I don't speak Italian! How do I communicate? Will I feel out of place?
These are common questions I get. Fortunately for all of us, language barriers are becoming less of a problem between English-speaking travelers and Italian locals. Most European countries now offer, or even require, English language studies in schools. In Italy where English-speaking tourism is at an all-time high, even the older generations are finding value in learning a few English words and phrases.
If you are like me and are slow at learning a new language, following these few simple practices will almost ensure you a greater experience when visiting Italy:
- Buy a pocket language guide. They are available in most bookstores, inexpensive and most helpful in learning a few key words. Although my Italian vocabulary expands every year, I never leave my hotel room without my pocket-sized Rick Steve's Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary.
- Commit to memorizing a few words and phrases. Any attempt to make a request, order a meal, or offer greetings in Italian will delight the locals and go along way to creating a fun and hospitable environment.
- Mi dispiace, non parlo l'Italiano. Parlo Englese? When you get in a jam, simply say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian. Do you speak English" The simple fact that you stated your dilemma in Italian, a local will go out of their way to assist you, whether through broken English, sign language, or even drawing you a picture.
- Be polite and remember, you are in their country. It is YOUR responsibility to communicate, not THEIRS. Too many times I've encountered Americans vacationing in Italy who have become angry or frustrated with the non-English speaking Italian who can't understand them. I find that embarrassing and sad. The whole point of visiting a foreign country is experiencing a different culture, cuisine, and yes, even a different language. Embrace it. Enjoy it.
- Loudness does not make you more understood. Instead, speak simply and clearly. This is especially true when speaking English to a non-fluent listener. And, when listening to a non-fluent English speaker, be patient and try to understand the context of what is being said.
- Compliment any Italian brave enough to try out his or her English on you. "Molto buono Englese" lets them know you appreciate their attempts to communicate with you even when they don't really have to.