Speaking Italian

Old Feb 19th, 2016, 02:43 PM
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Speaking Italian

My husband and I are going to Paris and Rome next year and we are starting to learn the language. We will be spending most of the time in Italy so we started to learn Italian. Then wondered how we are going to speak it while in Paris because they speak French. What language are we better off speaking in Paris? I don't think I could learn two different languages in a year. Should we just learn the basics for Paris and still focus on Italian?
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 03:00 PM
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>>What language are we better off speaking in Paris?
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 03:11 PM
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Most people I encountered in Paris spoke English...even the person selling newspapers in the corner stand...
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 03:46 PM
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You can speak English in both Paris and cities of Italy. They are used to tourists. It's nice to learn pleasantries and some basics, but no way will you be fluent in Italian in one year's time, even with intensive study.

I would learn whichever language you think would come in handier for future trips.

Will you most often be going to Spanish-speaking, Italian-speaking, or French-speaking countries?
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 03:58 PM
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Agree with suze about learning Italian. I hate to be discouraging, and honestly I think its great that you're trying, but unless you already speak another related language such as Spanish or are doing a full-time immersion program then it's unlikely that you are going to be fluent in any real sense in Italian. It's still WORTH the year of study so that you can at least express things to other people, understand some of the stuff you see written, etc. It's a rewarding journey it it's own right, no matter how far you get.

I would recommend for Paris learning at least some basics, as others have said. I don't speak French but I can do basic transactions in stores, restaurants, etc. entirely in French. It doesn't take that many words, really. And also, very important, spend a little time looking into cultural expectations. You'd be a bit upset, I imagine, if you worked at a store here in the US and a foreigner came in and said "Hey, babe, can you get me..." This is an example of something that is just rude. Similarly, in France, the very first thing you say to *anyone* is "bonjour monsieur/madame". In fact when you walk into a shop or by the desk at your hotel you are expected to say that, even if you plan no further conversation. There are a few other etiquette items for Italy and France I'm sure you can find.
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 04:22 PM
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IMHO you can manage in English in any country in western europe.

However, I would not focus on trying to be fluent in anything.

In whatever country you are going to you will want to be able to speak/understand

Basic greetings and polite phrases
Typical tourist questions - where is, how much, how to find toilets or specific other places
Days of the week
Enough food info to read a menu (although I would still take a good menu reader that describes the prep of the dish - not just "chicken" or whatever)
And whatever else you can pick up

Just so you know Italian is easier in the sense that what you see looks a lot like what you say, where French is more difficult (what you say i often very different than what it looks like)

If I were you I would each pick one language and be responsible for that country. Focus on conversation and learning lots of basic words - not grammar or conjugating verbs (which will slow down picking up things).

Also be sure whatever system you use has some resource that makes you listen to the language to pick up the intonations and rhythm.

Finally I have found that being in a country - and the need to be able to speak/understand results in desperation that brings back to you everything you have learned - even the French and Spanish I learned in college almost 40 years ago. (And I can still understand a lot more than I can speak)
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 04:51 PM
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In Paris, it is hard to speak French because the people you deal with speak excellent English and they would rather want to get business done with you to attend to the next customer. The exception are taxi and bus drivers, but the transaction usually involves confirming your destination only.

However, as mentioned above, what is not an option are the greetings. You MUST greet the person before you start speaking. You MUST also greet when you enter a small store even if no one seems to be looking at you. They remember the cold reception you initialed and respond to you in the same way.
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 05:28 PM
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So much good Info! Thank you! I have no expectations of being able to be amazingly fluent lol. I just want to feel somewhat comfortable and be able to tell someone what I want or answer a simple question. Also being able to read things is important to me. I know that just as I speak English that I do not enunciate as much so I can only imagine trying to understand someone who's native language is Italian. Language is so fascinating to me. I would love to fully immerse myself in it so that I could fully learn. I have no interest in conjugating verbs. Man, that was hard. I took Spanish in high school and I could speak it well but not when it came to that part! Haha. I have downloaded an app that is introducing me to basic things which will be helpful to interact the basics with someone. And I have some podcasts that are Italian teaching so I can hear the words. My husband makes fun of me because he thinks that I will accidentally insult someone. I did know about having to say hello and ive definetly been looking up everything I can find on courtesies. I don't want to come across as rude. The culture I'm reading about is just amazing. I can't believe that we are finally going to go!
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 11:54 PM
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Any effort to educate oneself is commendable. Wanting to learn a new language can make life more interesting and open the door to a richer and a more meaningful travel experience.

To me, you seemed to be on the right track; then I read this:

I have no interest in conjugating verbs.


