How to Spark Small Talk in the Italian Language

Mar 27, 2014

  People talking blog


 chat, friendly conversation

a guest post by Cher Hale

When I was in Italy, given my complete lack of an Italian-looking face, I was always being asked “Di dov’è?" (Where are you from?)  When I would reply, “Las Vegas,” people’s eyes would light up. So naturally, I would try my Italian on them while they were already in a euphoric state.

My questions often brought me equal parts of new knowledge about Italy, joy from practicing the language, and embarrassment at not really understanding what was being said back to me. After many of these casual chats (often while enjoying an extra glass of wine), my confidence skyrocketed, and I began exploring new, deeper conversations. Without the small talk, I never would have been able to go to the next level in Italian.

Here’s how it typically went. After people asked me where I was from, their next question would often be, “Perché sei (è, in formal Italian) in Italia?”  (Why are you in Italy?)

I would reply with “Sono una studentessa,” (I am a student) but here are some other potential answers:

         *Studio italiano – I am studying Italian 

         *Voglio imparare l’Italiano — I want to learn Italian

         *Sono in vacanza con la mia famiglia — I am on vacation with my family 

          *Vado a trovare i miei parenti — I am going to visit my relatives 

           *per lavoro — for work 

When they hear your attempts at Italian, no matter how basic, Italians often ask “Da quanto tempo studi (studia, in formal Italian) l’italiano?”   (How long have you been studying Italian?)

    To answer, start with the preposition “da” (from) and follow it with a number of months or years:

         *da tre mesi — for three months

         *da un anno — for one year

One of my favorite things to do is gather information on the culture through these conversations, so I often ask about books, movies and music.

For instance, although lots of Italians listen to American songs, Italian music holds a special place in their hearts.   I often ask: “Qual è il tuo (il suo, in formal Italian) cantante preferito?” (Who is your favorite singer?)

Then I ask which song did they like the best from this singer: “Che canzone ti piace (le piace, in formal Italian) di più di questo cantante?” Questions like this have introduced me to such lovely songs as “A Te by Jovanotti, “Tu Mi Porti Su" by Giorgia and “Parole Parole Parole” by Mina.

The question that always made my stomach happy and put a smile on my face was asking what kind of food I should be eating in their country. You can ask: “Cosa posso mangiare di buono mentre sono in Italia?” (What’s something good that I can eat while I am in Italy?)

Another favorite conversation-starter is finding out the part of Italy an Italian likes best. You might ask: "Qual è la tua (la sua, in formal Italian) regione italiana preferita? Perché?" (What is your favorite region in Italy? Why?)

Words and Expression

avviare una conversazioe –- to carry on a conversation

fare una chiacchierata –- chitchat

chiacchierone — big talker

Chiacchiere! — Nonsense!

Le chiacchiere non fan farina — Chitchat (or idle gossip) doesn’t make flour (gets you nowhere)

Cher Hale is the founder of the site The Iceberg Project, where she teaches people how to get past the language learning wall and charm Italians in their own language. Click here to sign up for her free newsletter and language guides.

If you want some virtual practice in Italian small talk, click below:

 Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.

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