How Much Italian do you Need to Know?

Ravioli in Capri

Something that I thought a lot about before coming here is how much Italian I should know to study abroad in Italy, specifically Rome. I tried to study some Italian with the little time I had but my knowledge was limited. In this post, I’m going to go over what Italian I think you should know if you are studying abroad in Italy.

Since I am studying in Rome, the capital city of Italy, it is very easy to find someone who speaks English. I have only met a few people here that don’t speak at least a fair amount of English. However, in cities that are less likely to be visited by tourists, like Genova, it is less likely that locals will speak English. In my blog post about my weekend trip to Genova I mentioned how our Airbnb host spoke very little English and my friends and I had to use our collective Italian knowledge and a little bit of Google translate to talk to her. While you can find people who speak English in Rome, and could probably get by not knowing any Italian, locals appreciate it when you make an effort to communicate with them in their native language, since you are in fact in Italy. Native speakers will probably almost immediately be able to tell that you aren’t a native speaker and may even switch to English to make you feel more comfortable. While this is kind and can be helpful if they are trying to explain something complicated, I try to continue speaking Italian if possible.

Cacio e Pepe Inspired French Fries

Checking out at the grocery store

Similar to the United States, you don’t need to communicate much with the cashier when you are checking out. When they start scanning your purchases, they will ask you if you want a bag by saying “busta?” or something similar. You can respond by saying sì (yes) or no and telling them the number you need. You can either hold up your fingers with the number of bags you want or saying the number you need in Italian.

  1. uno [OOH-noh]
  2. due [DOOH-eh]
  3. tre [TREH]
  4. quattro [KWAHT-troh]
  5. cinque [CHEEN-kweh]
  6. sei [SEY]
  7. sette [SEHT-teh]
  8. otto [OHT-toh]
  9. nove [NOH-veh]
  10. dieci [DYEH-chee]

Then before leaving say a basic farewell like “ciao”, “arrivederci” (goodbye), or “buonagiornata”

A Cornetto from a Café

Ordering at a restaurant

To ask for a table you can say, “tavola per ___” (table for ___)

Once you have been seated, if you want water (it is not included with the meal) you should say;

Posso avere aqua naturale/gassata?

(Can I have still/sparkling water?)

There are several different courses at restaurants in Italy and you can order as much or as little as you would like.

  • Antipasti (Appetizers)
  • Primi Piati (First Course, Pastas)
  • Secondi Piati (Second Course, Meat)
  • Contorni (Side Dishes)

When you figure out what you want to order, you can say either “posso avere” (can I have) or “vorrei” (I would like) before listing off your order.

Gelato from the Testaccio Neighborhood in Rome

Other helpful words and phrases

  • Thank you – Grazie
  • You’re welcome – Prego
  • Go ahead – Prego
  • Excuse me – Scusi/Permesso
  • The check please – Il conto per favore
  • Very good – Molto buono

If you study this Italian vocabulary, you will have no trouble communicating when you come abroad to study or even just to vacation.

A Message from the Office of Global Engagement:

Students will work in both Spanish and English for the Global Classroom. UNL students are business majors learning English. The project consists of two parts: 1. Students research and present information on an enterprise in their country, followed by Q&A. 2. Students participate in asynchronous mixed groups (both universities) to discuss and report on labor and workplace practices in each country, including salary, maternity/paternity leaves, taxes, schedules, job search preparation as well as cultural influences on workplace behavior. 

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