When Learning the Dialect Fails, Learning the Slang Prevails!

Signage in the Rome Airport

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Submitted by Global Ambassador, Caitlin, in Sorrento , Italy

My ‘Italian Communication Survival Test’ began right before the third leg of my journey to Italy,when I landed in Rome’s main airport. Like many tests, this one left me especially exhausted,confidence-less, and in fear of my final grade.
My flight arrived over a half an hour late into Rome Fiumicino airport, and I only had about fifteen minutes to go through security, check-in with Alitalia, and get to my gate. The airport was not busy, and the tram only had two stops, so one would think that I would find my way just fine. However, knowing that I had very little room for error, I was in panic mode, and we all know that the worst thing to do is to panic. I successfully got through security, and even managed to ask the security guard where I was supposed to go (in Italian), but I must have misunderstood him in my state of disarray. I took a left turn instead of going straight, and ended up on the tram back to where I started. I had to go through security yet again, and of course it was the same exact people working the security line as before. I asked the samesecurity guard where to go, this time, trying not to panic so that I could actually hear what he was saying.

Watching the clock, I knew I had less than ten minutes to get to my gate, so I ran as fast as I could, asking directions along the way. By the fate of one Roman Emperor’s powerful thumb, I found my gate and was freed from the clenching grip of stress and fear. At my gate,I had to wait in a long line, sweaty, tired, and with stretched out jeans from all the travelling. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by all Italians, dressed in shiny puffer coats, fashionable leatherboots, and with designer suitcases, amidst their strong scented designer perfumes and cologne. I was the Barbarian in the midst of an all-Roman empire, which only made waiting in line seem like centuries. When it became my turn to give the emperor, or Alitalia man, my ticket, I realized I forgot to check-in! He even told me to run to get my ticket because the bus going to the plane was about to leave! It is never reassuring when someone tells you to run. But I ran, luggage in hand, feeling as if I was the young, underdog gladiator running with my silver sword, praying to survive my first battle in the Coliseum. I asked the Alitalia official for my ticket—allin Italian, mind you—and I even told her that I was running late—which was pointless becausetime is not money in Italy. She, going at the same speed as if I had an hour to wait, finally gave me my ticket, and I immediately sprinted (not even exaggerating, I was literally rivaling my former track team-mates) to my gate to get on the bus that brought me to the Alitalia plane. I made it! I was no longer the gladiator. I was the emperor…Marcus Aurelius II, if you will.

Italian Phrase Book

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Although my relief skyrocketed when I successfully made it on the plane in time, I was still standing in puddles of fear. I kept thinking of how out of place I felt upon arrival in Italy, and began to wonder if I would ever be able to practice my Italian, or if the people would just mark me as an American and only speak English to me. I sympathized with the Barbarians of Ancient Rome, who got their nickname “barbarian” because the foreign language they spoke sounded like that of baby talk, or “bar bar bar.” Thankfully, this fear dissipated when I landed in Naples Airport, and was greeted by the driver, Tony, who brought me to my home-stay. During our car ride, I spoke to Tony only in Italian. He encouraged me the whole entire ride to speak only in Italian, and told me something that changed my whole entire point of view. He was Virgil, the wise and intelligent guide, and I was Dante, the fearful and naïve student. He advised me, telling me that I cannot be afraid to make mistakes when speaking the language, because mistakes are inevitable and are actually useful tools to learn. “When you make mistakes,”he said, “people will most often correct you, and that is when you learn.” “Eventually,” he continued, “you pick up on the mistakes yourself and begin to self-correct…and this is the road to fluency”—or for Dante fans, this is the road to lingual ‘Paradise’. I felt even more at ease when he talked about his own fears when trying to speak English. He told me that he, too, fears making mistakes when speaking a foreign language, but in order to improve, this is a fear that one has to overcome. This little inspiration was everything I needed to build my confidence, and speaking Italian the rest of the ride only made concrete the fact that I would learn as much Italian as I could during this semester, and the more mistakes, the better.

It is already the middle of April, and looking back, I am proud to say that I have spoken Italian in many diverse situations, often making mistakes, but more importantly, learning from them. I quickly discovered that knowing some Italian helps, but only gets me so far in the region of Naples where I am studying. When the people of this region are not speaking in the incomprehensible Neapolitan dialect, they are speaking Italian with a Neapolitan accent. It is difficult to explain, but instead of the symphonious sounding phrases that resemble poetry tipping off the tongue, Neapolitan is colorful, loud, vibrant, and full of the phonetic “sh” sound.

SORRENTO: The streets

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When I go to the Italian ‘bar’ during the day, or at night to watch a soccer match, all that I hear is Neapolitan dialect. Even at my internship, everyone speaks Neapolitan among one another,and I often am lost in translation. Being around the language for a few months now, I actually feel as if I am getting a Neapolitan accent! That is why I have most recently turned my study focus from Italian language to just plain slang! I never realized, but slang is often more usefulin most situations than the actual formal language! Here’s some slang and idioms to get you started:
1). In bocca al lupo- Good Luck (Literally means “in the mouth of the wolf” and can also beequated with the American saying “break a leg!”)

2). Essere nelle nuvole- to daydream (literally translated as “to be in the clouds”)

3). Beccare qualcuno- pronounced as BEH-CAH-REH KHWAL-KUNO and means “ to hit onsomeone/pick someone up” (beccare literally means to peck, haha!)

4). Sentire le farfalle nello stomaco- is the equivalent to the saying in English ”to feel butterfliesin the stomach”

5). Che palle!- It can be used to say “How boring!”, or can express boredom or annoyance ingeneral (literally means something quite different…so you may not want to say this in frontof the teacher, because it can come off a bit strong!). It is however used frequently amongfriends, often describing a boring class at school! Oh, and the most enjoying part of hearing thisterm is the hand gesture that goes along with it…which you can find everywhere on YouTube.

6). Ci vediamo dopo- pronounced CHEE VEH-DEE-AH-MOH DOH-POH and means “See youlater.” You can also say “ci vediamo” or “a dopo” which both mean basically the same thing.

7). Sono pazzo/a di te- It means “I’m crazy about you” (How romantic, right?!). If you arefemale, you’d say “Sono pazza di te” to someone, and if you are male, you’d say “Sono pazzo dite.”

8). Vattene!- “Get Lost!” (Can be used jokingly…or not so jokingly).

9). Su! Dai!- “Come on!” and is pronounced phonetically as: SUE! DYE!

10). Che schifo!- “Yuck/That’s Disgusting!” I have heard this most frequently out of any of theother expressions. It is usually the little girl that lives upstairs that uses it to express her hatred of peas when she has to eat them for dinner!
And to put it all together in my own mini Ital-English mini-drama:

Sono nelle nuvole. Sono pazza di te. When I see you, sento le farfalle nello mio stomaco.You said you liked me. You even told me you liked the poem I wrote for you. But I saw youbeccando (hitting on) another girl. Seriously?! Che schifo! Vattene! Ci vediamo never!
As you can see, some things are universal!
(note: this mini-drama is completely made up :P)