italian conversation

How to Survive Your First Italian Conversation

italian conversation

Are you nervous about speaking Italian for the first time? Below, Italian teacher Nadia B. shares some tips on how to survive your first Italian conversation…

You’ve memorized a long list of Italian vocabulary words, and you’ve practiced repeating them out loud with your Italian teacher. But, are you confident enough in your skills to have an Italian conversation with someone other than your Italian instructor?

The following tips and tricks will teach you how to navigate through your first Italian conversation. These tidbits will help you communicate with and comprehend your conversation partner, as well as avoid some of the most common challenges facing Italian language learners in conversation.

Let’s get started!

1. Ask Your Partner to Speak Slowly

If your Italian conversation partner is a native Italian, you might find that he or she will become animated and start to speak rapidly. Don’t worry, this is very common among native Italian speakers.

If you’re having trouble understanding your partner, you can try the following phrase: “Parla/parli più lentamente, per favore,” which means “Please speak more slowly.” In this phrase, parla is informal and parli is formal.

2. Take Note of Hand Gestures

Another thing that happens as Italian speakers become more animated is their use of hand gestures. Take note of these hand gestures, as they can help you gain comprehension.

Check out this link to see the many hand gestures that Italians often use. Familiarize yourself with some of the gestures, and see if you can catch them in use in actual conversation.

3. Phrases to Use When You Don’t Understand

If asking your partner to speak slowly doesn’t work, here are some phrases you can use if there’s something you don’t understand:

  • Potresti/Potrebbe ripetere la parola/la frase, per favore? (Could you please repeat the word/the last few words?) In this phrase, potresti is informal and potrebble is formal.
  • Cosa vuol dire ____? (What does ___ mean?)

If you’re really not able to understand what your conversation partner has said, you can resort to:

  • Non capisco. (I don’t understand.)
  • Non ho capito. (I didn’t understand [a specific thing].)

4. Substitute Words You Don’t Know

If you’re following what your partner is saying, but you’re having trouble expressing a particular idea or thought, try to work around it.

If you can’t think of a particular word, or don’t know the word, you can try to describe it using words you do know. For example, if you didn’t know the word for “bookstore” in Italian (la libreria), you could say, “E’ dove si compra un libro.” (It’s where you buy books.)

If you’re really stuck, and the person you’re conversing with speaks some English, try the following phrase: Come se dice ____ in italiano? (How do you say ____ in Italian?)

5. Keep it Simple

Lastly, remember to keep it simple. Using simple sentence structures and basic vocabulary words can go a long way. Remember these common building blocks of sentences:

  • The verbs “to be”: essere and stare
  • Subject pronouns: io (I), lui (he), noi (us), etc.
  • Common verbs: mangiare (to eat), parlare (to speak), andare (to go)
  • Helpful prepositions: di (of), da (from), accanto (beside), davanti (in front), indietro (behind), giù (below)
  • Useful adjectives: interessante (interesting), bello (beautiful), amabile (friendly), difficile (hard), facile (easy)

6. Ask Your Partner Questions

In addition to using the above structures to create varied conversation, don’t forget that another way to increase the richness and depth of your conversation is to ask the person you’re conversing with questions about themselves, or ask for more information about what he or she has said. Use the following question words to gain more information:

  • perché (why)
  • come (how)
  • quando (when)
  • dove (where)
  • che cosa (what)
  • chi (who)

Use these tips and consult your Italian teacher to help prepare for your first Italian conversation. Most of all, enjoy yourself! It’s sure to be full of fun and learning, and it’s only the beginning of many adventures in Italian to come!

nadiaBPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia B. teaches Italian in New York, NY. She graduated summa cum laude from New York University, with a double degree in Italian Language and Literature and Classical Music Performance. Learn more about Nadia here!

Photo by Giulia Mulè

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