It's not enough to fare la valigia (pack your suitcase) and watch Italian language movies before you arrive in Italy. Whether you're sight-seeing in such world-famous cities as Florence, Rome, and Venice, on a business trip in Milan, or reuniting with family, though, there are a multitude of ways to improve your Italian before traveling to Italy.
Italian Survival Phrases
Your first objective should be to learn Italian survival phrases that will facilitate your travels if you don't speak Italian. Greetings and introductions will earn you good will, and remembering a few phrases related to dining out can make the difference between a good meal and a memorable one. After all, if you don't know the difference between a pesca (peach) and a pesce (fish), you might go hungry.
If you're pressed for time, focus on the fundamentals. Study the Italian ABC's and Italian numbers, learn how to pronounce Italian words and ask questions in Italian, and brush up on the euro (after all, you'll have to reach into your portafoglio—wallet—eventually). For those who are really ambitious, subscribe to the Italian For Beginners newsletter course. The weekly newsletter will teach you basic Italian grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
Don't want to miss the next train to Venice? Have tickets to La Scala for 20:00 and aren't sure when that is? Quick, step-by-step instructions on how to tell time in Italian will help you avoid missing curtain call.
Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel is around the corner. Or so you thought the sign said. Avoid missing the highlights of Italy with simple instructions on how to ask for directions in Italian.
It's All in the Hands
When all else fails—your Italian-English dictionary is buried deep in your suitcase and you cannot even began to think in Italian—try to speak Italian with your hands. It's not just pointing and grunting when ordering your favorite pizza, either. Italian hand gestures are a way to convey emotions and passions that Italians will understand implicitly. What might seem at first to be physical theater or a scene in an Italian comedy will actually be a way to connect that will be much appreciated.
One of the primary reasons for traveling to Italy (besides the magnificent art, the incredible history, the amazing archeological sites) is la cucina italiana. One challenge is deciphering the menu in Italy, since dishes are usually served on separate plates in a specific order. Restaurant types in Italy include the autogrill, or roadside snack bar; the osteria, an informal place; the trattoria, which is a medium-priced, often family-run eating establishment; and the paninoteca, a place where sandwiches and salads are often available.
Travelers are often puzzled about tipping in restaurants in Italy, and for good reason. Il coperto (cover charge for bread and water)—but not the service charge—is usually included in il conto (the bill). Italians tend to tip minimally, in fact. And when visiting Italy, if you have a restaurant meal that is so delicious that you wished you could take it with you, as a member of Buon Ricordo, you can literally take the dish home as a souvenir!
Italian For Travelers Newsletter
Another way to enhance your trip to il bel paese is by subscribing to the Italian For Travelers newsletter. The weekly newsletter includes survival phrases, vocabulary lists, a guide to pronunciation, study tips, and how to's, plus cultural notes and tips on what to see and where to go when visiting Italy. There are eight issues, so you can practice Italian for a couple of months before leaving on your trip. Buon viaggio!