This guest post is an excerpt from a new book, Italian Recipes for Happiness: How to Live Healthier, Happier and Richer Lives Like Italians, by the leaders of Modern Italian, a community for all people passionate about Italy: Matteo Platania, Gina Andracchio and Gianni Andracchio.

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Learning to Speak Italian

by Matteo Platania

I started to learn Italian as a twenty-year-old college student in Leuven, Belgium, where I always searched for Italians and the opportunity to speak Italian. I had come a long way after visiting Italy for the first time the summer prior and thanks to my frequent weekend visits with my Italian relatives in Tubize, a town in the French-speaking half of Belgium.

One evening, I stopped in an Italian restaurant -– very much over my student budget, but a place to speak Italian, which was worth the cost. After some initial chit-chat with the waiter — who I was, where my father came from in Italy, why I was in Belgium — it was time to order.

Calculating the translation from English to Italian in my mind, I very boldly ordered a glass of red wine. I immediately noticed the curious look in my new Italian friend’s face as he slightly paused, half-opened his mouth, smiled and then responded to me with a quick “Subito!” (Right away!).

If you’ve ever been able to order anything for the first time in a foreign language, you will understand how pleased I was with myself for having ordered the glass of wine. However, when the waiter returned, he put my glass of wine on the table, placed his hand on my shoulder and bent down to whisper in my ear, “un bicchiere del vino rosso, non si usa la parola ‘vetro.’

I had made the translation from English to Italian with English rules, not Italian ones. The English language allows for the word “glass” to mean window glass as well as a glass of wine. Not Italian. The word to use for a glass of wine has nothing to do with “vetro,” or window glass; it is “bicchiere” –- a container for liquid sometimes made from glass, as is the case for wine.

Ah, how disappointed and embarrassed I was! I never made the same mistake again and now fondly remember the experience whenever I order a glass of red wine.

Matteo’s Tips

When learning to speak Italian, it is important to capture its italianità and be colorful with the language. Appreciate its melodic intonation and almost poetic structure. With one word, you can say so much. For example, with the single word “Arrivederci,” you are saying, “Until we see each other again.” 

How I remain current in Italian and how you can too:

• Eating

     Say “buon appetito” before a meal.

    Practice pronouncing food items correctly off the menu when ordering (bruschetta, ricotta, etc.).

    Say “Salute!” at the table to toast to “good health.”

• Meeting friends     

    Say “piacere” (it's a pleasure)  when meeting someone new.

    Say “arrivederci” in more formal situations when saying goodbye.

    Say “a dopo” (till later) or simply “ciao” in more informal situations when saying goodbye

* Italian websites I recommend:

    www.huffingtonpost.it

     www.corriere.it

    www.rai.it www.ansa.it

Click here to read more “Italian Recipes for Happiness.”   

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