Italy itself has long been a celebrated and much-loved holiday and travel destination. Famous for its food and cultural history, this is a country filled with proud and passionate people. A point of particular importance for every Italian is the language they speak. Interestingly, however, the standard Italian we know today is not the country’s only ‘language’. Throughout the peninsula, moving by just a region or even town, you will be greeted with a new variety of the language. Effectively, the official language is not so much a mother to dialects as a sister language. We can think about it as such: first, there was Latin; slowly different Latin languages such as French and Spanish began to develop; alongside these, many different variations of ‘Italian’ grew in different parts of the peninsula which was at that point not a unified country.
It wasn’t until the Renaissance that a standardised language started to appear. As such, the standard Italian we speak today actually originates in the 14th-century Florentine dialect, mainly due to the fact that so many of the Renaissance writers came from this area and thus wrote in that dialect. As such, ‘standard’ Italian actually came about much later than many of the dialects you hear today. Of course, in schools and in writing all Italians use the standardised forms of Italian, making it possible to communicate as a nation. That said, don’t be surprised to hear strange variations and quirks added to the language depending on where you are!
There is no better way to fully immerse yourself in the history and culture of a country than by learning to communicate in it. Of course, you cannot become fluent in all languages, however even a few key phrases and expressions can not only make your journey a lot easier, but it can add a new dimension to the travel. By learning their means of communication, you can learn more about Italians and their rich and important culture. That said, if you are travelling around, or won’t be in Italy for too long, if can be hard to decide how to go about such a task. Whether you are retired and looking to explore new cultures or a gap year traveller, you will find a few suggestions below to spark your imagination.
Take a Class
Available in almost every city, this is perhaps the most obvious way to learn Italian whilst travelling. It is also probably the best starting point for those that do not know the language before arriving. Sometimes you can pay for a class can as a one-off. Usually, however, you will find them on offer as week or month-long packages. Should you be staying in the same place for while, these can really be worth it. Usually taught by native Italians, you can be sure to get the correct pronunciation and an extremely sound understanding of the grammar. Moreover, they will be familiar with idiomatic phrases and dialectal understanding, making them the perfect guides to the specific area in which you are staying.
Go to a Bar
It can be daunting to just start talking to somebody in a bar, especially when you’re on your own. Nevertheless, if there’s one country in which you can do so fearlessly, it is Italy. The majority of Italians are both friendly and curious. This makes it it relatively easy to strike up a conversation – especially over a drink or two!
If the other guests of the bar seem to group off in closed groups, don’t be shy of talking to the bartenders. In many bars the workers will enjoy interacting with their customers, sharing their love of their craft and drinks, especially if the bar is not too busy. In many big cities you may well find people that will speak English, French, Spanish and even German. That said, in exchange for a few minutes if allowing them to practice their language, most will be happy to resume their native language. This is the perfect way to learn Italian whilst travelling, by picking up new words and phrases from the locals.
Ask for Directions
Steve from FireRite suggests this is a great way to strike up a conversation with a local. In fact, you may even find yourself speaking to a soldier or carabinieri police officer. You will mostly find these around large cities, attractions and train stations. Don’t be put off by their imposing presence, these are the ideal people to talk to when you’re lost. They are also almost always happy to chat a little with you. Not only can you practice asking questions and responding to instructions, but you will have the chance to speak to a native Italian. This is a great chance to find out about the city or place you have chosen to explore.
Should soldiers be lacking from your surroundings, you will find that the locals are more than happy to give directions. Moreover, Italians are known for being proud of their country and their hometowns. They will often be thrilled to talk to you about their childhood here or give you recommendations of attractions, restaurants and bars.
Use an App
Some people think technology has ruined travel, with the rise of snapchatting and instagramming everything you see everywhere you go. That said, your phone can be extremely helpful when trying to learn Italian whilst travelling. If you don’t have the time to take a full language course in one place, downloading an app could be the way forward. This can range from phrasebooks and dictionaries, to interactive teaching apps such as Babbel and Duolingo. What is especially attractive about these is that they cost very little, if not nothing at all. This makes them the ideal way to learn Italian whilst travelling on a budget. All you need is a smartphone, and a good deal of self-motivation to keep those self-led lessons up!
Italians love their food. Italians who make and sell food, however, are in love with their food. Heading to a a bar-café and you will often encounter the most fascinating people. Of course, another great plus to this plan is the food you get to taste! In such places you can take a caffè freddo and pasticcini. These smaller shops are often family-run, and thus their workers have a certain sense of pride in what they do. They will thus happily engage in conversations about what they do, and will happily offer stories and details about their passion: high-quality Italian produce.
For more tips on how to learn a new language quickly visit our friends at Italian Kitchen Stories.