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Episode #164: Italian phrases you need to know for your trip to Italy

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Planning a trip to Italy? It’s always a good idea to learn some of the language before you visit any country. It will always be appreciated by the locals and can add so much to your experiences.  But sometimes people don’t just don’t know how best to go about it and can end up so overwhelmed they never get started. There are apps, podcasts or YouTube, as well as more structured courses. We talk to language expert and Italy lover Michele Frolla who has developed a fun method to learn travel-ready Italian quickly before your trip. She shares with us some useful and flexible phrases to get you started.

Show notes
In this episode, we are talking to Michele Frolla of The Intrepid Guide, an expert in Italian and languages in general, who has won TravMedia Vlogger of the Year for her two YouTube channels The Intrepid Guide and Intrepid Italian with Michele. Despite having Italian heritage Michele didn’t learn Italian as a child but after throwing herself passionately into learning the language, including moving from Australia to live in Rome for a few years, her love of Italy and of learning the language has led to Michele developing a unique way of teaching Italian so you can become “travel fluent” very quickly. 

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Former Rome resident Michele runs the website The Intrepid Guide for general language and also has various Intrepid Italian channels specifically for learning Italian – her true passion. Her language courses all use her special 80/20 method. She posts daily lessons on her Intrepid Italian on Instagram as well as her YouTube channel to help teach Italian. These all stemmed from her passion for Italy and Italian and wanting to help others have the wonderful connections she has when she visits
  2. Michele has just come back from three weeks in Florence and she’ll be sharing lots of photos and videos of her time there on Intrepid Italian channels
  3. Being able to spend a few weeks there, she got to spend time in the main sights like Ufizzi and Palazzo Vecchio, but also other smaller museums like the Galileo Museum and was able to do much of her visiting during the weeks away from the busy weekends
  4. Michele was in Florence during the time leading up to Carnevale. It doesn’t have quite the festive vibe and so isn’t as chaotic as Venice which is overflowing with people during that period, but Florence does still celebrate though. It’s the lead up to lent when people historically enjoyed their last few weeks indulging in meat, sugar, other treats and throwing parties – running from Giovedi grasso (Fat Thursday) through to Martedi grasso (Fat Tuesday)
  5. Most of the visitors appeared in the city at the weekends, so Michele organized all her museum and day trips during the week when it was quieter. The Bargello Museum, for instance, had queues around the block at the weekend but was almost empty during the week
  6. Michele was also able to catch up with a few locals which she was very happy about – to make those connections again. One of these was a local lady, Maria, at the post office (in the Uffizi no less), who bent over backwards to get Michele a particular stamp collection (growing up Michele collected coins and stamps). Maria was an absolute gem. Their whole exchange is in Italian and she was able to recognize Michele’s passion for stamps. Michele recognized her accent was not local Florentine and it turned out she was from Bovino, a little town in Puglia, in the Foggia provide – very close to where Michele’s dad is from

Quick Cheat Sheet

  • Ciao! – Hello/goodbye
  • Sì – Yes
  • No – No
  • Grazie (mille) – Thank you (very much)
  • Vorrei… – I would like…
    …Il conto – the bill
    …un gelato – a gelato
    …un cappuccino – a cappuccino
    …un biglietto/due biglietti – one ticket/two tickets
  • Dov’è? – Where is…
    …il bagno? – the toilet?
    …il colosseo? – the Colosseum?
    …il duomo? – cathedral/duomo?
  • Per favore – please
  • Quanto costa? – How much is it?
  • Posso pagare con carta? – Can I pay with card?
  • Mi scusi? / Permesso? – Excuse me?
  • Prego – I pray, Come in, Next, please, You’re welcome
  • Mi chiamo… – My name is… / Sono… – I’m…

General Language tips

We all have our insecurities, and no one should feel insecure about their accent or where they are on their language journey. We judge ourselves more than others judge us. It’s important to remember that if you make the effort, it’s always going to be appreciated. Even if you’re stumbling over a few words – people just think it’s amazing that you’re making the effort and appreciate it. 

Ciao, Grazie, SÌ and No

A few pointers on some of the words everyone likely knows. 
For Grazie – Thank you, it’s not pronounced Graz-eee, it’s Grazi-ey. “Grazie” has an i-e ending and in English we can just roll these letters together, but in Italian, they need to be sounded. Grazie can be combined with Ciao, which we all know. “Ciao grazie” is a way to say goodbye when you’re leaving a restaurant or a shop, especially if the shop is small and there’s only maybe you or just a couple of other clients. It’s a nice way to say goodbye and it’s an easy one to remember. 
“Sì” and “No” are “Yes” and “No”. “Sì”, has got an accent, so not pronounced see, it’s Sì. “No” is not like an English/Aussie ‘oh’ it’s a short o.

Useful phrases

We are focusing on some sentence starters. These are ways that you can ask questions. You can use thee alongside gestures and you can even use the English word to fill in the rest of the sentence. This is just to let the other person know what you’re talking about – to give them context and to be able to play around with the language a little bit and have some fun. 

