Preparing for Pisa

I’m going to be visiting Italy in December for a conference, which provides me with a chance to dabble in yet another language (see previous adventures with Japanese and German). This time I’m armed with an iPod and have discovered, which makes for great commuting accompaniment. So far I have learned:

  • Ciao! Hello/goodbye!
  • Come stai? How are you? (apparently informal; change stai to sta to formalize it)
  • Bene. Fine. E tu? And you?
  • Piacere di conoscerla. Pleased to meet you.
  • Sei italiano? Are you Italian (masc.)?
  • Io sono americana. I’m American (fem.).

The absolute best thing about Italian so far is the intonation. I love how the words go UP and DOWN in an unending, lilting fashion. To me, it feels like extreme exaggeration, or as if I were parodying an Italian accent — but apparently, no, that *is* how you’re supposed to say it! So it’s more like

Ciao! CO-me STA-i?
BEH-ne! E tu?
BEH-ne! Sei EE-ta-li-AH-no?
No, EE-o SOH-no A-me-ri-CAH-na.

Only it’s far, far more contrast than I can show with only caps and lower case. It’s like a little roller coaster flowing out of your mouth each time you open it. I especially like “bene”. That might be my favorite Italian word so far, already competing with my favorite Japanese word, “kippu”. The first ‘e’ in “bene” not only gets emphasis but it also seems to get drawn out: BEEEEEEH-ne!

Slightly less exciting are the immediate hash collisions I’m getting with other languages (hopefully this will go away as I learn more). “Sono” is a word in Japanese (with an entirely different meaning). Bits of other words sound variously French or Spanish to me. “Come stai” clashes with “como estas”, and “e tu” with “et toi” and “y tu”. I foresee more confusion along those lines. Happily, some generous soul has compiled a French/Italian comparative guide.

Other resources that look promising:

  •’s guide to learning Italian: a nice aggregation of many different resources, organized by difficulty.
  • livemocha: an online community for learning a variety of languages; there are Rosetta-stone-style lessons (which have intrigued me before) and the ability to write or speak exercises and have them critiqued by more experienced (or native) speakers in that language. You can also offer critiques on items submitted in your own native language(s); there seem to be many ESL learners out there, so there are plenty of English submissions to browse and comment on. I’m still exploring this one.
  • Guide to Italian Grammar: yay! Let me at the rules, instead of making me infer them on my own solely from a bunch of sample sentences!

3 of 6 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Katie said,

    October 12, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    Good luck, Kiri!

    Knowing Spanish, it’s funny for me to hear Italian, because it so often sounds like Spanish-gone-wrong (and vice-versa, I’m sure). I think all these languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French) are beautiful, and all related in origin, and similar in execution.

    Enjoy, Pisa! I hope to see some photos!

  2. Marcy said,

    October 13, 2008 at 7:48 am

    (Learned something new!)

    I had an Italian coworker at my old job who spoke English totally monotone. I once heard him on the phone with a relative and when he switched to Italian – still same monotone. Hilariously unexpected.

  3. Michelle said,

    October 13, 2008 at 8:04 am

    (Knew it already.)

    Bill and I have been taking Italian for ~4 years now… fun to watch you in those early discovery stages. :) Lately I have been trying to revive my Spanish and am having tons of those “collisions”. I think it’s improving a bit over time, so there is hope. :)

    You seem to be getting a mix of the informal (“E tu?”, “Sei italiano?”) and the formal (“Piacere di conoscerla”). Interesting… most programs start you out with formal only and don’t introduce the informal till later.

    Enjoy the dabbling… Italian is a gorgeous language, so musical and flow-y. Buon viaggio!

  4. lana said,

    October 13, 2008 at 8:25 am

    (Learned something new!)

    I’m currently a student looking to learn Italian! I just read your post and thank you for all the great information and the resources. I have been using babbel and edufire online and I think both these sites seem promising as well. Good luck on your trip and have fun with your studies!

  5. Heuristics Inc. said,

    October 13, 2008 at 8:43 am

    (Knew it already.)

    Like Michelle says, we’ve been studying this for a while. If you need assistance with any of the confusing stuff (e.g. the formal vs. informal) feel free to drop me an email and I’ll try to help. I think there are a lot of helpful similarities with Spanish, but there is a lot of danger of confusion too. is a great dictionary site, incl. Italian. If you hit the little arrow symbol next to a verb you’ll get ALL the conjugations, I’ve found that very helpful.
    I’ve also been having fun with Italian-language music.
    Hey, where will you be in Italy (Dove sei in Italia)?

  6. Evan said,

    October 13, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Fun fun! I’ve been pushing at Spanish off and on the last six months, leading up to a vacation in Cozumel over the holidays.

    I’d think that the hash collisions are largely useful when they are cognate. Despite never having studied a moment of Italian, I think I could have understood everything you wrote without the translations. Even though I never got very far with French or Latin, having studied both is making the Spanish go very quickly.

    Is Italian the same as Spanish, in that the formal 2nd person is the same form as the 3rd person?

  7. wkiri said,

    October 13, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Likewise, I was fascinated by the cognate power; I actually *was* able to understand the entire dialogue without knowing any Italian (due to French/Spanish). Unfortunately, cognates are a one-way help — they can’t aid in speaking or writing in the new language.

    I’ll have to save your grammar question for once I start delving into grammar. :)

  8. Michelle said,

    October 13, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    For me at least, the collisions are a mixed blessing. I can understand more and often make myself understood, all while sometimes saying things that are subtlely wrong. :)

    And to answer Evan’s question, yes, in Italian the formal second person singular is not only the same form as the third person singular, but the nominative pronoun is a capitalized version of the third person feminine singular (lei = she, Lei = you formal). Unlike Spanish, though, there is only one second person plural form, “voi”, corresponding to “vosotros” in Spanish. (well, technically, there is/was a second person plural formal, “Loro”, which followed the third person plural form, but no one uses it anymore.)

  9. What I Learned Today » Blog Archive » Italian Greetings said,

    October 14, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    […] I listened to a few more lessons from I like the dialogue, but the female speaker is much clearer than the male speaker so I tend to prefer listening to her. Also, three (slow) repetitions of everything is about one more than I need at this point (this may change as we move away from cognates :) ). And finally, I really wish that the transcripts of the dialogues were freely available; to get access to them, you have to pay a monthly fee. This means I have to dig around to find how to spell everything, since I’m definitely a visual learner and I don’t remember things well unless I know how they are spelled. That isn’t necessarily bad, since the extra searching provides additional reinforcement. However, it did lead to a mistake I made in my last post: “Pleased to meet you” should have been “Piacere di conoscerti” (the informal version), not “Piacere di conoscerla” (the formal version). This explains the apparent inconsistency in the level of formality. Personally, I’d rather learn the formal since it is more likely to be useful. But I’ll try to be patient and wait for it. :) […]

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