Sunday, May 7

learning Italian

When I was at college I enrolled in an Italian class. I learned to ask directions, tell the time and say how old I was and how many brothers I have. I did not learn to understand the directions that I was given, or the time that I was told. I also wasn't taught that Italians often do not talk Italian but their local dialect instead which is really a whole other language.

So when I moved here in 1999 I quickly realised that I had to learn to converse in Italian and if not talk, at least understand Neapolitan as well, for my own well being. One evening I was on the beach with Lina and some friends. There weren't enough chairs for everyone so when one guy said I could sit on his lap I did. He immediately launched into a string of gleeful neapolitan, which had the others roaring with laughter. Lina didn't laugh, she said quietly, “Nik, get up and slap him. He is saying really rude things about you.” If translated to English he would have been saying something like “ yeah, look lads, I told you she's begging for it!”
So I jumped up, walloped him and stalked off. That is when I decided to really learn the language well.

I went out and bought a selection of childrens comics and books in Italian. I never went anywhere without my Italian/English dictionary. At home the radio was always on so I could listen to the language and start recognising phrases. Most importantly I swallowed my pride. I realised that if I made a mistake and was embarassed by it, I would remember the next time. Here are my three worst mistakes:

1. Trusting everthing I was told was correct. I asked someone how to say 'I don't mind'. He thought it would be funny to teach me 'che me ne frega', which is more like 'I don't give a shit'. A couple of days later I went for lunch at his sweet old nonnas house. She offered me a choice of pasta and in front of the whole family I told her I didn't give a shit what I ate.

2. The word for mouth is 'bocca'. The word for hole is 'buco'. I got them muddled until one day striding down a busy street in Sorrento, on the phone after eating an ice cream, I shouted down the phone that 'my hole was frozen over', meaning to say that my mouth was very cold after the ice cream. Cringe!

3. I had been invited to a big lunch. There were about 20 people and it was dragging on a bit too long. The man sitting next to me was a friend. Not being horrible but he is very big, very ugly, about 50 and very scary looking. But he is a harmless old softie when you get to know him.I turned to him and asked, “shall we escape?”. He looked at me, stroked his chin in thought and asked me to repeat the question, which I did. He stroked his chin again and said very slowly, “Now, I know what you said but I think you don't know what you said. Could you ask me again, using different words so that I can be sure of what you meant?”
“Andiamo via?” (Lets go) I said. “Aaah,” he replied, “ I thought so.Let me teach you
something.'Scopare' means to sweep the floor ,but can also mean to have sex, to shag.
'Scappare' means to escape. Try not to muddle up these words again, it could get you in trouble!”


  1. Timely post for me - I'm trying to teach myself Italian listening to CD's (no formal instructions). It's slow going so far but after reading your 3+ examples I fear that I might be just fooling myself in thinking that I can actually pick up the language enough to converse in Italy. Especially So.Italy. "Hair" & "Hat" - all the same to me... Curious, does Skye speak/understand both languages?

  2. I have also, in class, tried to say to sweep and said somthing else

    p.s. is the ferry running from Naples to Positano, or is it too early in the season? trying to figure out the best way to get there from Rome.


  3. Yes, Skye can speak both no problem. Btw- capello and cap-pello. Pronounce the two p's seperately!
    nyc- don't think the ferries are running yet, will let you know tomorrow morning on your blog!

  4. Grazie Niki for the info. I will take the train to napoli, then one to sorrento then the bus.

  5. When i first met gennaro, i told him that i just loved to dip crostini in the brodo di cazzo...

    he was making mussels :)

  6. hahahaha Hilarious! At least the guy was nice enough to assume you didnt want to shag him.

    I yelled at a guy in Florence for stealing my hair. He actually stole my hat..

  7. I've really enjoyed reading through your site. So glad I found it. Would kill to be in Italy right about now.

  8. Great stuff. I took a couple of years of Italian in college. It was nothing like my grandfather's Abruzzesi.

  9. Hello Nikinpos

    I find the " hole frozen over " story outstanding.

    Damn you make me laugh.



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