Part of the beauty of South Tyrol is its delicious blend of Austrian and Italian cultural influences. While the majority of locals speak German as their first language, many South Tyroleans are bilingual. This is immediately evident as you encounter signs in German and Italian upon entering the region.
You certainly do not need to know either language to visit South Tyrol; however, your trip will be more rewarding by becoming a little familiar with either one. If you like the sip-easy sound of the Italian language over the harsh swig of German dialect, this article is for you. We cover the basics, as well as give you useful Italian travel phrases.
Not sure if you should choose to learn German or Italian? Here’s a quick word test using a traditional South Tyrolean delight — Fresh goat cheese in bacon crust. Do your best to speak each of the following:
- Ziegenfrischkäse im Speckmantel
- Caprino in crosta di Speck
Which one rolled off the tongue easier? If it was the first, you might prefer bratwurst over pizza and may want to head over to our helpful German phrases article.
Insider Tip: Before reading any further we’d like to point out that you can access a PDF of the Key Italian Phrases Guide and our German Phrases Guide in our FREE South Tyrol Travel Resources Library. We made it handy to print out or keep on your tablet or phone while traveling.
Don’t Be Brad Pitt – The Basics of Italian Pronunciation
Before diving into key Italian phrases it’s helpful to have a grasp on proper pronunciation. This will come in handy when running into specialties listed on a menu or when meeting someone, for example. After all, you don’t want to come off a like Brad Pitt when saying goodbye to your new Italian friends.
Here are some basic guidelines:
- “A” is pronounced like the a in water
- “I” like the “ee” in feet
- “U” like the “oo” in boot
- “C” before “i” or “e” is pronounced like a “ch”
- “G” before an “i” or “e” like the “g” in “giraffe”
- “H” is silent
- “R” is almost always rolled…and almost always fun to say!
- “Z” like the “ds” in “ads” at the beginning of the sentence, and like the “ts” in tents everywhere else
- “Gli” sounds like the “lli” in billion, which sounds like “yee”
- In general, the emphasis is on the second-to-last syllable (i.e. “Arrivederci” is “ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee”). This stress helps give the Italian language its poetic cadence
- If the last letter of the word has an accent symbol, the emphasis is likely on the last syllable (i.e. perché is pear-kEH)
Saying Hello & Goodbye in Italian
Now that you know the basic pronunciation, here are a handful of greetings you may hear or can use when interacting with the locals or travelers from Italy:
- Benvenuto (Ben ven uto) – Welcome
- Buongiorno (Bwohn journo) – Good morning or good day. Typically used until late afternoon
- Buona sera (Bwohn ah say rah) – Good evening.
- Buona notte (Bwohn ah nau-tay) – Good night. Use when saying goodbye at night
- Ciao (chow) – A common way to informally say hello or goodbye at any time of day
- Salve (sahl vey) – The polite, formal way to say hello. Can be used any time of day
- Arrivederci (ah-ree-vah-dair-chee) – The formal way to say goodbye
Simple Conversations in Italian
After starting a dialogue, you may want to inform the person that you speak a little Italian.
- I understand a little Italian: “Io capisco un po l’Italiano” (EE-oh kah-PEES-koh oon poh lee-TAH-lyah-noh)
If you do not want to attempt any conversation in Italian, let the person know you do not speak any Italian.
- I don’t speak Italian: “Non parlo Italiano” (non PAR-lo Italiano)
Then, you would want to follow this by asking them if they speak English.
- Do you speak English?: “Parla Inglese?”(PAR-la ee-GLAY-zay)
If the person responds “No”, they do in fact mean “No”. “Yes” in Italian, on the other hand, is “Si” (see).
While in Italy you should know how to ask where something is located. Nothing is more important when nature calls and you are in the middle of a castle tour that is entirely in Italian. True story. Best told over vino (wine).
- Where is?: “Dove’?” (doe VEH)
- Where is the bathroom?: “Dove’ il bagno?” (doe VEH eel BHAN-yo).
Note: If you’re in a panic situation and these words evade you, trying yelling “Aiuto!” (I u-toh), which means “Help!”. Once help arrives, of the course the right thing to do is offer a “thank you”: “grazie” (GRAT-zee-yay)
- Where is a restaurant?”: “Dove’ un ristorante?”(doe VEH oon rees toh-RAHN-tay)
- Where is the main train station?”: Dove’ la stazione centrale?” (doe VEH lah stah-zee-oh-neh sen-trah-lay)
- Where is the cable car?: “Dove’ la funivia?” (doe VEH lah foo-nih-vee-a)
Additional helpful Italian words and phrases include:
- Quanto costa?: How much does it cost?
- Per favore: Please
- Prego: You’re welcome
- Mi chiamo…: My name is…
- Come ti chiami: What is your name?
- Chi: Who?
- Quando: When?
- Cosa: What?
- Perché: Why?
- Destra (right), sinistra (left), dritto (straight)
- Vicino (close), lontano (far)
Getting from Point A to Point B in Italian
When you’re traveling around South Tyrol or if arriving into other cities like Milan, Verona or Venice first, you’ll likely need to look for specific places or forms of transportation. Here are some of the most common terms you may need while on your adventure:
- Arrivo: Arrival
- Partenza: Departure
- Programma: Schedule
- Stazione ferroviari: Train station
- Treno: Train
- Quanto costa il biglietto: How much is the ticket?
