On the Road

Learning Italian

Italians being more interested in making pasta than war, Italian itself is hardly spoken outside of Italy, save for some American families of Italian descent and the odd community of immigrants in Europe.

Italian is perhaps the most vibrant of the Latin languages, spoken with a good deal of enthusiasm and gestures of the hands that are vital to communicating one’s meaning. There’s a joy and a life in the words and Italians never tire of speaking them. Ever.

There are, however, a good deal of regional differences in how Italian is spoken in Italy, chiefly due to the history of the country as a collection of city states where the language evolved in its own way. Eventually everyone adopted the Tuscan tongue as the national language but dialects are still strong in some parts and the accent varies a good deal.

The main difference is that once you get south to Rome then everyone starts using the remote past (‘I ate’) rather than the perfect (‘I have eaten’) common to the rest of the country.

The pronunciation is much like Spanish with just a few vital differences:

a = ‘ah’ as in ‘father’.

e = ‘e’ as in ‘bet’ or, at the end of a word, ‘ey’ as in ‘hey’.

i = ‘i’ as in ‘pick’ or, in the middle or at the end of a word, ‘ee’ as in ‘cheese’.

o = ‘o’ as in ‘pot’ or, at the end of a word, ‘oh’ as in ‘hope’.

u = ‘oo’ as in ‘future’.

c followed by i or e = ‘ch’ as in ‘cheese’

sc followed by i o e – ‘sh’ as in ‘sheep’

Italian slang

Un sacco di… – a lot of…

Bastardo! – Bastard!

Da paura – awesome (lit. ‘from fear’)

merda – shit

scemo – fool

coglione – asshole/idiot

vafanculo – fuck off

trombonar – to screw

maria – marijuana

tipo – a guy

tischio – a guy (perjorative)

dai! – okay!

Ma dai! – oh come on!

BBC Italian Lessons