Many Italians can speak English in the major Italian cities. But it pays to know the barest minimum Italian words and phrases to survive your trip. These essential words and phrases enable you to demonstrate some basic social courtesy, get help, or get an Italian to respond in English.
Featured photo: The poet Dante Alighieri, stands over the crowd at the Piazza dei Signori, in Verona, Italy. Dante pioneered writing Italian literature in the vernacular – moving away from Latin – making his writings more accessible to the common people. Many of today’s Italian words have their roots in Dante’s Tuscan dialect.
You Don’t Have to Parla Bene Italiano
So, you’re traveling to Italy for the first time, and you don’t speak any Italian. Not to worry – you don’t have to speak Italian well to get by. Many Italians in the major cities of Italy – Roma, Firenze, Milano, Venezia, Verona and others – are able to speak English when they have to talk to foreigners.
Besides, if you speak flawlessly to them using the 2 sentences you’ve memorized and practiced many times, chances are you will get an enthusiastic rapid-fire response in Italian that you likely won’t be able to follow.
That said, there are essential words and phrases you need to learn to at least demonstrate some basic social courtesy, get help, or get an Italian to respond to you in English.
What are the barest minimum Italian words and phrases that you should know and commit to memory as a transient traveler to Italy?
Here are my recommendations which will not require you to learn conjugation and other grammatical rules. I’ve included a phonetic pronunciation guide (that is, each letter is pronounced as written) with capitalized syllables where emphasis is needed.
10 Essential Italian Words to Know
- Si [SI] = Yes
- No [NOH] = No
- Signora / Signore (sin-YO-rah / sin-YO-reh) = Madam / Sir
- Grazie [GRAT-si-yeh] = Thanks (note: don’t say GRAT-zee this mean “fat”!)
- Per Favore [per fa-VO-reh] = Please / Would you please (do the favor of …)
- Prego [PRE-go] = You’re welcome / Please do so / Please go ahead
- Scusi [SKOO-zi] = Excuse me (also very useful if you’re trying to get someone’s attention)
- Ciao [ch-YAW or CHYAW] = Hi (when greeting someone you know) / Bye (when leaving someone you know) – it all depends on the context. Avoid using with strangers – use the next 2 words instead.
- Buongiorno [bwon-JOR-no] = Good morning / Good day / Hi or Hello even when it’s past noon
- Arrivederci [ar-ri-ve-DER-chi] = Good-bye
6 Survival Italian Phrases to Memorize
- Parla inglese? [PAR-la in-GLE-seh] = Do you speak English?
- Non capisco. [non ka-PIS-ko] = I don’t understand.
- Non parlo italiano. [non PAR-lo i-tal-YA-no] = I don’t speak Italian.
- Mi dispiace. [mi dis-PYAT-cheh] = I’m sorry.
- Mi può aiutare? [mi pwo a-yu-TA-reh] = Can you help me?
- Dov’è il bagno? [do-VEH il BAN-yoh] = Where’s the bathroom?
Mix ’em and Match ’em
By memorizing these words and phrases, you can mix and match them to form the message you want to communicate. For example:
Good morning madam, can you help me?
>>> Buongiorno signora, mi può aiutare?
Excuse me sir, do you speak English? I don’t speak Italian.
>>> Scusi signore, parla inglese?Non parlo italiano.
I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Please speak in English?
>>> Mi dispiace, non capisco. Parla inglese, per favore?
Please madam MonaLisa, where is the bathroom?
>>> Per favore signora MonaLisa, dov’è il bagno?
TIP: Beyond these Italian words and phrases, you can rely on translation apps. Before you travel to Italy, make sure you have downloaded onto your smartphone the Google Translate app and its Italian translation database. I have found it to be immensely useful during my travels.
For a complete list of sources and resources used on this webpage, please see the References page.
You don’t have to be Christian or religious to stay at an Italian convent or monastery. Find out if these safe, economical, and peaceful lodgings are right for you.
If you’re traveling to Italy, be prepared for what constitutes an Italian breakfast. Don’t go hungry – check my post on Breakfast in Italy.
Take this 2-mile Firenze sightseeing walk and watch the sunset over The Florence Skyline from San Miniato al Monte.
I use simple, inexpensive, but useful tools for travel. Find out what I pack for my trips.
Visit the Italy page for more stories and travel tips …
Fascinating ancient stories.
Practical travel tales and tips.