decrescendo: decreasing

  • Forte: loud

  • Mezzo forte: moderately loud

  • Opera: work

  • Pianissimo: very quiet

  • Piano: quiet

  • Poco a poco: little by little

  • Un poco forte: a little loud

  • Un poco piano: a little quiet

  • Presto: quick

  • Tempo: time

In addition to expressions like the dolce vita, there’s always been a certain romanticism attached to Italy and Italian culture.

Italian Linking Words

These are used whether you’re speaking with several people or just to your private tutor.

Words like “and” and “so” and “then”.

Which are the best cities for learning Italian? In Italian “voi” is the plural version of “tu”. (Source: Artur Roman)

These words are hugely important when it comes to joining ideas together, expressing opposition, and just making your speech more coherent. These words can make the different between an intermediate speaker and an advanced speaker of Italian. Of course, you can’t just throw these words in anywhere. You need to correctly use them in the right places and for the right reasons. 

However, you can’t use them at all if you don’t know what they are. Here’s a short list of some of Italian linking words that are useful in a huge variety of situations:

  • Da sempre: Ever since

  • Dapprima: First

  • Poi: Then

  • Invece: Instead

  • Un tempo: Once

  • Oggigiorno, ai nostri giorni: Nowadays

  • Ormai: Henceforth

  • In futuro: In the future

  • Sempre più, sempre meno: increasingly, decreasingly

  • Spesso, talvolta: Often, sometimes

  • Nella maggior parte dei casi, per lo più: In most cases, mostly

  • Pero, tuttavia: But, however

  • Invece: Instead

  • Mentre: While

  • Quindi, dunque: Therefore

  • Difatti, in effetti: In fact

  • Inoltre: Furthermore

  • Percio: So

  • Cioè: That is to say

  • Nonchè: As well as

  • Per quanto riguarda: Regarding

  • Purtroppo: Unfortunately

  • Per fortuna: Fortunately

  • Come si dice, come si vede: As they say, as you can see

  • Va notato che: It should be noted that

  • Dal punto di vista: From the point of view

  • Di solito: Usually

  • Si è soliti pensare che: It’s usual to think that

  • In linea di massima: In principle

  • In primo luogo: Firstly

  • In secondo luogo: Secondly

  • In terzo luogo: Thirdly

  • Secondo me, a parer mio, da parte mia: In my opinion

  • Va notato che: It should be noted that

BONUS: A Few Italian Slang Words

Since the first words that everyone wants to learn are the naughty ones, we’ll give you a few examples.

However, even though slang words vary from region to region and are generally not seen a good light by the general public, they can be handy when it comes to making friends on the street in Italy.

From a “madonna” (a general term that also includes blasphemes) in Northern Italy to the local slang in Modena, you can find slang all over Italy. As I said, the first words anyone seems to want to learn in a language are the curses and insults.

Without further ado, here they are:

  • Minchia means “cock”. However, it’s more commonly used like “fuck” is in English.

  • Che cavolo… “What the heck…”. This is more often used when speaking to children as it’s less offensive.

  • Che palle: That sucks. Like a strong version of “What a load of bollocks”

  • Me ne frego: I don’t care

  • Figlio di buona donna: Son of a good woman. However, it’s actually used to insult someone’s mother.

  • Rompiscatole: A person who’s a pain in the neck. A nuisance, bother, etc.

  • Scopare: Sweep. However, this is used to mean “sleep with someone”

If you want to hear more slang, the best way to learn is to hang out with Italian’s in the street. Everyday language is a great way for expats to integrate themselves into Italian culture.

Here are a few other useful expressions:

  • That’s great: Favoloso or Stupendo

  • I love it: Mi piace da morire, mi fa impazzire, impazzisco per

  • I don’t believe it: Me dai!, Davvero?, Me va là!

  • [Slang] What do you want?: Ma che cazzo vuoi? (BEWARE: “cazzo” is considered very vulgar)

  • I don’t care: Non me ne frega niente

  • If only: Magari

  • Bye: Arrivederci

  • Pardon: Scusa

  • Please: Prego

  • I don’t understand: Non capisco

  • A nuisance: Rompiscatole

Hiring a private tutor can help you cover the bases of the Italian language:

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