How to Survive Italy When You’re not Fluent in Italian

When I was telling people that I was studying abroad in Italy for a semester, two of the most common questions I heard were: Do you speak Italian? and Will your classes be in English? The short answer to these are yes and no.

Before coming to Italy I would say that I knew little to no Italian. I learned some conversational Italian in school but not enough to keep up with the locals. The phrase I memorized and have used the most is ‘capisco un po ‘l’italiana’ which ruffly translates to ‘I understand Italian a little’. This one phrase has gotten me far! I’ve noticed that the Florentines appreciate even the smallest amount of effort you put toward speaking their language. A lot of people I have met speak English fluently or know enough so that, through broken English and Italian, we are able to communicate. Piecing together conversations is a daily occurrence for me as I chose to live in a homestay and am living with a Florence local. My host mom is not fluent in English but we work together to communicate important things like what’s for dinner and what time my classes are over. All the while, I’m learning more and more Italian!

As for the classes, all of mine are taught primarily in English. I am taking an Italian language class so obviously, we speak Italian there. The rest of my classes are taught in English but have an Italian perspective. For example, all my classes are in English but when we read Dante it is important to look at the Italian text to fully understand his difficult rhyme scheme and why he is so important to literature. Similarly, when reading literature of the Grand Tour, knowing a little Italian is helpful because the authors sprinkle in Italian words and often write about their own struggles with learning the language.

After only being in Italy less than a month, I have already picked up on so much of the language. When I get into a bind, the Google Translate app on my phone has been my saving grace. The language barrier has pushed me to learn Italian in a way that I didn’t think myself capable of. Don’t let the fear of not knowing a language hold you back from travel! Learn what you can beforehand, try to catch on when you are there, and download a translation app for when you need the extra help.

Hannah Anglea is a student at Concordia University Chicago  and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Florence, Italy.

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