Italy is known for its beautiful architecture, heart-warming hospitality and the lack of English speakers.
I have been living in Milan for the past one month and, other than my classmates (I am an exchange student), and some expats, it is truly difficult to find people who speak English (or Inglese in Italian) especially if you don’t want to get extorted at some tourist targeted shops or restaurants.
So, here are some tricks I picked up along the way to make my life easier as I am living here. Hopefully, it will help you too.
1. Translate Apps
Google translate is one of the best inventions ever. If you have a smartphone (pretty sure at least 99% of you guys out there own one), download that app which is available on android and iPhones. I don’t think it is available on windows phone, but for windows phone users out there, you can try the Bing translate which should be on par with Google translate. Both apps can operate offline provided you download the dictionary.
For Google, you can download the dictionary to use offline by clicking on the language you want the download, then pressing that download button beside it. This is not available for all languages, but it is available for Italian.
In Google translate, you can also save phrases by clicking on the star after you have translated the phrase and you can access it under “Phrasebook”. Google translate even has the option to translate your SMSes for you so if you have to contact someone in Italian, it will save you the hassle of copying and pasting that in the app. There are many offline translation apps out there but most of the good ones are paid and do not have the multiple language option unlike Google translate, so that would be your best bet.
2. Essential phrases
Other than “Ciao” and “Grazie” which means “Hello/Goodbye” and “Thank you”, you should also know “Parli Inglese?” which means “Do you speak English?” Most of the time, if they do know, they will reply you “little bit”, I’ve realised that that means they can speak and understand English relatively well. You also should know “Non capisco italiano” which means “I do not understand Italian”.
I have encountered many situations where I ask shop owners something in Italian and they start to ramble off really quickly in Italian. I often have to interject with that sentence. Do not worry, most of them are extremely nice and they will do their best to get you what they want, most of the time through “sign language”.
If you have dietary restrictions, please take note on what the things you don’t eat are in Italian. When in doubt, Google translate. But it’s always better to know what they are so you don’t have to whip out your phone every time. Also, some restaurants provide English menus upon request, so do ask about that when you eat out.
Alternatively, you can do what my friend does, which is carry a phrase book around with her all the time.
Before going to Italy I used Duolingo to learn some Italian. By practicing about 15 minutes every day, I was able to understand certain words and phrases commonly used by Italians and can somehow half guess what they are saying if they speak slower, along with their “sign language”. This is, of course, not entirely necessary especially if you are only going to be travelling in Italy for 2-3 days.
But if you are going to be here for say, a week or more, do consider doing that as it truly made it much easier for me to order things off the menu, and shop for things in the supermarket. Duolingo has an app as well on the smartphone and you can sign up for it via the website, www.duolingo.com. You can learn many other languages there as well other than Italian.
4. Google maps
Another Google app, sorry to all Google haters out there. To get around Italy (and any other country in fact) you can download a map which can be accessed offline using the Google maps app. You can do so by going to the menu, then clicking on offline areas, then clicking on the bottom right corner where there is a plus sign, and then pressing download after you have selected the area you want to download.
As I am using an android phone, I only know how to do so on android phones, but it should not be too different on iPhones. Once you have the offline map, you can search for the location you want to go to as long as you have the address, and if the location is famous enough, the name of the place, for instance, the restaurant, would suffice as well.
You can also save the location on your google map by pressing on the location, then the save button. This will have stars on the google map itself so you can navigate your way through quite easily. I have zero direction sense, so I rely a lot on Google maps. Trust me when I say I can navigate my way through cities with that.
If you can’t read maps, you can turn on your GPS to figure out where you are on the map. Don’t worry, that does not rely on data as I can do that with my phone on airplane mode and my mobile data turned off.
If all else fails, you can pray to god that someone will understand you when you are there. Good luck on your trip to Italy! Ciao!