Language Shock: Trying to speak Italian in Italy is harder than it seems!

Italian at Heart in Venice

Alberto & I spent a beautiful day in Venice today! After a chilly, grey first week in Italy, spring is finally here…and so are my seasonal allergies, but I’ll take it if it means we get to enjoy beautiful sunny weather and wisteria.

I’ve been trying to take advantage of speaking Italian as much as possible while I’m here, but it’s actually harder than it seems! Alberto speaks English fluently and so do many Venetians…I have to force myself to speak Italian. Sometimes that means making mistakes or stumbling over my words to get an idea out that would take me seconds to do in English.

Today at a bacaro (a Venetian bar/restaurant where you can get drinks and finger food called cicchetti), I chose a polpette di zucchine a fried zucchini ball) not only because I thought it would taste good, but also because I thought it would be easiest to pronounce out of the choices. I said zucchine several times, and the server didn’t understand me. I felt crushed because if an Italian can’t understand me when I say zucchine, which is so close to the American zucchini, then what hope do I have???

Then, on our way home we stopped at the grocery store. I was standing in line while Alberto went to grab another item. The woman in front of me mumbled something to me, at least that’s what it sounded like because I didn’t understand a word! I finally guessed that she was asking if I wanted to go in front of her since I only had two items and she had a full cart. I was so taken off guard that I couldn’t even utter a word and just looked at her like a deer in the headlights!

I was feeling a little bummed about my Italian blunders today, when Alberto pointed out that when I am not sure of what I’m saying in Italian, I whisper it. This was such a revelation to me because maybe the bartender today didn’t misunderstand me…maybe he just didn’t hear me!

I’ve been to Italy enough times that the culture doesn’t shock me as much as the language does. It’s easy to be lazy and rely on English even here. There’s even American pop songs on in the stores 90% of the time!

Learning a language definitely requires you to practice humility, swallow your pride, and make mistakes. Today was a reminder to speak boldly because trying is better than not trying at all.

Have you ever had language shock before? 

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Ciao, I'm Kelly!

Welcome to my adventures in learning Italian, often while cooking authentic Italian recipes and wine tasting! I love discovering the traditional regional cuisine of Italy and trying to recreate those dishes when I'm back home in the US. I'm also on my way to becoming an Italian citizen through jure sanguinis (by ancestry).

WSET Level 2 Certified Wine Blogger


Join me for a virtual "aperitivo chat" to get exclusive updates on my Italian progress, dual citizenship journey, plus food & wine adventures in the Bel Paese and beyond!

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Lucy and Kelly
2 years ago

Kelly I so needed to hear this. I’ve just spent 4 days in Padova speaking English because our Auntie speaks English and so do our cousins. My sister and I felt like we’d be terrible tourists if we didn’t have them with us, because we literally felt like we didn’t understand anything and we got to shell shocked when people asked questions, that we couldn’t think quick enough to answer back. I felt like I understood a lot more than ever before but still not enough and I was too scared to speak in front of my cousins because they… Read more »

Lucy and Kelly
2 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

I wish it wasn’t looked at so negative either. Maybe it’s just a north and south thing as I know Italians can be very funny about who’s from the north and who’s from the south. We’ve just grown up with our Nanna and Grandad speaking with Napoletano dialect, which is why it’s easier to understand and also why our Mum never wanted to teach us growing up! :p I’ve never heard that song, that I can remember but i’ll have to get a list from our little sister of songs she used to download for Grandad! There’s loads of fun… Read more »

LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia

When I moved to Calabria, it was really hard to find someone who could speak English so I had no real choice but to just throw myself into the language. I made (and continue to) mistakes but Italians are really open and friendly and are quite pleased when you try!

Miranda Wadham
2 years ago

This is the first time I’ve read your language posts so sorry for the multiple comments, but this is so so true! My confidence used to get so knocked because people didn’t understand really simple things, but then I realised that I said them really quietly and timidly because I was unsure… now I make a real effort to appear confident when I say things and it makes such a big difference!

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