7 Steps to learn basic italian in 1 week
Is it really possible to learn basic Italian in just one week ? And if so, why seven steps? Learning a new language can seem a difficult, if not impossible task, yet in reality all you need are a few clear simple concepts to take your first steps into a new linguistic world.
The first steps are important and should reflect the needs of you as a student and as a traveller.
So here they are, the 7 basic steps that will open a whole new world of Italian to you.
1. Exchanging names.
One of the most fundamental tasks in any language is exchanging names clearly and correctly, whether at an informal party or a top notch hotel.
The most common ways to ask someone’s name are :
- come ti chiami? (informal)
- come si chiama? (formal)
The most common answer is
- Mi chiamo….
To be more specific, for example when checking into a hotel :
- Il mio nome è… (My name is. . . . )
- Il mio cognome è… (My surname is . . . . )
- …di nome e .. di cognome
Example: Luciano di nome, Pavarotti di cognome
While giving your name it is good manners, as in many countries, to shake hands and say: “Piacere“ (Nice to meet you)
2. Nationality and home town.
As fare as introductions go, right after your name, the next step is to ask or say where you are from. Here, there are two possible situations. The first in which our nationality is already known and so we should speak only of our home town as follows :
- Sono di… (sono di Roma, sono di New York, etc.)
(I am from . . . .
- Sono di… ma abito a… (sono di Roma, ma abito a Taormina)
(I am from . . . but I live in . . . )
The verb abitare is interchangeable with the verb vivere in this case :
- Sono di… ma vivo a…
(I am from . . . but I live in . . . )
Alternatively, if our nationality is not yet known then we would start with that before referring to our home town. In this case, in Italian we can use the verb essere plus the adjective of our nation.
- Sono italiano, sono americano, sono tedesco, sono francese, sono spagnolo…
I am Italian, I am American, I am German, I am French, I am Spanish . . .
It is useful to know the most common nationalities or at least to know that the majority can be divided into three main groups depending on their endings :
Note here that the first and third groups change their endings depending on whether they are masculine (ending in -o), feminine (ending in -a), or plural (ending in -i or -e)
Luckily Italian grammar does offer us a useful alternative to this when we are not sure, by simply using the verb “venire” together with the nation.
- Vengo da… (vengo dall’Italia, vengo dagli Stati Uniti, etc.)
(I come from . . . . )
The only problem here could be the use of the preposition so we should be careful which article to add to the preposition “da”. The choice of article means you must know whether your country is masculine or feminine in Italian.
- “La Francia” is feminine
- “Il Giappone” is masculine
Here are some examples :
Vengo dalla Francia, vengo dall’Inghilterra, vengo dal Brasile…
- da + il = dal
- da + la = dalla
- da + l’ = dall’
If this grammatical form seems complicated to start with, don’t worry. Learning your own nationality should be enough at the start and then the rest you will pick up just by listening to others speaking and it won’t be difficult to understand which country they are talking about.
To find out about others you can use the following questions:
- Di che nazionalità sei? (if you want to know the person’s nationality)
- Di dove sei? (if you want to know the city or also in a general sense their nation)
- Da dove vieni? (as before)
Around the town
3. Ordering in a bar.
With the introductions done and dusted, what next but to head to a bar. Here too, there are a few standard phrases to use:
- Vorrei un/una…. (vorrei un cappuccino, vorrei un espresso, vorrei una spremuta…)
( I would like a . . . . )
- Prendo un/una…
(I’ll have a . . . . )
The first is an example of the verb “volere” in its conditional form which we use to transform the phrase from an order into a polite request. With the verb “prendere” we don’t need to use the conditional but just the present. Even without fully understanding the grammar behind these examples you can memorise and use the forms.
When in line at a bar, you will hear the waiter or barman ask:
- Cosa prende/prendete? (What can I get you?)
- Cosa desidera? (What would you like?)
- Prego, dica (Yes please . . . )
To attract the attention of a busy waiter you can use the following polite forms :
- Senta, scusi
These are the imperative forms of the verbs “sentire” and “scusare” which are frequently used in this context. When translated into your own language they could sound harsh and overly direct but in Italian they are perfectly polite.
Other useful words in a bar are “con and “senza”
- Con zucchero o senza zucchero? (with or without sugar ?)
- Con panna o senza panna? (with or without cream?)
- Con o senza ghiaccio? (with or without ice ?)
- Con o senza crema? (with or without cream?)