These are all in the context of traveling to Italy, so we are focusing on things that you’re going to be using a lot while you’re on a trip there. 

Vorrei – I would like

Vorrei does contain the rolling R. Some people are a little bit shy or they may not be able to roll their R’s. That’s okay. Some Italians can’t even do it either. If you have trouble with your R’s, you can practice it by saying ‘tla’ really quickly over and over. You can progressively start slower and then go faster. Alternatively, you can just linger a little bit longer on your natural R sound, so it hits the vowels.

Vorrei means I would like. so you can follow this up with all kinds of things like “un gelato”. “Vorrei il conto” means you would like the bill.

If you forget the word for “il conto” (the bill/check) you can simply say “Vorrei”  and then use the International sign language for it – writing something in the air with your imaginary pen. 

Then you’ve got so many food items you can use this with – and of course for your “Vorrei un cappuccino”.

When you go into a museum, you can say how many tickets you need. The word for tickets is Biglietti, so one is un in this context, so “un bigletto” or due for two – “due biglietti”. So you can say, “Vorrei due biglietti”. 

Per favore – Please

You can just say, “due biglietti” and then add something else on the end to mean please – “Per favore”. Per favore – literally means “for a favor”. This is how Italians say please – for a favor, will you do this for me? So you can say “Per favore, vorrei due biglietti” or you can put the Per favore at the end.

Dov’è? – Where is?

This is for when you’re asking for the location of something – a monument, a museum, or perhaps if you’re in the restaurant, for toilets/ the bathroom.

This word is “Dov’è”. This means ‘where is’. It’s got a couple of accents. If you remember the word of Dove, this is the spelling, but “Dov’è” is how it’s pronounced. You can think to yourself – where is the Dove? if you’re trying to remember.

You can say “Dov’è, il bagno?” for “Where is the bathroom?”, “Dov’è il Duomo” if you’re asking “Where is the Duomo?”  or “Dov’è la stazione” – “Where is the station?”

Quanto costa? – How much does it cost?

When you do any kind of shopping or are paying for anything, this is going to be very useful. This one is a complete sentence “Quanto costa?” meaning How much does it cost? “Quanto” in the sense of quantity and “Costa”, as it sounds, the cost. So if you try to remember “quantity cost” – that can work as a little memory hooks,  an important tool to help you to remember words and phrases. TIP: You can create your own memory hooks for things too. 

Posso pagare con la carte? – Can I pay by card?

Another one useful when it comes to buying or paying for things is asking if you can pay by card. “Posso pagare con la carte?” – Can I/may I pay with a card? “Posso” is “can I?”, “Pagare” is “to pay”, “con” is “with” and finally “carta” which is “card”.

This is a useful one if you want to take a taxi. Even though, in theory, they legally are supposed to take cards sometimes they don’t like it so it can be best to check before you get in that taxi. If like Michele and Katy, you don’t tend to carry a lot of cash – it is good to be able to check for taxis or other small businesses. 

“Posso” is also a nice one just to use on its own. Using “Posso” on its own, you can ask if you want to sit down somewhere – you’d point to the seat and say, “Posso?” Implying “Can I sit?”

If you have an American Express (or Diners card), they don’t always accept it, so you can say “Con American Express?” You just put an Italian tang around the American Express because it’s the same name, you have to adjust it to the pronunciation to be understood. 

Mi scusi (formal)/Scusa mi (informal) – Excuse me (to get attention/apologize)

In Italian, they have different ways of using “Excuse me”. The formal version “Mi scusi”, is something that Italians use a lot. They use the formal for speaking to people that are strangers or people of authority, such as police, doctors, and so on. “Mi scusi” is just like saying, it sounds like saying, “Excuse me” in English. You may have also heard “Scusa mi”, which is the informal version. If you can only remember one, then try and remember “Mi scusi” to be more polite, but it’s not the end of the world if you use “Scusa mi”. The Italians are very forgiving. They just appreciate any effort that you make.

“Mi Scusi” can be used to get someone’s attention or if you want to apologize – if you’re in someone’s way or you bumped into someone.

Permesso? – Excuse me/may I get past

If you want to get in front of/past someone, you need to ask permission. “Permesso” is how you ask to get past someone. It’s a polite way to say, “May I get past?”

This is useful on busy transportation or even on busy streets – like if you’re visiting the main sites of Italy and it’s very crowded, you might need to say this a lot.

Add these phrases together:
Even with these few phrases we have learned you can add them together to make longer sentences. For instance “Mi scuse, dov’è il bagno?” – “Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?”

If you’re at a market and you’re pointing to something, you’re looking at the leather bags in Florence, and you’re looking at something, you can say, “Mi Scusi” (to get their attention) “Quanto costa?” and then you can point at the item.