Your plan to feel comfortable and to be able to tell someone what I want is either wildly unrealistic or you must have the best leaning scheme since Professor Harold Hill invented the think system.

I wish you the best of luck.
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 12:25 AM
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If there is something motivating you to explore another language, whatever it is, seize the day and keep on practicing. Whenever you learn a new language you'll find people laughing at you, or telling you "what's the point? Everybody speaks English now", but just ignore that. The more you know of another language, the further you can go in your travels.

Were it me, I would focus on French pronunciation. In Italian, it is generaly much easier to know how to prounounce what you see, and Italians are very forgiving of a mispronunciation. It helps if you enunciate strongly in Italian, because that is the norm, and Italians will often very cheerfully be your teacher, helping you learn if you make a mistake, nicely correcting your pronunciation. In French, knowing the right pronunciation is trickier (there a lots of silent letters and particular sounds) and Paris tends to move at a quicker pace than Rome, with much more formality in public transactions, so it is nice if you can arrive in Paris having mastered not only the courtesies but a few likely questions/requests (how much does something cost, a request for the bill or a menu, or a subway ticket, how to find the toilet, the bus stop, the taxi queue, etc). These things are good to know in Italian, too, but you'll be surprised at how receptive Italians are to sign language or will go out of their way to communicate across a language divide.

For both cities, having a menu translator is a great asset and helps avoid expensive mistakes.
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 12:43 AM
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I think the OP was making a confession about something they'd discovered about themselves while learning Spanish, not dismissing the importance of conjugating verbs. It's pretty common that everybody loves the idea of learning a new language, and delights in picking up new words and expressions, but when it comes to drills about conjugating verbs, it's more headaches than fun.

English is my first language, I don't get your closing sarcasms and snottiness (and I doubt a young person is going to get your oldster cultural references). I see no reason why the OP cant look forward to feeling comfortable walking into a store and asking the cost of things, or being in a restaurant and asking for another bottle of water. I have seen and overheard tourists in restaurants having anxious conversations with each other about how to ask for the simplest things, and negotiating with each other about who is going to do the talking, or watched them walk around in confusion, carrying tons of luggage, because they didn't know how to ask for directions to their hotel's street.

Again, it is really a pity that when young people come onto Fodor's asking questions and demonstrating an interest in learning -- anything! -- the responses are mainly discouragement and low ambition.
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 01:16 AM
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Wanting to learn another language is always commendable. Spend as much time as you can learning any language. Italian is an easy language. French is harder. Knowing how to conjugate verbs is essential, however, to learning any language. Languages open doors in your travels that are shut to people who don't bother to learn them

Italian will do you absolutely no good in Paris. In Italy, speaking Italian will win you major points and get you places you'd never otherwise get to. Same thing in France. Of course you can "get by" in either country speaking only English, but you can't imagine the difference between being an English-speaking-only traveler and one who speaks the language.

But you do need to understand that it takes years and years of serious study - and not of the "I don't want to know how to conjugate verbs" type - to make any real headway with a foreign language. Conjugating verbs is utterly essential. And then you need to learn the jargon, which is another lifetime of learning.
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 01:30 AM
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Ashley - I'm going to suggest that you concentrate on just one language, and as Italy is your first stop, and OME fewer italians speak english than do people in Paris, I'm going to propose that you learn italian. And so far as pronunciation is concerned, it's definitely easier.

I'm also going to suggest that you get hold of the Michel Thomas Italian course [CDs available from your library, or amazon.e-Bay] and do a little every day. The beauty of the Michel Thomas approach is that he teaches you the grammar as you go, so that everything you learn makes sense, and builds to the next stage, and so on. That way you don't only learn how to ask a question, but have a fighting chance of understanding the answer. [a common flaw of phrase books and other language is that the don't equip you to do that, which isn't much use].


Good luck!
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 02:04 AM
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Italians speak much less english than french, for sure.
Spaniards are the worst non english speaking in Europe, I'd say, Italy is second.

French and Italian are close. But you cannot be understood speaking one language in the other country.

I speak French (effortlessly, it is my mothertongue) I don't speak italian. Sometimes I understand what they say, but I am not confortable at all. However I will not starve nor get lost. But it is another language.

Bonne chance avec votre Français et MERCI de faire l'effort de le parler !
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 03:26 AM
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I'd work on your Italian
I'd get hold of the Michel Thomas CDs which are great
I'd log onto Duolingo and have a hack
I'd be disciplined and to one hour a day every day. It is repetition that gets a language from short term memory into medium term memory
Find an Italian, on skype via italki or in your local restaurant and discover that you cannot over express in italian and once you understand the rules the spelling is perfect (there is no such thing as a spelling B competition in italy, it would be impossible).
Go on you tube and listen to an Italian movie with italian subtitles turned on. Not all subtitles are perfect but the Librarian US series is on youtube and the subtitles are right 80% of the time. It gets you an understanding for the sounds.