Some adjectives can also come in useful when ordering:
- Caldo o freddo? (useful for various types of tea or coffee)
(Hot or cold)
- Alcolico o analcolico (useful for an aperitif)
(Alcoholic or Non alcoholic?)
- Piccola, media o grande? (useful for beer)
(Small, medium or large?)
When asking for the bill, you can ask :
- Quant’è ? (How much is it?)
- Il conto per favore (The bill, please)
You will normally find prices on the menu. If this isn’t the case, you just need to ask :
- Quanto viene questo? (How much is this?)
- Quanto viene un/una…. (How much is a. . .?)
You could also use the verb “costare” (quanto costa…) but as a general rule we tend to use this more for objects or clothing.
4. Asking for directions.
To find out directions, first we attract the attention of a passer by:
- Senta scusi
Then we ask indirectly where a place is. It is more correct for us to ask if the person knows the direction of the place we are looking for:
- Mi sa dire dov’è …? (Do you know where . . . . . is ?)
The complete phrase would be:
- Senta, scusi, mi sa dire dov’è…. (Excuse me, do you know where. . . . . is?)
The answer that you will receive should be relatively simple ( if you’re lucky!):
- Lei va dritto… (Go straight on)
- Gira a destra/ a sinistra (Turn right/left)
- Continua dritto (Continue on)
- Attraversa l’incrocio (Cross the junction)
- È sulla destra/ sulla sinistra (It is on the right/left)
If you should need to catch a bus
- La fermata del bus è… (The bus stop is . . . )
- Prende il 64 o il … (Take the number 64 or the . . . )
- Scende alla prima (seconda/terza…) fermata. (Get off at the first/second/third stop)
5.Booking a hotel
Hotel reservations are normally made via email or phone, though sometimes can be made in person directly at reception.:
Vorrei una camera: (I would like a . . . . room)
- Singola (single)
- Doppia (double)
- Matrimoniale (double)
Specify the details using the following :
- Con colazione inclusa (with breakfast included)
- Con mezza pensione (on half board)
- Con pensione completa (on full board)
And not forgetting the extras you could need to ask for:
- Posso avere la password per il WIFI? (Can I have the password for the WI-FI?)
- C’è il bollitore in camera? (Is there a kettle in the room?)
- È possibile fumare in camera? (Is it possible to smoke in the room?)
- Posso avere la colazione in camera? (Can I have breakfast in the room?)
6. Ordering in a restaurant
Ordering in a restaurant we can use vorrei and prendo to order as we did in the bar, though we may need to include additional information to complete our meal.
Here are some basic phrases:
- Che cosa ci consiglia? (What would you recommend?)
To be more precise :
- Che ci consiglia di… (primo, secondo, dolce…)
(What would you recommend for first course, main course, dessert . . . )
Not forgetting the wine:
- Rosso o bianco? (Red or white?)
- Una bottiglia di… (A bottle of . . . )
- Un bicchiere di… (A glass of . . . )
- Mezza bottiglia di… (half a bottle of . . . )
Many restaurants offer a house wine which is a cheaper, usually good quality wine chosen by the restaurateur offering you a compromise between price and quality.
For more sophisticated tastes you can do your research and ask the differences between the various brands, More often than not will find a separate wine list.
A menu is normally divided into the following categories:
- Antipasti (starters)
- Primi (pasta, risotti, zuppe) (first course)
- Secondi di carne (meat course)
- Secondi di pesce (fish course)
- Contorni (verdure e insalate, cotte o crude)
Side dish (raw or cooked vegetables and salads)
- Dolci o dessert (desserts)
On the move
7. Buying train tickets.
On the move around Italy it is inevitable that you will need to buy tickets. At the train station, travel agent’s or ticket office you could ask
- Un biglietto per… (a ticket to . . .)
- Andata e ritorno (return ticket)
- Solo andata (single)
- Prima o seconda classe? (first or second class?)
- Da che binario parte? (Which platform is it?)
- Scompartimento fumatori o non fumatori? (Smoking or non smoking compartment?)
Try to get as much information as possible before deciding which type of train to take, there are various types of regional and high speed trains, Eurostar, Freccia Rossa, Italo etc. It is sometimes necessary to change trains and having a clear itinerary will help you a lot.
So how do you feel after your journey through the 7 steps of basic Italian? Have you learnt something? The next step is putting it all into practice. Try re-reading the key conversational phrases several times and remember that the phrases you have read are the most common, but many variations exist. In the future you can enjoy travelling further afield but for now in your first week you can revise these in the hope that your first 7 steps are the first of a long path into the Italian language.