English usage in Italy

tammy garnett Image
10/03/2009 - 08:18

Hi there, I was having a discussion with my in-laws yesterday and they were saying how when they went to Morocco, they only realised when they got there that there were no English speakers there and that not even the signs were in English (not even as a second language). I just wanted to know how common it is to find English speakers in Italy and also whether or not the English equivalent is on road signs, shop signs etc. Or, is there a different second language in Iatly?So far we are planning to visit Venice, Tuscany and Rome so this question pertains to those areas. Looking forward to your response.Kind Regards,Tammy.



 .......is, in fact, Italian as most people outside of Tuscany, metropolitan Rome & Milan tend to favour their own dialect which can be significantly different from Italian. Usefully though, on the tourist trail, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Rome, especially among Italians that work in the tourist trade, primitive but functional English is often spoken, although don't expect everyone to do so. Most Italians understand the value of English as the internationally accepted language & will try what little they know on you, especially the young. If you are thinking of visiting Italy try to make the effort of learning some basics in advance (forget the grammar & concentrate on vocabulary & pronunciation) & bring a decent phrase book with you. The real bonus is that most Italians, in stark contrast to the British, are outgoing, friendly, guileless, desperate to please, very generous natured, very understanding & polite. Your two previous replies must have been from people that failed to notice your picture which demonstrates how young you are & are therefore excused a degree of youthful naivety, something I am sure they were never blessed with themselves.Pilch  

Occasionally you will find signs in Italian and English.  Such as the one in woods all through Liguria warning you of wild boar hunting "...on every wensday and sunday of mounth".  The Italian actually specifies that wild boar hunting takes place on Sundays and Wednesdays during the months of October to December. 

Pilchard you made me laugh with your post, very funny.And I agree with you that outside of tourist areas English is not spoken or understood. However younger people in my small village speak it as they learnt it at school, and some of the older ones who have worked for international companies do, but this isnt the norm. So if Tammy comes prepared in the knowledge that she wont be understood, learns some basic Italian before she arrives and brings a good phrase book, she will be forearmed.A

Well..... Thanks for the information to everyone :)Bearing in mind that I havnt done much research up until now, my question, I would think is quite a common one?I do understand that some Italians would be able to understand or try to converse with my in the English language, however, I had no clue about road signs, shop signs etc as I have never been to Italy.I have already started learning the basics of the Italian language for when we eventually do get there, so hopefully I will be well equipped :)At least there are a few people who likea da sensa of humour ;P although this question would need to be answered correctly to tourists who know nothing of Italy.Thnaks so much for all the posts - and for making it an enjoyable topic of conversation:) Kindest Regards,Tammy....x P.S: I am 25years old for those who were wondering :P   

Hi Tammy,Pilchard is absolutely right and I must apologise for not having studied your post in enough detail and taken it seriously. I had a quick read and after the reference to Morocco, etc. my first though was that it was perhaps a bit of a spoof post to see how many respond and to be taken lightly. We have a lot of expats from GB, especially in Spain, who after moving complain that everything is in a foreign language and no one speaks any English. Not that you were doing that but I believed your post was a skit on that scenario. I was thinking of putting a p.s. just in case (I did see the sweet piccy of you and Hubby) but didn't in the end. Cynical old me.......Sorry.

In reply to by IRITALIA

Hi Iritalia,Please dont worry at all - I was not offended by your sarcasm, but it did make me go back and check my message to see what I was being so naive about :SThanks for the apology.Regards,Tammy. 

 You mention road signs so I conclude you are thinking of a driving holiday here. Whether you intend to drive over in your own car or hire something here, a word of warning; you need nerves of steel.It would be obvious stating that they drive on the wrong side of the road out here, but if only it were true. They in fact drive on any side of the road that takes their fancy & trust their fate to whatever saint they have stuck to the dashboard. This is especially true of narrow winding country roads where all traffic; cars, trucks & buses, will suddenly appear round the bend ahead on your side of the road. Don't let your nerves falter. With consummate skill that is exclusively theirs they will shepherd you halfway onto the grass verge while they disappear in a cloud of dust leaving you scrabbling for the Valium.White lines at road junctions get repainted regularly every half century yet most find it difficult to determine priority & often fall back on the "give way to traffic entering the junction from the right" rule. This rule can be highly entertaining when used while negotiating a roundabout, especially when you consider that they go anti-clockwise round them here.   Don't be put off though cos a car is very useful for exploring Italy unless, as first-timers, you are doing just the three major tourist centers you mentioned Tammy. In what order are you doing them? Save Rome till last; it IS the best. Last time we went we tried to stay in one of the Convents (there's one by the Spanish Steps) but it was a Public Holiday & they were all full. Rome has the atmosphere of a real living breathing city whilst Florence can feel a bit like an open air art gallery, with some of the rudest gallery attendants in Italy. Top tip: if you are used to the English habit of walking crowded streets & everyone politely negotiating each other you will, as I was, be exasperated by the lack of pavement manners & be constantly getting out the way of people that are oblivious to your existence. Keep your eyes looking down & your path will be miraculously kept clear.Second Top Tip; visit the Dolomites. Take some walking boots & a rucksack & stay in either Val di Fassa or Cortina. Mind-blowing.Pilch 