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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 03:45 AM
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As others have noted, your intentions are commendable. As others have noted, you should realize this is more an exercise in broadening your horizons than in practical application.

The problem you're going to encounter with trying to converse in "simple" Italian comes when someone responds in a a not-so-simple manner. Then you're going to revert to English.

Learn Italian. Familiarize yourself with common expressions and signs. But realize it will have extremely limited application.

Have a nice trip.
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 04:14 AM
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I always think learning another language is a wonderful thing - and deprecate that in many school in the US languages are not taught until high school - long after the prime time for a child to learn a new language. Out DDs started to learn french in 4th grade and as a result are both able to communicate fairly well (although not truly fluent as is someone who has take an immersion course for 6 months or so).

But when they went to paris the first time at 11 and 14 they were so proud that they could communicate about basic things, order from the menu etc.

I did not mean to discourage the OP for going for full on fluency - but based on their comment on conjugations what they are really looking for is basic tourist understanding.

My problem is that I have been to almost every country in euope and there is simply no way of learning all of these languages. I did study spanish and french umpteen years ago and can make my self understood for daily purposes - and can understand a lot more if I'm reading or listening to a tour guide in the native language. And knowing those allowed me to fumble along in Italian and Portuguese. And for any native english speaker it's possible to intuit a lot in germanic languages (my education in german was a tiny bit my father remembered from his grandparents which was not high german) but I can bumble along.

Where I am lost is in slavic languages - of which I have no knowledge - so I have just concentrated on the most basic tourist phrases (that's what I meant by don't worry about conjugating verbs). And don;t even ask about Hungarian.

It's great that the OP is trying to learn - but I still think each one trying to master the most basic phrases in a different language (and understandable pronunciation - esp in French) is really going to give them the most bang for their input of time.
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 04:29 AM
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"My husband and I are going to Paris and Rome next year and we are starting to learn the language."

Well, considering that Romans and Parisians don't speak the same language, I already envision a challenge with English.

"What language are we better off speaking in Paris?"

French, and it better be more than just a decent effort. Parisian salespeople are notoriously brutal towards tourists who murder their language. They exhibit no appreciation for a mediocre effort, and they'll often insist that you speak English just to get you to stop causing them ear pain.

If you are the slightest bit insecure about your skills, stick to English. The French who don't speak English will not hesitate to tell you that they don't.

"I just want to feel somewhat comfortable and be able to tell someone what I want or answer a simple question."

It can take years of study to learn how to formulate sentences. In order to answer simple questions, you must be able to hear all the words in the question and understand their meaning. To do this as an adult, it takes a lot of practice, for more time than most people realize or are willing to commit.

"Language is so fascinating to me. I would love to fully immerse myself in it so that I could fully learn. I have no interest in conjugating verbs."

Oh well. Good luck.
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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 04:41 AM
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Stressing things others have already said:

-- Italian is much easier to pronounce...and if you had any
Spanish in HS, the lanuages are similar.

--Learn the travel basics.

--Be super polite/formal in Paris.

--Try, try, try, because the local people will respect that.

One other thing about tenses/conjugations. No need to learn future or past tenses. Try these shortcust that are not perfect, but work:

Future: "I am going to eat" Just learn to conjugate to go andare (It) and aller (Fr) and use with the infinitive. Andiamo mangare (We are going to eat).

Past: "I have eaten" This is a little more complicated, because in both languages, some verbs use "To Have" and others use "To be"

We have eaten: Conjugate to have (avere) with past participle. Abbiamo mangiato

We have arrived: Conjegate to be (essere) with past participle. Siamo arrivati (actually we are arrived)

Never-the-less, this reduces your conjugation needs to three verbs in each language, as well as knowing a handful of useful past participles.

FLAME-GUARD: Please, please, please do not flame me over my errors here. This system has worked for me, despite obvious gender/number mistakes that are probably in the above.

This is just an example of short-cuts that, for the most, part will be understood by locals...and the errors will be forgiven. Obviously the real subtleties of tense are lost, and this won't get you through a complicated discussion, but you will be generally understood in stores, restaurants, transport, etc.

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Old Feb 20th, 2016, 04:44 AM
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To clarify...

I am not fluent in either language and never had any French in school (had Italian in college 50 years ago and Spanish in HS even earlier)...but I have survived in Paris, Italy and Spain speaking practically no English and trying my best using the above short-cuts.

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