Many people are afraid to visit Italy because they don’t speak Italian. I know that the language, culture, and system differences can be scary, but fears are holding you back from have a great experience in Italy. In this article, I’m going to help you with all your doubts regarding this topic.
You can travel in Italy just fine without speaking Italian. You don’t need to learn the language, but it is recommended to memorize at least some key phrases. It will help you in multiple aspects of your trip, from getting around to dining out.
There are strategies that you can use to break down the language barriers with the locals and don’t get lost. Also, you have to know the truth about how difficult it is visiting Italy for English speakers.
Table of Contents
Can You Get by With English in Italy?
You can get by with English in Italy in big cities like Milan, Rome and Florence. Most people speak at least basic English and you will have no problem getting around Italy. In addition, signs and announcements are translated into English.
Here are some instances:
Firstly, you will find getting out of the airport into the city a straightforward process. It’s unlikely to get lost at the airport; everything is well organized and all the signs are both in English and Italian. Either way, you can ask a staff member to help you, most of the time they are friendly with tourists.
Some phrases you should know at the airport:
- A che ora è il mio volo? – What time is my flight?
- Con quale compagnia aerea sto viaggiando? – What airline am I flying?
- Dove si trova il mio gate? – Where is my gate?
- Dove si trova il bagno? – Where is the bathroom?
- Dove si trova il mio posto? – Where is my seat?
- Dove posso trovare il mio baglio? – Where can I get my baggage?
Regarding Italian taxis, most of the drivers know at least basic English. Though, try to be clear about where you want to go; It is better to have the exact address of your destination earlier.
You can say something like:
- Quanto è la tariffa? – How much is the rate?
- Devo andare a… – I need to get to…
- Sono un poco in ritardo – I’m a bit late
- Tenga il resto – Keep the change
- Possiamo passare davanti a… lungo la strada? – Can we drive past… on the way?
To call a taxi, you have to go to specific parking lots, and one will come to pick you up. It is not necessary to make gestures with your hands or shout out loud.
The Italian railway system is extraordinarily complete and easy to use for foreigners. Almost all announcements, signs and maps are in English, so you shouldn’t face difficulties while you are taking the train or you are already on board.
At the train station, there are luminous tables of each arrival and departure in real-time. Those will provide you valuable information such as the train number, delay time and platform. You must check every single change on this table.
Buying Train Tickets
For English speakers, buying train tickets is simple. You can do it directly at the station through the ticket office or self-service machines (you can pick the English language).
- Il treno è in arrivo nel binario … The train is arriving at the platform…
- Dov’è la biglietteria? – Where’s the ticket office?
- A che ora è il prossimo treno per …? – What time’s the next train to …?
- È questo il binario giusto per il treno per …? – Is this the right platform for …?
- Questo treno ferma a …? – Does this train stop at …?
Remember that if you buy a ticket for a regional train, you need to stamp it in the selected ticket machines before boarding.
In the case of buses, the ticket seller will speak intelligible English. Before you arrive at a stop, there will be an announcement with the name of the place. Some of them may not be in English, so you should learn these phrases:
- Quante fermate mancano per …? – How many stops are missing for …?
- Che fermata è questa? – What’s this stop?
- Questo autobus ferma a …? – Does this bus stop at …?
- Questa è la mia fermata – This is my stop
- Può avvertirmi quando arriviamo a …? – Could you tell me when we get to …?
Accommodation Without Knowing Italian
From my experience, accommodation is not an issue for visitors. You’ll have no problems whether you are using hotels, residents, or even bed and breakfast. All hotel members should speak English (with some exceptions).
Anyway, these phrases can help you:
- La colazione è gratuita? – Is breakfast free?
- Ho bisogno di asciugamani nella stanza – I need towels in the room
- Come posso accedere a Internet? – How do I access the Internet?
- La mia stanza è sporca, può pulirla per favore? – My room is dirty, can you clean it please?
- Come posso contattare il servicio camere? – How do I call for room service?
Dining Out Without Knowing Italian
As for restaurants, though it’s not always the case, you will usually find English-language menus with pictures of the foods. Otherwise, ask the waiter the recipe for each meal. Normally, they know at least the names of the ingredients in English.
One way to order is by pointing the food that other tables are eating (discreetly) or ask for “Piatto del Giorno” (Dish of the Day). Another solution would be to say “Cosa mi consigliate?” which means “What do you recommend?” and they will try their best to help you decide what to eat.
Paying the bill at the Restaurant
In Italy, the waiters will never bring you the invoice to pay unless you ask for it. For this particular reason, an expression you want to memorize is: ”Il conto per favore,” meaning ”The bill, please.” You can request it from the table, but it is better to pay on the cash desk.
Tips to Communicate Without Knowing Italian
Even though it is obligatory to study English in Italy from primary school to high school, there is no chance to speak or listen to the real world. Therefore, you have to follow these tips to avoid some of the frequent tourist’s mistakes:
1. Focus on Keywords
Make sentences shorter and clearly express your main message by using the most relevant words, skipping about the rest. For instance, you are hungry and you want to ask someone where to eat, instead of saying “Where can I find a place to eat?” you can only tell “Where Eat?”.
2. Use Visual Content
A single image or just a simple drawing can express more than a thousand words. Always have a notebook and a pen in your pocket so you can quickly draw anything when you need it. Plus, save some photos early of the places you intend to visit so that you can show them to get directions.
3. Practice Non-verbal Language
Sometimes the stronger messages can be sent without saying anything at all. While you are speaking use gestures, expressions and sounds to make your message more clear and intelligible for people who don’t know English.
On the other hand, be careful with the gestures you make. Some may have another meaning and even be offensive depending on the location. Try to learn the most famous Italian gestures that you can do in any part of Italy.
4. Have an Offline Translator
Many apps allow you to translate any language without having an internet connection, but in my opinion, the best is Google Translate. You can download the entire library with just one click, and use it no matter where you are. You will lose some features but should be okay with the basics.
Additionally, there are Smart Translators that work offline and instantly translate entire phrases using your voice. The translations are not perfect, but they do enough to talk to others comfortably. You can buy yours for a reasonable price on Amazon through this link.
5. Avoid Being too Intense
Talking faster without taking breaks will not make people understand you, quite the opposite, they will not catch what you said. Instead, pronounce the sentences slowly and avoid raising your voice. Be calm and don’t stress in any situation.
Basic Italian Phrases for Travel
|My name is…
|I would like
|What time is it?
|Che ore sono?
|Ke oray sow-no?
|How much is it?
|Where am I?
|Dove mi trovo?
|Doh-veh mee tro-voh?
|Can you help me?
|How do I get to… ?
|Come arrivo a… ?
|Ko-mo aree-voh ah… ?
|Do you speak English?
|Can I ask you a question?
|Posso farle una domanda?
|Posso far-lay oo-na do-man-da?
|I don’t speak Italian
|Non parlo italiano
|I understand a little
|Capisco un poco
|Capees-coh oon poco
|Call the police!
|Chiamate la polizia!
|Chee-ah-mah-teh lah poh-lee-tsee-ah!
|Where is the hospital?
|I need a doctor
|Ho bisigno di un medico
|Oh bee-zoh-nyoh dee oohn meh-dee-koh