Showing posts with label Italian Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian Language. Show all posts

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How to Speak Like an Italian

My Italian is terrible but I've managed to communicate well while traveling in Italy.

On my first visit to the country years ago, I didn't try to speak the language. Although I knew a little, I was too afraid. It wasn't much fun. On a subsequent journey, I traveled to more remote areas where few people spoke English, forcing me to use what Italian I did know. The result was surprising--people understood me!

Montepulciano, Italy
It didn't happen overnight. My method for communicating evolved over a week as I learned the tricks to this linguistic stuff. Armed with a handful of useful expressions that I learned from great little book called, See It and Say It in Italian, I conscientiously tried to talk as a native when asking for a hotel room or ordering food--just like an actor playing a role. In stores, I'd eavesdrop on people gossiping, then pick one word and speak it exactly as they did. Italians often enunciate every syllable as if it were the most important sound in the world. At first I thought I sounded silly, but to a local, I sounded Italian.

Understanding the Italians is easy once you realize you don't have to comprehend every word they say. One will do. I anticipated what the person was going to say based on the current situation, then listened for key words rather than trying to translate every word rapidly flying from the speaker's mouth. So, even if I didn't grasp three-quarters of the sentence (often the case), I guessed at the intent and answered accordingly, and 90 percent of the time I was right.

For instance, suppose a waiter approaches your table and begins clearing the plates. He looks at you and asks a question. You have no idea what he just said, but you did hear the word secondo. You can surmise that he's asking if you want a second course. It doesn't matter how he asked. The important thing is you understood! If you want to eat more, nod your head and give him your order; if not, ask for il conto (the bill). See how simple?

Be forewarned though: If you get too good at bluffing (which is essentially what you're doing), Italians will think you're fluent which could prove embarrassing. For example, years ago in the Tuscan countryside, I had successfully "faked" my way through a great steak dinner (bistecca alla fiorentina) making small talk with the owner of a rustic trattoria outside of Barberino Val d'Elsa. I had him so fooled that while we were eating dessert, he came to our table to ask me to translate for an American couple who had come in asking to make a long-distance phone call. Since I had been drinking a bit of wine, the job seemed simple. The couple told me their problem and their need to use the trattoria's phone and I then turned to the owner and repeated their request slower and louder--in English! Everyone just stared at me like I was crazy.

Still, there are other times when I don't understand a single word an Italian is saying to me and rather than trying to bluff, I smile brightly and use my "emergency" sentence, "Sono una stupida Americana. Non parlo Italiano," or, "I'm a stupid American. I don't speak Italian." It always gets me a laugh and lots of sympathy.

I promise--if you take a little time to familiarize yourself with this beautiful language, you'll be richly rewarded.

Buon appetito!