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…

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‘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)!

 

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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!’.

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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.

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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

 

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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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Grammar or no grammar?

Italian is a very easy language to learn. In fact, it is very easy to read as we pronounce it as it is written. In addition, no stress is involved in reading as you should read slowly and take your time when you pronounce the vowels; they should be over pronounced in comparison with English pronunciation. In fact, I always say to my students that the longer the vowels and, therefore, the more stretched the syllables, the more they sound like they are from the South of Italy! This is a very good thing.

Moreover, many words are very similar between Italian and English. As you may 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’) or family (famiglia), defenestrare (defenestration, to throw someone out the window) and so on.

On the other hand, Italian grammar requires a bit of commitment for those who are not used to studying grammar. No more nor less then the same commitment if you had to study English grammar, believe me! The point is that usually grammar is not studied very much in Anglophone countries, at least so I have been told. In Italy we do study Italian grammar since our first primary school year, therefore by the end of our forth grade we know the difference between an adjective and an adverb, and so on. Grammar is also studied in the transition years and in many secondary schools. Therefore, it might be a bit of struggle for those who never studied other languages, but if you have already studied French, Spanish, Latin or any other language it will be quite easy! (In fact, students, who do not struggle with Italian grammar, usually have a good preparation in other languages such as French, Spanish or Latin or are not native English speakers.)

Having said this, you should not worry. In the first instance, grammar can be learnt in easy ways, and, most importantly, it should always be linked to immediate and practical usage. In my classes I have seen many students improve, not only their conversation skills, but also their grasp of grammar. One of them really impressed me. He hated grammar, and probably he still hates it, but through role playing of real life situations we approached grammar in an indirect way, and, almost incidentally, came to understand all the grammar we worked on during the winter. Now he is doing very well and learning away! Are you reading? Did you recognize yourself?

If I can give a piece of advice, I would recommend never letting grammar stack up. As soon as you have time, you should go over your lessons and do your exercises and take a look at them before the next class. If you don’t understand, you should ask your teacher immediately for further or different explanations. This is your second or third language, therefore there is nothing to be ashamed about.

Let’s not forget that you can do without grammar, as far as your target is not reading ‘La divina commedia’ or writing Italian essays! If you’re aiming at going to Italy for you holidays and being able to ask for information, make an order or introduce yourself, you do not need much grammar, but rather Conversation which is much easier

If you have been studying Italian for a while, it would be great to know what you think about this subject and if have any suggestions for those who are just starting to learn Italian!

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Capodanno in Italia? Fantastico, ma attenzione alle tradizioni!

Let’s start with a couple of words about Capodanno which means the first day of the year. In Italy Capodanno includes New year’s eve and the first of January.

Capodanno is composed of two words and a preposition CAPO D’ANNO which literally means HEAD OF YEAR.

As in all the countries we have some traditions which are supposed to bring good luck. For example, all over in Italy we use to eat ‘Lo zampone e le lenticchie’. Lo zampone is the trotter of the pork with a roll of skin attached and filled with lean pork meat (see picture). Le lenticchie are lentils. Sometimes, people don’t like to have a foot of pork in their plate, so they go for ‘Cotechino’ instead. It looks like a big sausage (see picture) and it is the some thing as zampone. This plate eaten during the night is supposed to bring money and prosperity to the eater. Try next year and let me know!

Another food which is suppose to have the same property is the ‘Melograno’ or pomegranate. Lentils and pomegranate seeds are actually quite similar.

Red is the colour of Capodanno and it is supposed to bring good luck. In fact, women are supposed to wear new red under garments during Capodanno’s night…

An old tradition says that you should kiss someone underneath the mistletoe… I have never seen anybody doing it, I am not so old!

During Capodanno’s night we are also used to having fireworks, and any town, small or big, has their own. Many families also buy their own to have their own fun. In the antiquity, fireworks were supposed to keep away evil spirits.

In the end, please, take a piece of advice. If at Capodanno you are around Napoli, be extremely careful. As another of our traditions is to throw away things during Capodanno’s night! Over there, they throw things out of balconies and windows… you really don’t want a washing machine or dishwasher landing on you… Also because in Italy we say that you will spend the rest of the year in the same way you spend Capodanno and you really do not want to spend it in a hospital!

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Buon Natale e Buon Anno, but let’s not forget the Befana

If you want to impress your friends with your Christmas greetings in Italian, you should say BUON NATALE E FELICE ANNO NUOVO which means marry Christmas and happy new year! You can also have a slice of Panettone (sweet bread loaf with raisins and candied fruit original from Milan) or Pandoro (without raisins and candied fruit, original from Verona) with a glass of Spumante wine which is sparkling, white and quite sweet… But you you should not forget to tell your friend about the Befana!
In fact, in Italy we also celebrate the Befana the night between the 5th and the 6th of January, the Epiphany. She is an old and ugly woman, with a hooked nose and a pointed chin and she is always pictured riding her broom among stars in the night. As she goes down the chimneys to bring sweets to children, she is also covered with soot. Legend says that she gave some food and pointed the right direction to the three wise men during their long journey. They invited her to come along to meet baby Jesus, but, as she had a lot of housework to do, she refused. When they left, she realised that it was very important to offer her greetings to baby Jesus. Therefore, she left her house and she started her journey on her broom, but she got lost! Since then, she is been looking for baby Jesus and going down all the chimneys to leave sweets in the socks which children have left for her hooked on the mantelpieces of their fireplaces. She still hopes that one of them will be baby Jesus!
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