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How long does it take to learn Italian?

Learning Italian, as many of you already know, is a wonderful journey and, as such, its duration depends on many factors. It also depends on your goals, of course. A student may be completely happy to master the language to the extent that he or she can go to Italy and be able to ask for information, place an order, have a brief conversation with natives. Another one may want to learn Italian in order to advance their careers and, thus, they want, not only to be fluent (which includes speaking on the phone with natives), but also have a good command of grammar. Between these two types of students there are many others with different requirements which lead them to learn Italian.


As I said in a previous post, it is easy to start learning Italian. In fact, it is very easy to read as we pronounce it as it is written. In a single lesson a student will learn how to pronounce every Italian word!

Moreover, many words are very similar between Italian and English. As you probably already know, Italian is a Latin language and, therefore, all English words coming from Latin have a corresponding Italian  word, easily recognizable. For example, volcano (vulcano), city (citta’), family (famiglia), defenestrare (defenestration, to throw someone out the window) and so on.


For these reasons, it is not too difficult to achieve your goals, as long as you put some effort and time into your learning. This means, for those who already attend a course, revising what has been done during class, preferably sooner rather than later, doing their homework and revising again before each lesson. Taking some Conversation Classes would help a lot and, of course, talking to natives and going to Italy every now and then. Watching movies, listening to audio books or podcasts is also a great way to improve your listening, which is probably the hardest part when a person starts learning as an adult. E-book readers, Kindles, iPads and so on are wonderful learning tools as they allow you to read and listen at the same time.


The more you do of all the above, the faster you will achieve your goals, whichever they are.


For those of you who belong to the second category I mentioned in the first paragraph, and have no time to enjoy the journey, going to Italy and attending a course and working there for a while is definitely the best solution.


For those of you who are Spanish things are much easier, especially if your  goals are more conversational. Things get more complicated if you want to have a mastery of grammar and write academic pieces.


As an English learner, I use to belong to the second category I mentioned in the first paragraph. I needed to learn English, from scratch, in order to advance my career. I had taken private lessons for about a year and came to Ireland, hoping that 4 months would be enough to achieve my goals. This was about 7 years ago… I am still here, I am still learning and I love it!


Buona Pasqua to everybody, but let’s not forget Pasquetta!

Buona Pasqua a tutti (which literally means Good Easter to all, but you would translate Happy Easter to everybody).

Today I have been asked by my neighbor if the Easter Bunny has already come to my house… My face probably answered for me and she gave a few coloured and rubbery rabbits to my son Kevin (she probably thought that I was a heartless mother!). Actually, we do not have the Easter Bunny in Italy and tradition dictates that the egg is the symbol of Pasqua (Easter). I remember painting eggs and, sometimes, putting some cotton chicks with them when I was a child. The relationship between chicks and eggs is quite obvious, but I cannot really see the connection between a rabbit and an egg! Paese che vai, usanze che trovi (countries you go to, traditions you find) we say in Italy. It will, nevertheless, be great fun tomorrow to look for the eggs in our granny’s garden with my son Kevin.

In all the Italian houses tomorrow there will be a great lunch based on lamb or kid (goat) and eggs. Besides lots of chocolate eggs, in Italy we will have the Colomba Pasquale (Easter Dove) which is a sort of answer to the Panettone. In fact, the Colomba is a soft cake with candied fruit covered by a crunchy icing with almonds… Here is a picture, doesn’t it look yummy?

Almost as popular as Pasqua is our Pasquetta which literally means little Easter. We celebrate Pasquetta on the Monday after Easter (Easter Monday) and tradition dictates that families and friends go out for a picnic. Therefore, our countrysides, beaches, mountains or parks are all covered with tablecloths and barbecues and everyone enjoys it!

And remember the saying: Natale con i tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi! Christmas with your family and Easter with whoever you want!


Al fresco, outside or locked up?

We laughed so much the other evening with my students about this expression… Al fresco! I found out that two students named their golf team ‘Al fresco’ and after reading this story you will know why it is so funny.

