You can speak Italian very well, very accurately, and still not sound Italian. Why is that? Here are five tips to help your Italian sound more Italian.
1. “Piantala” (knock it off) with the personal pronouns. Italian very rarely uses personal pronouns io, tu, lui, lei, noi, voi, and loro, other than to reinforce a point. It is much more common to hear “sono andata al mercato ieri” (no pronoun) rather than “io sono andata al mercato ieri” (with pronoun), unless the person is trying to reinforce that they specifically were the one who went. “Io” at the beginning of every sentence sounds strange to Italian ears. Then how do we know who we’re referring to? Well, Italian verbs carry with them the idea of who they refer to with their conjugation. “Parlo” can only refer to “io” because the other pronouns have their own conjugations: parli / parla / parliamo / parlate / parlano. Why is this hard for English speakers? Because we need our personal pronouns to know who is doing what.
2. Learn Italian word-whiskers. What are they? Those little mean-nothing words that we all put into our speech when we’re trying to search for what we really want to say, or to get attention, or to make a point. Why is this important? Well, um isn’t um in Italian. It’s more like “ehhh”. So gets replaced by “allora” or “quindi” or “dunque” and I mean can be translated as “cioè”. “Beh” is also a good one to use if you’re stalling for time and “ehhhhh” is also widely used. “Capito?”, “giusto?” and “no?” are tacked onto the ends of sentences to make sure the listener understands, while “boh!” the Italian equivalent of our “dunno!” Examples: “Beh, è proprio una bella giornata, no?” and “Voglio partire dopo il 15 aprile, capito?”
3. Talk fast. People can always tell when I’ve been in Italy, because I end up speaking English like a machine gun. I don’t know why, but Italians (in my experience) seem to be faster talkers and maybe leave less space between words. Everything runs together.
4. Use all the suffixes you can. Whereas in English we’d describe something as a “little house“, Italians might say “una casa piccola” or they might break out the suffixes and call it “una casetta” or “una casina“. I would ask a little boy about his “amichetti” (little friends, amico + the suffix etti) at school, and describe someone as having a nasone (naso + the suffix one) if their face is unfortunately adorned with a big shnoz. This type of talk might sound “cutesy” to we anglophones, but I can assure you that even grown Italian men go around exclaiming that things are “bellissima” (bella + issima, the most beautiful) and hope to introduce you to their “carissimo” (caro + issimo, dearest) friend. When I asked a friend where he was spending Christmas he replied, “a casina.” At home.
5. Exclaim! Coo. Whine. Yell. Generally be theatrical in your speech. The Italian language is melodic in its own right, but Italian speakers are generally pretty theatrical. Don’t just say “ti prego” (I beg you), say, “ti preeeeeeeggggoooooooo” in a begging voice. And when you’ve had enough, it’s a strong “BASTA!” loud and clear. You’re trying to convince someone? Use the long, drawn-out “daaaaaaiiiiiii” (come on) and whine a bit. Everybody’s doing it. I promise.
Read more from Sarah Mastroianni at http://notjustanotherdolcevita.com