NNot everyone has the time, ability or desire to learn a language just to travel somewhere.  Let’s be real: if you like to travel often and aren’t a language savant, it’s pretty impossible.  Before my first trip to Italy I listened to a podcast, trying to pick up key phrases, and felt totally confident – until I got there.  Before my second trip I decided to take an “Italian for Travelers” class where they taught us key phrases and dialogues to make reservations, check into a hotel, find places in a city and so on.  The class really did help a lot – don’t get me wrong – but too many times I found myself asking a question and completely missing the answer when the person I asked did follow the prescribed “dialogue” we had memorized.

If you stick to the parts of Italy that are familiar with tourists, you probably won’t have a problem.  Either you’ll easily be able to find someone who speaks English or you’ll find that most Italians in those areas are so used to dealing with foreigners that they’ll either be able to point and gesture effectively or direct you to someone else.

But if you’re like me you like to go off the beaten path.  In smaller or more remote areas, those in the tourist industry may (or may not) speak English, but don’t assume you’ll be able to have a full conversation with a random citizen, particularly in the countryside.  There are always exceptions, of course, but I’ve found that even a little Italian goes a long way in smaller towns and villages.  In fact, after my “Italian for Travelers” course I was (erroneously) called “the American girl who speaks Italian” in several of the cities I visited.

Since then I’ve decided to make an effort to actually learn Italian and am really enjoying it (I’ve always envied people who are bi-lingual and to me, Italian is a beautiful place to start).  After two trips with no to minimal Italian, studying the language semi-intensely over the past eight months has given me a better perspective on what’s useful to the average traveler.

I’ve compiled a list below with some simple explanations, from what I think is most important to what is just good to know if you have the time.  Please comment, email me, post if you have more ideas and suggestions – I’ll continue to update and amend this list with feedback :)

(Note: sometimes the verb conjugations and gender agreement can get a little intimidating, but don’t let that hold you up! None of that will keep you from being understood, just like if someone came up to you and said “Where bus for airport?” or “Have table three person?”, you’d understand what they meant)

General Necessities:

  • Yes – “Si” (see)
  • No – “No” (noh)
  • Please – “Per favore” (pear fah-VOR-eh)
  • Thank you – “Grazie” (GRAH-tzie-eh)
  • OK – “Va bene” (vah BEH-neh)
  • Excuse Me (polite) – “Scusi” (SKOOZ-ee)
  • Where is…? – “Dov’é…” (DOH-veh)
  • Toilette / Bathroom – “Bagno” (ban-yo) or “Servizi” (sare-VI-tzi)
  • (the) ATM – “il bancomat” (eel BAHNK-oh-mat)
  • Can I…? – “Posso…?” (POH-soh)
  • (one) Ticket – “un biglietto” (oon bill-YEH-toh)
  • (multiple) Tickets – “i biglietti” (ee bill-YEH-tee)
  • I’m Sorry – “mi dispiace” (mee dis-pee-AH-chay)
  • Excuse me / Please let me pass by – “permesso” (pare-MEH-so)
  • This – “Questo” (KWES-toh)
  • That – “Quello” (KWEL-oh)
  • Entrance – “entrata” (ehn-TRAH-tah)
  • Exit – “uscita” (ooo-SHE-tah)
  • Men (as in restrooms) – “uomini” (ooo-WOH-mee-nee)
  • Women (as in restrooms) – “donne” (DON-eh)

Numbers in Italian:

  • One – “Uno” (OON-oh)
  • Two – “Due” (DOO-eh)
  • Three – “Tre” (tray)
  • Four – “Quattro” (QUA-tro)
  • Five – “Cinque” (CHEEN-kway)
  • Six – “Sei” (say)
  • Seven – “Sette” (SET-teh)
  • Eight – “Otto” (AUT-oh)
  • Nine – “Nove” (NOH-veh)
  • Ten – “Dieci” (DEE-ay-chi)
  • Eleven – “Undici” (OON-dee-chi)
  • Twelve – “Dodici” (DOH-dee-chi)

Italian Restaurant Words:

