Italian Travel Phrases
Italian Speaking Destinations
Ciao! Welcome to the Fodor's Italian Language Page, brought to you by the language experts at Living Language. Here you'll find over 150 essential phrases for your trip.
For more Italian language and cultural tips, visit the Living Language Italian Blog.
Italian is a Romance language spoken by about 62 million people worldwide. It's the official language of Italy and San Marino, as well as one of the official languages of Switzerland. It is also spoken to varying extents in in Slovenia, Croatian, Argentina, Eritrea, Malta, and elswhere.
Each vowel in Italian is pronounced clearly and distinctly. Some important vowel sounds to remember in Italian are: a as in father, e as in bent or ray, i as in police, o as in no, and u as in noon. Diphthongs include ai as in ripe, eu as in play, ia as in yarn, oi as in boy, and uo as in war. Also, an accent over a vowel sometimes indicates a stressed syllable, as in la città (the city), or is simply used to distinguish words, as in e (and) and è (is). The apostrophe is sometimes used in Italian to mark the omission of a vowel. For example, when the word dove (where) is combined with è (is), the e in dove is dropped: Dov' è? (Where is?)
Many consonants sounds are similar to English, but keep in mind some of the exceptions: c (before e or i) as in church, g (before e or i) as in joy, z as in pits or adds, and silent h. The combinations ch and gh are pronounced as cat and go respectively. The consonant r is a trilled sound made with the tongue against the ridge behind the upper teeth. Some special Italian sounds are: gl as in scallion, gn as in canyon, sc before e or i as in fish, and sc before a, o, or u, as in scout.
A lot of Italian vocabulary will look familiar to you: centro (center), banca (bank), parco (park), museo (museum), difficile (difficult), studente (student), and so on. Italian also has similar word endings as English: conversazione (conversation), professione (profession), università (university), generale (general), memorabile (memorable), etc. Of course, there's a lot more you need to know, but this is a good start!
If you want to learn to speak Italian, you're going to have to deal with a few issues that we don't have in English.
- All nouns in Italian are either masculine or feminine. There are exceptions to every rule, but in most cases, nouns ending in -o are masculine, and ones ending in -a are feminine.
- When nouns are masculine, the articles il/lo (the), and un/uno (a) precede them. When they are feminine, the definite la/l' (the) or una/un' (a) precede them: il/un fotografo (the/a photographer), la/una famiglia (the/a family), etc. Adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify: un bambino piccolo (a small child), i bambini piccoli (the small children).
- There are both polite/formal and familiar/informal forms of the pronoun you. Use the formal Lei (you) and Loro (all of you) when showing courtesy or respect. Use tu (you) and voi (all of you) with friends, family, or children.
- Italian verbs are highly inflected, with different endings for every person (I, you, she, all of you, etc.) in several different tenses. There are also three major conjugation patterns, grouped according to the infinitive endings -are, -ere, or -ire. Many common verbs are irregular.