You use the expression ‘al fresco’ to say that you want to eat outside, but it does not mean exactly the same in Italian.

In Italian the expression al fresco means literally ‘in the chill or in the cool’, but it does not mean outside. In fact, we say that ‘il vino e’ al fresco, in cantina’ (the wine in the chill in the cellar’ or that ‘il formaggio va conservato al fresco’ (the cheese has to be kept in a cool place). Besides, you know that it is not necessarily cool or chilly in Italy outside, especially from May on. In fact, you may not want to eat outside (unless you are up in the mountains) in August as the temperature is unbearable. You would probably prefer to eat inside with the air conditioning where it is much cooler.

We also use the expression ‘al fresco’ to mean that someone is in prison. In fact, ‘Giovanni è al fresco’ means Giovanni is in prison. This is a more light hearted way to state it than saying ‘Giovanni è in prigione’ (in prison). The expression comes (probably) from the fact that prisons had thick walls and were not very warm. It is interesting that ‘cella’ in Italian is the room of a prison and it is not too different from your cellar (cantina).

After this long story, you will now remember that in Italy you want to eat ‘fuori’ (outside) or ‘all’aperto’ (in the open air), you do not want to eat ‘al fresco’ as you do not want to eat in a prison… Can you now picture Leo, Cathal and all their golf team al fresco (behind the bars)? I can…


‘Hai una bella figura’ or ‘hai fatto una bella figura’, which one is the right Italian expression?

Frequently, and especially during our Conversation Classes, the expression ‘bella figura’ crops up when we are talking about how someone looks so as to pay a compliment. This is probably because you have the word figure in English which, among many other meanings, refers to ‘the shape of the human body and especially a woman’s body that is attractive’ (Oxford Dictionary). Therefore, it sounds fantastic to our ears when someone is telling us that we have a great figure.

Unfortunately, the exact translation does not have  the same meaning in Italian. In fact, to compliment someone on their appearance we use other expressions, such as ‘sei in gran forma’ (you are in great shape) or ‘hai un bel fisico’ (you have a beautiful figure) or ‘hai un bell’aspetto’ (you have a beautiful look); this last one also refers to things, such as plates, for example: questo piatto di spaghetti ha proprio un bell’aspetto (this plate of spaghetti looks very good).

The word combination ‘bella figura’ is used in the expression ‘fare una bella figura’ which means ‘to give a good impression’. In fact, everyone would be happy to hear: ‘Hai fatto una bella figura ieri durante il tuo colloquio di lavoro’ (you gave a good impression yesterday during your job interview). The opposite of ‘fare una bella figura’ is ‘fare una brutta figura’, which has the corresponding English expression ‘to make a poor figure’.

Allora (so), what do you say to an Italian friend if you want to pay them a compliment? I would be more careful if you are talking to women. Women can tell each other: ‘Hai un bel fisico’ and this is a great compliment, but it might sound cheeky if it is from a male friend who is not very close. To anyone, you can say: ‘Sei proprio in forma!’ and ‘farai sempre una bella figura’ (you will always make a good impression)!



Curiosity about our lasagne

Did you ever eat lasagne? Yes, it is written ‘lasagne’ and it is not  a mistake, trust me! It comes as a surprise for many of my students to know that what they always called lasagna, due to the fact that many restaurants actually call it that, does not make much sense for an Italian speaker.

It is not only a different spelling, but also a different pronunciation. In fact, the final ‘a’ in lasagna has an A (æ) sound like in cat, while the final ‘e’ of lasagne lasagne has an E (e) sound like in ten.

It would be as if I were inviting you for dinner to eat spaghetto or uno spaghetto. You would think that I am a bit mean, as you cannot make a dinner for two out of a single spaghetto. You would be much happier to be invited over for ‘un bel piatto di spaghetti’ (a good plate of spaghetti). The same rule applies to our lasagne. A single lasagna is actually a single rectangular piece of pasta. Many of them are lasagne.