- Macchina: Car. Also known as auto
- Noleggio auto: Car rental
- Funivia: Cable car
- Autobus: Bus
- Aeroporto: Airport
- Taxi: Taxi
- Parcheggio: Parking
- Cantina: Winery
- Banca: Bank. Be sure to ask for a bancomat if you’re looking for an ATM
- Mercato del contadino: Farmer’s market
- Farmacia: Pharmacy
- Ospedale: Hospital
- Panetteria: Bakery
- Polizia: Police
- Museo: Museum
- Castello: Castle
- Chiesa: Church
- Uffico del Turismo: Office of Tourism
- Supermercato: Grocery
- Piazza: Town Square
Hopefully, you’re able to avoid getting sick while traveling, but if not keep an eye out for signs indicating “Farmacia” and “Ospedale”.
Telling Time in Italian
Knowing how to tell time in Italy will really only be useful if you forget your watch or if your smartphone dies. In that case, this highly-instructional video shows you how to accurately ascertain the time when roaming the Italian countryside.
- Che ore sono?: “What time is it?”
Know Your Numbers in Italian
Once you’ve made your way to the supermercato, panetteria or cantina, knowing numbers in Italian helps understand prices, order quantities, etc.
- uno (1)
- due (2)
- tre (3)
- quattro (4)
- cinque (5)
- sei (6)
- sette (7)
- otto (8)
- nove (9)
- dieci (10)
- undici (11)
- dodici (12)
- tredici (13)
- quattordici (14)
- quindici (15)
- seidici (16)
- diciassette (17)
- diciotto (18)
- diciannove (19)
- venti (20)
- venticinque (25)
- cinquanta (50)
- settanta cinque (75)
- cento (100)
Ordering Food & Drink in Italian
When visiting Italian-speaking places like South Tyrol, the last thing you want to struggle with is ordering food and drink. An Italian adventure without being able to fully savor its culinary treasures is what nightmares are made of. Here are some drinks you may wish to order:
- vino: wine
- vino bianco: white wine
- vino rosso: red wine
- birra: beer
- acqua: water
- caffè: coffee
- latte: milk (If you are visiting South Tyrol, the milk from its traditional Alpine farmers is a must-try. Learn more in 12 Things to Know Before Visiting South Tyrol.)
Here are some Italian phrases that will help you while dining in Italy:
- [Un] vino bianco per favore: One white wine please
- [Tre] vini rossi per favore: Three red wines please
Note: Replace vini rossi with vino rosso for a single glass of red wine.
- [Quattro] birra per favore: Four beers please
Note: Replace uno with una for a single glass of beer.
- [Un] caffe con latte per favore: One coffee with milk please
- Tavolo per [due] per favore: Table for two please
- A che ora chiudete?: What time do you close?
- A che ora apri?: What time do you open?
- Hai un menu?: Do you have a menu?
- Posso vedere la lista dei vini per favore?: Can I see the wine list please?
- Quanto costa?: How much does it cost?
- Quanto le devo?: How much do I owe?
- Puoi scriverlo per favore?: Can you please write that down?
- Posso avere il conto per favore?: Can I have the bill please?
- Posso pagare in contanti?: May I pay with cash?
- Posso pagare con la carta di credito?: May I pay with credit card?
If you’re traveling all the way to Italy, there’s a good chance you’ll treat yourself to gelato. To make sure you’re ready, we highly recommend checking out the Lazy Italian’s post specifically dedicated to the art of ordering gelato. Enjoying an authentic pizza is equally likely to be top of mind during your trip. ITALY magazine has a nice piece on what you can expect when ordering pizza.
Additional Italian Language Resources
- Coffee Break Italian Podcast: This podcast has free and members-only versions. While there are additional bonus materials available to members, the free podcast is exceptional. Out of the three resources we mention here, this is the most beneficial for travel in Italian-speaking regions. Another advantage to this podcast is that the hosts provide details on grammar, cultural nuggets, review past lessons and break down the language. If you do not have any Italian language experience, we recommend starting with episode 1.
- Duolingo: Duolingo is a fun and easy way to begin learning Italian. It requires 5 minutes a day. Not only does Duolingo provide lessons, but you can engage in short, situational chats to practice responses. As you progress, Duolingo provides a percentage fluency score that helps to see how well you are progressing.
- Pimsleur Italian Language Program: Older versions of the audiobooks are usually available at public libraries and are a great way to learn a language during your commute. Depending on your skill level, there are a variety of programs you can select. The program is also available on Audible.
We’ve learned that the most important part of learning a new language is not to judge yourself too harshly or to take yourself too seriously. Sure you may get frustrated, but just remind yourself that you’re on vacation after all.
You’re going to make mistakes and sound silly. Everyone does. Learning a new language is very challenging, so be patient with yourself. Keep in mind that most Italians are just as self-conscious and apologetic for their English as you are for your Italian.
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