Speak Like a Local, Think Like a Local: Italian Colloquialisms

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

by Paola Bassanese, Guest Writer

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Do you dream in Italian? If you do, you have made it! If you are not quite there yet, here are a few pointers to help you think like a local.


I moved from Italy to England more than 20 years ago, and it took me about a year to think like an English person (and start dreaming in English!).

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I believe that my biggest breakthrough was when I started learning English colloquialisms: all of a sudden, I became “one of us” instead of “one of them”. I must say, British people still try and locate my accent, saying it sounds “European”. I am happy with that, because I feel first and foremost European. Recently I was on a plane sitting next to a Briton, and when I told him “I don’t want to be a party-pooper, but you should take your rubbish away with you” he laughed and said I sounded so British!


Let’s talk about colloquialisms: they break the barriers between people. You can start by learning some expressions that are used in day-to-day life, and once you try them out, you will start noticing that others will warm to you quicker. Not that Italians need to be any warmer than they already are!


The Italian language is extremely complex: grammar rules are difficult, and pronunciation can be a huge challenge for English speakers. There are sounds that don’t exist in the English language (try saying gnocchi correctly – the “gn” sound is nowhere to be found in the English language- the closest example is the “ny” in canyon).


Mastering those sounds will help you considerably with listening and comprehension. Also remember that there are at least 30 different regional dialects in Italy, and learning some of the local dialect will help you feel more integrated. The region I was born in is Friuli Venezia-Giulia, and there we speak at least two dialects. My local dialect is triestino, which is quite similar to veneto, the dialect spoken around Venice.


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Creative Edge Travel founder, Sierra Busch, during an Italian class in Cortona during her first trip to Italy.