In fact, la lasagna is singular while le lasagne is plural. Many of you already know that ‘la’ is the definite article (the) which goes in front of singular and feminine nouns (they are also called substantives). ‘Le’ is the plural of ‘la’ and goes in front of feminine and plural nouns, this is why it goes in front of lasagne.

Therefore, now you know that next time you want to order lasagne, you, full of confidence, will say: ‘Come primo vorrei le lasagne, per favore!’.


Mi mangio la pizza, mi guardo un film… mistakes or what?

Many of my students stumble over this particular use of the reflexive form which is not academic or formal but, nonetheless, sounds truly Italian.

In Italian we use some verbs which are called ‘Riflessivi’ or ‘Reflexive’ such as, lavarsi (to wash oneself), pettinarsi (to comb oneself), radersi (to shave oneself) and so on. The majority of them are somehow involved with the care of one’s body, for example: mi lavo i denti (I wash my teeth), mi lavo le mani/i capelli (I wash my hands/hair), mi faccio la doccia (I take a shower), mi faccio il bagno (I take a bath). In all these cases the performed action falls on the subject and the listener cannot misunderstand. For example, if I say: ‘Mi lavo le mani’ everyone will understand that I am washing my own hands and no one else’s; but if I say: ‘Lavo le mani’ an Italian listener would be waiting for the name of the person whose hands I am going to wash, for example: ‘Lavo le mani di/a Kevin’.


Sometimes, other verbs can be used in this way, even though they do not become really reflexive, but emphasize that the action greatly pleases or displeases the subject. For example, if I say to you: ‘Questa sera mi mangio una pizza’ or ‘Questa sera mi guardo un film’ or ‘Questa sera mi leggo un libro’, I am already anticipating the pleasure of doing these things. It is almost as if I am going to treat myself. While if I say: ‘Stasera mangio la pizza’ it could mean that I do not have anything to eat and I will have a pizza as a backup or that of the options available, this is the ‘best of a bad lot’.


The trick does not work for all verbs, though. For example, reading the following sentence: il gatto si mangiò  il topo (the cat ate the mouse) we can draw the conclusion that he really enjoyed his meal, but we cannot say ‘Il cane si morse il gatto’ as it would not make much sense, besides the fact that he might have bitten himself when he was trying to bite the cat!


To know more about ‘Il cane che morse il gatto che si mangiò il topo’, you can google ‘Alla fiera dell’est’, a great song by the singer-songwriter Angelo Branduardi who also won a price for it in 1978.


College of Commerce classes start tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday. Places available.

Our exciting College of Commerce classes start tomorrow (Tuesday). For anyone looking to start learning Italian, our beginners class (starting Wednesday) is a great way to start. Learn with an experienced native Italian teacher, using real life situations such as going to a market, visiting friends, going to a restaurant and booking a room. Its a relaxed and fun way to quickly and easily learn this beautiful language.

If you already have some Italian  why not try our continuation or intermediate classes to progress your Italian in a fun and productive atmosphere with the focus very much on improving your usable Italian and developing your ability to communicate more fluently.

For more information, check this College of Commerce link



Do not say Buona Fortuna, for goodness’ sake!

If you want a piece of advice, do not ever say ‘Buona fortuna’ to an Italian person, unless you don’t like him or her very much!

Buona fortuna means good luck, but, in Italy, it is strongly believed that if someone tells you buona fortuna before a test or any other occasion, he or she doesn’t really want the best for you!

What we usually say to a person who is going to sit for a test or a job interview or is feeling unwell is ‘In bocca al lupo’, which literally means ‘In the wolf’s mouth’. To complete the good luck ritual, the person, who has been told that, has to answer ‘Crepi il lupo’ which means ‘die the wolf’. The short version of the answer is ‘Crepi’, the lupo is implied.

I don’t know where this good luck ritual comes from, but you can try it and see if it works.

In the meantime, you can take a look on Wikipedia, they might know what it means and In Bocca Al Lupo with that!


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