Think in Italian by Stefano Lodola
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Learn Italian vocabulary for beginners with useful basic words, tests, pdf, and lists about food, clothing, business, and travel.
Italian is a Romance language and has its roots in Latin which is a dead language. In other words, it’s a language that no one speaks as a mother tongue. This is because of a natural linguistic process.
Languages change and develop with time. And thus, Latin developed into different languages such as Catalan, Portuguese, French and Romanian. As a consequence, the origin of many of their words can be traced back to Latin.
For instance, esempio (example) comes from exemplum; parola (word) comes from paraula, and repubblica (republic) comes from res publica (“public thing”).
Of course, Latin is not the only linguistic ancestor of Italian. You’ll also learn words that come from Ancient Greek, Arabic, English, and French, among others.
Let’s start with some of the most useful words, those words that you’ll probably hear on a daily basis if you go to Italy. Try to memorize them and invent sentences or, why not, a story. Actually, a good strategy would be to invent an original and fun song that includes all these words.
It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. The idea is for you to have fun while learning, and music is usually a good option. Even better, try to sing it to an Italian friend. They’ll definitely appreciate your effort and you’ll both have a good time.
We’ll first give you the list and we’ll then explain why these are our favorite words.
Allora and quindi are interesting words because they’re very Italian. By this, we mean that they’re very common among Italians and can be used in many different contexts, like “so” or “then” in English. Just so you know, “allora?” and “quindi?” mean “so what?” and you’ll probably hear them very often.
Arrivederci just sounds nice. Also, it’s a four-word word: a + ri + vedere + ci, which in English could be translated as the combination of these four words: to + re (again) + see + each other. This basically translates into “to see each other again”.
Boh is a very useful word. It’s not even a real word but, rather, a noise. It’s very informal and means “I don’t know” or “I have no idea”. Its equivalent in English would be “dunno”. This word is usually accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders and a blank stare.
Cavolo literally means cabbage, but it’s used to mean “damn!”. We use it to avoid using a rude word. It’s like saying “shite” or “gosh” in English to avoid saying something else.
Ciao is interesting because it means both “hello” and “goodbye”. It might be confusing at the beginning but once you get used to it, you’ll find it easy.
Comunque is a very common word. It means “anyway” or “in any case”. Like in English, sometimes, it can be a pet word which means it’s overused and could be eliminated without changing the sentence’s meaning.
You’ll hear ecco all the time. It doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English. On its own, it could mean “there” or “here” but it’s usually used together with another word. For example, eccomi means “here I am”; eccolo means “there he/it is”, ecco perché means “that’s why”.
Magari can be used in many different contexts so you’ll hear it a lot. It’s usually used to express a wish or a desire. It can be used on its own to mean “I wish!” or together with other words to mean “If only…”.
Infatti can be used on its own when we want to agree with someone. It this case, it could be translated as “well, yes!”. It can also be used at the beginning of a sentence to mean “in fact”.
Zanzara just sounds nice because of the two “z”. It’s a very onomatopoeic word because it reminds us of the noise of a mosquito.
There are some words that are borrowings from other languages. Here are five common words that come from Arabic:
And here are five words that come from Greek:
As you could probably tell, some of these words are also present in English.
False friends are words that sound or look the same but have completely different meanings. There are many false friends in Italian. Here’s a list of 10 of the most common ones with their translations:
Now that you know all these words, try to memorize and repeat them. Write them down. Keep a journal and make sure you use these words. Invent a game that you can play to review their meanings.
Also, don’t forget to check out our article about the 1000 most common Italian words to expand and improve your vocabulary.