Learning Italian in Italy

The most important thing to keep in mind when learning Italian as an adult is to keep your sense of humor, as no matter how brilliant you are in your native language, you can sound like a moron in Italian. When I was first studying Italian in Florence, I used to supplement my vocabulary by watching reruns of old American television shows that were dubbed in Italian, such as “I Dream of Jeannie”. In this way I learned to say “Si, padrone!” (Yes, master!) with great enthusiasm. If you are a beginner, after a week of Italian language lessons, you may feel extremely proud of the fact that you can count to ten in Italian, ask where the bathroom is, and correctly identify objects such as a house, dog, or cat. In other words, you are able to speak like a not particularly bright 3-year old, but are unable to order good wine.

It takes time and patience to learn to speak Italian, and even after years it is easy to make a mistake with words called “false friends.” These are words that sound similar in both languages, yet have an entirely different meaning. An example is parenti / parents. Parenti are relatives, while genitori are parents. If you are not careful, other false friends can be embarrassing, though a source of amusement for others. Be prepared to blush.

I recall a scene in the local salumeria when I lived near Radda in Chianti. An English fellow, who spoke quite good Italian, was ordering various kinds of salami and cheeses from the proprietor, Sig. Porciatti. At one point, the Englishman noticed that there were sausages labeled nostra produzione, meaning they were made in-house. He asked, “Do the sausages have preservativi?” Since preservativi are condoms, this caused a few giggles in the grocery shop. Sig. Porciatti paused, and then graciously and quite truthfully replied, “No, absolutely not.” The correct Italian word for preservatives is conservanti.

3 thoughts on “Learning Italian in Italy

  1. He is not the only one to have made the ‘preservativi’ mistake. I did the same in Chianti years ago and the Italian fell down laughing. I am sure I continue to make similar mistakes to this day but Italians are usually much too polite to point out your mistakes.

  2. So Aunt Anita, are you saying that I should burn my $400 Rosetta Stone and just come to Italy to learn? Sounds good to me.

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