Learning Italian can be daunting, especially if you insist on understanding and mastering the grammar. However, learning a few basics can take you far. Essentials are greetings, learning how to politely ask for something, and graciously thanking someone. If you desire to express your enthusiasm for the experiences you’ll have in Italy, which will be plentiful, then you might want to add a few simple phrases in your speaking arsenal.
A spontaneous expression easily can be constructed using the following formula:
Che + adjective (which must agree with the gender to which it is referring)!
Che, pronounced like “kay” (the ch makes a hard k) is the equivalent of saying “How”.
Che bella! – How beautiful!
Because, in the photo above, this refers to the vista, or the city, which is città, and both are feminine, this is why you say bella and not bello. Of course, if you see a handsome man, you might say “Che bello!” I use this expression most often when greeting friendly dogs on the street (once I know their gender).
Che buono! – How good!
This is a great expression to show your satisfaction with a meal. (In this instance buono refers to the food in general, which is cibo. If you were talking about a steak, a bistecca, it would be “Che buona!”).
While this is an exclamation of delight with your food, many westerners make the mistake of trying to be overly effusive. Don’t be over the top and say it’s the best you’ve every had, or that it is fantastic or spectacular. “Che buono!” will communicate your pleasure quite effectively.
Che caldo! – How hot!
When you’re trekking through Italy in the thick of summer, you’ll find yourself saying this fairly frequently. The converse is, “Che freddo!” or “How cold!”
Che brutto! – How ugly (or bad)!
If you’ve seen an especially ugly piece of art or architecture, this works (though it probably is best to say this quietly, or keep it to yourself, so as not to offend). Also, this can refer to someone who has behaved badly (again, practice caution, and not say this directly to someone so as not to escalate a situation).
Finally, my favorite…
Che schifo! – How disgusting!
Just a few days ago this came in handy. I was sweating away on the treadmill at our gym, when a guy hopped on the one next to me. As he started up, he pointed at a discarded wad of gum the previous person had stuck on the control panel, making a face of disbelief. I looked over, and exclaimed “Che schifo!”, to which he rolled his eyes and nodded in agreement.
The list goes on, but I advise focusing on using just a few. Once you have a better command of speaking Italian, and once you understand which adjectives work naturally with this formula, you can go to town.
And in closing, an important cautionary note – don’t exaggerate!
Americans in particular have seen too many movies with Italian themes, and when speaking Italian they often are “over the top” in volume and in exaggeration. Hollywood, is mostly the culprit, frequently having made caricatures of Italians and how they speak. Practice proper pronunciation, but speak evenly and politely, and you’ll be in fine shape.