In reply to by pilchard

Dear Pilch, Please don't worry AT ALL about the first comment you posted! I took absolutly NO offense to it whatsoever, although it did make me look back on my message and wonder why on earth people were being all sarcastic about it....See, because I have no idea on what it is like in Italy, I thought it a good question to ask as I would hate to arrive in Italy, and have absolutly NO understanding of what was going on! We are living in Saudi Arabia at the moment, and although their first language here is obviously Arabic, all road signs and most shops also have the english equivalent below the arabic. I suppose this is also why I found myself asking the question above. And, like Italy (by the sounds of things) Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) also has the English version of things, but not necessarily in the English which we all know and understand ;PAgain - with the driving .....If you had to ask about the driving in Jeddah, anyone would probably answer EXACTLY the same way as what you mentioned above :) They drive on the wrong side of the road, and the right! And they drive on pavements or over islands if they feel the need aswell! You would have to have absolute nerves of steel to drive here aswell and you would have to be very quick to avoid and accidents!!! Again - we also have the issue with the roundabouts. My husband has got used to the way of the roads here and I am guessing if you an drive here, then you can probably drive almost anywhere! :)We are originally from South Africa, so the issue with walking in large crowded streets is foreign to me. Thanks for the tip though! I have made a note of the places you have recommended and will check them out once I have some spare time. This site is SO helpful - even for the "STUPID" questions :PHope you are well and thanks for the apology, although not needed :)Regards,Tammy.

In reply to by pilchard

Oh dear - Im sorry ..... I only realised it was not you who made the sarcastic remark or who sent the apology.....please excuse my skim reading (on the second read!)....Thanks for all the information you have sent me - all other info is most welcome!!!!Regards, Tammy...x

Tammy, the best advice I can give you is to get some basic Italian vocabulary, study road signs and not to pay any attention to Italian-English translations that you find in some places. Most likely, they are there to confuse you. A good example are the signs in English found at the Santa Maria Novella (Florence) parking...... really hilarious. You need an excellent command of both the Italian and English languages to guess what the meaning is..... Totally lost in translation.Anyway, Italy is glorious and worth a visit... in any language.

Hi Gala, Thanks for the comment. I am making an effort to learn a bit of Italian before we visit the country, so will hopefully be well equipped. Like I mentioned above, it sounds like Italy and Saudi Arabia have one thing in common - their use of the English language on road signs and anywhere else an English speaker needs information from! Regards,Tammy.

Loved your comments on Jeddah Tammy. I worked there from 82-86, and the driving is probably worse than here, with under-passing and all 4 lanes on the Mecca route used as a racetrack. Will easily get you used to driving here. It was still a great place to work in those days ......... nearly as much buerocracy as here, unless you knew a member of the secret police and then everything was very easy to get round.Great beaches and reefs out of the city, sometimes wish I was still there!!

Friends of mine went to Italy for the first time a couple of years ago and they did not speak Italian, they asked for some advice so we just told them to get them selves a phrase book and jump in. There wasn't enough time to get to some classes and they were staying in a fairly remote villa.On their return we asked them how they got on and they said that they had had a fabulous time and that the Italians were very friendly and appreciated their efforts. They told of one occasion when an Italian speaking non-Italian was in a shop addressing the shop keeper in a rather condecsending way and they received far better service with their halting and very basic Italian than did this other person.The result is that they will be going back to Italy and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. 

Even if there aren't any signs in english, I don't think this should be a problem. I have travelled to other countries where not a soul speaks english, and on top of it the country's language alphabet is different so I couldn't even try to make sense of signs or other written things. But I think this is the fun part! And like someone mentioned, italians are super outgoing and will probably be willing to help tourist who are lost and need help.