A Travellerspoint blog

Roma, Day3

How to speak Italian with limited knowledge of one romance language

OK, since today I decided to walk around the non-touristy areas of rome, I ran into pretty much no one who spoke english. While before I said Spanish was next to useless, I realize now I shouldnt have been so harsh, it was absolutley all I had to rely on in various situations, including a computer store, looking for a battery charger (I busted out the word Litio for Lithium, tell me THATS not impressive), ordering in restaurants, ordering ice cream, and also small talk in a cafe. Here is the best way to communicate:

1) Have a limited knowledge of another romance language, probably spanish is the best bet.

2)Get very good at shrugging, making non-comital gestures and saying "meh" or "eh." I just try my best to mimic some of Marlon Brandos expressions in the godfather

3)When in conversation make non-commital gestures whenever its your turn to speak and have them continue to elaborate till you hear a word you understand and then postulate what they are talking about.

4)Respond in Spanish with a strong Italian accent. When they look confused, repeat the keywords only, dropping most supporting words such as (es, esta, el, la, etc) words, again using a strong italian accent

5)When they respond with a similar word in Italian that sounds right say "ah, si si"

At this point if they havent started speaking in English, repeat steps 2-6 until they do or till you understand one another or until he or she thinks you understand him (your call, sometimes its better to just roll with it if you arent ever gonna understand him) and repeat. I find this methodology particularly useful in small talk at a cafe where I had one conversation with a guy who (I think) was talking about politics and how he supported the war in Iraq. It lasted about 10 minutes and that was all I got. None the less, he seemed very content by the end of the conversation and I got the experience of "speaking" italian.

Please note this doesnt work very well in certain situations. For example at a restaurant it wont do to respond "meh" when they ask "what would you like to order" or "what flavor gelatto would you like" In these situations its better to just blurt out everything you want in one long phrase to minimize their ability to ask questions. For example "Por favo...(trail off there becuase its a little diferent in Italian than spanish, but you arent sure how )..una copa grande de gellato chocola...(trail off there for the same reason) y una coca cola, gratzi."

In this way you dont have to worry about them asking you for a size or a drink. Same goes for ordering at a restaurant. Thats a lot tougher though, and sometimes blank stares are neccesary to communicate you have no clue what they just said.

Anyway that was about it for my travels today. Tomorrow its up and early (for real) to venice, or someones butt is getting kicked. Im not getting up at 3:55 again for nothing, even if it means I jump on the back.


Posted by JohnnyPing 10:26 Archived in Italy

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