Prego – a versatile word with a few meanings: you’re welcome/come in/next please & more

Prego is something that you may not say so much yourself – but you will hear a lot. and in lots of different contexts. Literally it means “I pray”. 

It means come in, “please come in”, it can also mean “next, please” if you’re waiting in a queue, “come over”. It’s also used for “You’re welcome”, which is the one that most people may be familiar with. If you say, Grazie to someone, they’ll often say “Prego: to mean “you’re welcome.” In restaurants, they’ll often say “Prego” before asking you to tell them what you want to order. If you hear it, generally know that it’s a positive thing. 

One way to remember it is as something that we used to say in old English – around Jane Austen times in the 17 and 1800s. People would say things like, “pray tell”. This is basically the same  “prego dimmi” means “pray tell me”.

Come ti chiami – What is your name?

If you’re just having a conversation with someone and it’s getting around to introductions, they would ask you, “Come ti chiami?” This means “how do you call yourself?” “Come” – how, “ti” – you or yourself, “chiami”.  You don’t so much need to remember how to say that, but remember what it sounds like, because then if you hear it, then you know how to respond. You can just say, “Mi chiamo”, meaning “I call myself”. Or for a shorter version “Sono” which is “I am” and then you can say your name. You can use this when you show up at your accommodation – you can say “Ciao, sono <and your name>”.

Allora – ‘So’ and more…

Allora is another word with a multitude of uses. Its literal meaning is “So”. It’s like moving on in a sentence. Allora – “you know”, “oh well”.It is very versatile, just like Prego is. Allora. It depends on the context, again, on what it means. Changing the topic of conversation, let’s go, or let’s go and do this. It’s like how we drag out saying “So” in English. “Sooooo let’s go” – “Allora, andiamo!” It’s a very similar use in that sense. Allora could also mean at the time. 

How to learn more with Michelle

For an upcoming trip

One of Michele’s courses is specifically designed for those that are traveling to Italy quite soon. This is her Intrepid Italian for Travel course and can be completed in as little as two weeks. You can take longer too or you can even do it intensively so take a shorter amount of time to complete it. It’s self-paced video lessons. 

For more in-depth learning

If you are a bit more serious about learning Italian and you want to get into more confident conversations, Michele has some more in-depth language courses. There is Intrepid Italian for Beginners A1, Intrepid Italian for Advanced Beginners A2, and Intrepid Italian for Intermediates B1. The system is how the European languages are broken down into six levels – there’s A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. A1 is for when you’re beginning, B1 is at a really good level and C2 is being more-or-less fluent. 

From travel to proficient speakers, there’s a course for everyone. They’re all self-paced, you get lifetime access and you get support from Michele and other students in the community. There are over a thousand students now, and there are lots of people, like Michele, with Italian heritage and lots of people that just love Italy.

Michele also has daily lessons that she posts on her Intrepid Italian Instragram

About our guest – Michele Frolla

Michele is an Italian-Australian language educator and travel blogger and ‘guide’ behind The Intrepid Guide. Michele aims to enrich her readers’ travels with her detailed destinations guides and travel phrase guides. Michele also offers online language courses that use her unique 80/20 method to help you learn the local language so you can travel with confidence, enjoy meaningful interactions with the locals, and avoid being treated like a tourist. Follow Michele on social media as she shares fascinating and little-known linguistic and cultural facts.

Michele has recently won TravMedia Vlogger of the Year for her two YouTube channels The Intrepid Guide and Intrepid Italian with Michele. This is the first time I’ve won an industry award which makes it all the more special

You can find Michele on these channels:

Michele’s unique courses

  • Whether you have a trip to Italy coming up shortly, or you have more long-term goals, Michele offers a number of courses with her unique way of learning, if you go to www.theintrepidguide.com.  The courses come with lifetime access so you only pay once and you can learn anywhere, any time on any device which means that you only pay once. These courses give you everything that you need and it’s just a matter of you finding time, as and when. It also comes with access to Michele and a private community where you can get feedback and support and ask any questions

Places mentioned in the show

  • Uffizi gallery – art museum adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria
  • Palazzo Vecchio – town hall of Florence in the Piazza della Signoria which was the former home of the Medici family
  • Museo Galileo – museum dedicated to astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei, housed in the 11th-century Palazzo Castellani
  • Bargello Museum – an art museum housed in a former barracks
  • Bovino – an ancient small hill town overlooking the Tavoliere plains in the province of Foggia in Puglia. Bovino is a member of I Borghi più belli d’Italia (Italy’s most beautiful villages)

Resources

  • Carnevale – not just celebrated in Venice. This is the time that people historically enjoy their last few weeks to indulge in meat, sugar, throwing elaborate parties and parades before Lent. From Giovedi grasso (Fat Thursday) through to Martedi grasso (Fat Tuesday) with other festivities throughout the month
  • I Borghi più belli d’Italia – association for Italy’s most beautiful small towns and villages with historical interest

Resources from Untold Italy

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Transcript

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