Being fluent in a language is not necessary to travel to a foreign country. That’s simply an excuse some people use for not traveling – “I don’t know the language.” Even basic proficiency isn’t completely necessary. However, it’s always a wise idea to have a rudimentary grasp of something about the language and culture before you visit an unfamiliar place. Even though many people may speak English where you’re going, it’s appallingly rude to walk up to someone in Rome, for instance, and start blabbering in your native tongue. Instead, here are five essential Italian phrases to learn before going to Italy (Italia):

Non Capisco/Parla Inglese?

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When you’re feeling flustered as the bus driver barks out a command and impatiently waits for you to give him money, it’s wise to say: What? More particularly, you might say non capisco or “I don’t understand.” A good follow up might be parla inglese?, meaning “Do you speak English?” He might say no, but chances are somebody will step in to help out.


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Sometimes it means hello. Sometimes, good bye. It’s the all-purpose greeting – ciao. It’s a friendly way to informally introduce yourself to someone, and a good way to depart just about any situation. The word is quite like the Hawaiian “aloha.”

Buon Giorno/Buona Sera/Buonanotte

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Beyond hello and goodbye, it’s nice to throw in a little time of day note in your phraseology. A good morning, good evening and goodnight (buon giorno, buona sera and buonanotte) are the three essentials. These are put to good use in various circumstances: a morning greeting to the café clerk while getting your cannoli, a response to the waiter welcoming you into the restaurant where you’re about to enjoy lasagna, and a goodnight to the bartender who might have over-served you on the red wine afterward. Speaking of, knowing food names is also very important, but that’s for another list.

Mi Scusi/Mi Dispiace

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One of the last things you want to do in a foreign country – or probably in your native country, too – is to get into a fight. Being a jerk and not apologizing is one way to do that. So, when you bump into somebody, say mi scusi, the formal “excuse me” for such a transgression. If you need to follow up with a particularly disgruntled person, make it known: I’m sorry, mi dispiace.

Si/No/Per Favore/Grazie

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C’mon now. You have to know at least the very basics. Yes, no, please and thank you. You’ll use such common words in almost every interaction, and rely on them even more than usual if your strength in the Italian language is weak (especially if you understand more than you can speak). Si and no are pretty straightforward – yes and no. Per favore, you might realize, sounds a lot like the Spanish por favor. It can be easy to mix the languages up for beginners, so be sure to practice your pronunciation, too! Grazie!