  • How many? – “Quante?” (KWAN-teh)
  • Persons – “Persone” (paer-SONE-eh), as in “Quante persone?” (“How many people?”)
  • Restaurant – “il ristorante” (eel RHEE-store-ahn-tay)
  • Café / Bar (a place to get a beverage or a snack, from coffee to alcohol to gelato, to take away or to sit for a surcharge) – “il bar” (eel bahr)
  • I would like… – “Vorrei…” (voh-RAY)
  • Water – “l’Acqua” (LAH-kwah)
  • Water with bubbles (like Pelligrino) – “l’acqua gassata” (LAH-kwah gah-SAH-tah)
  • Still Water (note: you don’t usually find tap water in Italian cafés or restaurants; this is still bottled water) – “l’acqua naturale” or “l’acqua minerale” (LAH-kwah nah-tu-RAH-lay or LAH-kwah mee-nor-AH-lay)
  • An espresso – “un caffé” (oon kah-FAY)
  • American coffee – “Caffé Americano” (slightly different but as close as you’ll get – ka-FAY ah-mare-ee-KAH-no)
  • (the) Wine – “il vino” (eel VEE-noh)
  • Red – “rosso” (ROH-soh), as in “Un bicchiere di vino rosso, per favore” (“One glass of red wine, please”)
  • White – “bianco” (bee-AHNK-oh), as in “Una bottiglia di vino bianco, per favore” (“One bottle of white wine, please”)
  • (one) glass – “un bicchiere” (oon bee-kee-AIR-eh)
  • (one) bottle – “una bottiglia” (oon-ah boh-TEEL-ee-ah)
  • (one) liter – “un litro” (oon LEE-troh), as in “Un litro bottiglia dell’acqua, per favore” (“A one liter bottle of water, please”)
  • half – “mezzo” (MEH-tzoh)
  • quarter – “quarto” (KWOR-toh)
  • Enough / That’s enough – “Abbastanza / Basta” (ah-bah-STAN-zah / BAH-stah)
  • Finished – “finito” (fi-NEE-toh)
  • (the) Check – “il conto” (eel KON-toh), as in “Il conto, per favore” (the check, please)

How To Tell the Time in Italian:

  • :15, like 6:15 – “Sei e un quarto” (say eh oon KWAR-toh)
  • :30, like 6:30 – “Sei e mezza” or “Sei e mezzo” (say eh MET-zah / say eh MET-zoh)
  • :45, like 6:45 (note! they tend to say “seven minus a quarter”) – “Sette meno un quarto” (SET-eh MEH-no oon KWAR-toh)
  • Noon – “Mezzogiorno” (MET-zoh-JOR-no)
  • What time is it? – “Che ore sono?” (kay OH-ray SOH-noh?)

Italian Transportation Words:

  • (the) Bus – “l’autobus ” (LAUT-oh-boos)
  • (the) Train – “il treno” (eel TRAY-noh)
  • (the) Airport – “l’aeroporto” (lay-roh-POR-toh)
  • Where (does it) go? – “Dove va? (DOH-veh vah)
  • Aisle – “corridoio” (kor-eh-DOH-ee-oh)
  • Window (of a train or car) – “finestrina” (fin-ehs-TREE-nah)
  • Arrival – “arrivo” (ah-REE-vo)
  • Train car – “carrozza” (cah-ROTE-zah)
  • Departure – “partenza” (pahr-TEN-zah)
  • Track / platform – “binario” (bin-AHR-ee-oh)
  • First class – “prima classe” (PREE-mah KLAS-ay)
  • At the end – “in coda” (een KOH-dah)
  • At the front  – “in testa” (een TEH-stah)
  • Seat – “posto” (POH-stoh)
  • Station – “stazione” (stah-zee-OH-nay)

Italian Shopping Words:

  • How much – “Quanto” (KWAN-toh)
  • How much does it cost? – “Quanto costa?” (KWAN-toh COST-ah)
  • (the) Credit Card – “la carta di creditoÓ”(lah KAR-tah dee CREH-dee-toh)
  • (the) Money – “i soldi” (ee SOLE-di)
  • (the) Cash – ”il contante” (eel kon-TAHN-teh)
  • (the) Coins – “le monete” (leh moh-NEH-tay)

Note: I’m not a phonetician.  The pronunciations are not scientific, nor written by any established system.  I just tried to think how someone who knew absolutely no Italian, who knew nothing about phonetic syllables, would most accurately be able to read it and come close to the actual pronunciation.




About the author



Italian Travel Planner and Italian Culture Enthusiast

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