Travelling can be disorientating. Different cultures, new foods, incomprehensible languages. So, even though we all try to learn at least a bit of the local language before we arrive, the fall-back phrase when we get stuck is often Do you speak English?
Obviously its polite to use the formal form of asking so the phrase to use is Lei parla inglese per favore?, pronounced lay par-lah een-glay-zeh per fav-or-ray with a slight intonation up at the end to indicate a question. (I shall leave you to decide whether to add a quizzical eye-brow or a look of desperation depending on your personal taste!)
If there are other people around who you think might be able to help, you could also try asking C’è qualcuno che parla inglese per favore?, pronounced Chay qwal-coo-no kay par-lah een-glay-zeh per fav-or-ray, meaning Does anyone speak English please?
Or if you are in an informal situation you could ask Parli inglese?, pronounced par-lee een-glay-zeh, but if you’ve never met the person before this would be a bit forward and could set you off on the wrong footing!
And depending on where you are within the Italian peninsula the answer may differ. In cities such as Rome or Venice, you could well get a resounding yes – they may even have opened in English as you walked in, how do they do that?!But if you’re in the countryside or in some of the less touristy towns, you’re more likely to get an apologetic No, mi dispiace, ma non parlo l’inglese, pronounced me dis-peh-ah-chay mah non par-loh l’een-glay-zeh, meaning No, I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.
Alternatively, you might occasionally be asked if you speak Italian to which you could reply Mi dispiace, ma non parlo l’italiano, pronounced dis-peh-ah-chay mah non par-loh l’ital-ee-ah-no, meaning I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.
And its at this point that the international language of mime takes over or you frantically start flicking through your phrasebook or iPhone dictionary to find the appropriate words to convey what it is that you need, be it a stamp for your postcard or a doctor for your ailing child!
But don’t panic! The main thing to remember is that although many tourist areas have a number of English speaking shopkeepers, hotel staff and tour guides, any attempt at a little polite Italian will be appreciated before they launch into English. And in areas where there are no English speakers you’re going to have fun getting to know your hosts through more inventive and imaginative methods rather than a common language! Everyone’s a winner! Now then, does anyone know the mime for Make mine a large one!?
If you’ve found this useful you might also want to check out more of our DreamDiscoverItalia Italian 101 ideas such as How to say hello or How to say please, thank you and you’re welcome, and How to say Happy Birthday, all of which are easy to learn! I can’t promise that we’ll make you fluent in Italian overnight, but with the help our our Italian 101 posts you can learn a little and often and hopefully have a bit of fun doing it!