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Friday, July 12, 2013

How Not To: Speak Italian

Only having studied Italian for a short time in 2012 and again now that I am in Tolentino, I should have known better.

Perhaps I did, but from all of my linguistics studies and personal experience, I have found that one of the best ways to really become proficient in a new language is to speak it.

I have been here less than two weeks, and I have already made at least three grave errors (that I am aware of). I suppose the fact that I have realized I made these errors without anybody pointing them out to me shows just how quickly I am learning, but it doesn't make me feel any less shame for my accidental but controversial comments.

How I feel right now.
Photo credit:

Let the countdown commence!

My 3 Mortal Mistakes

3. You put fish in what????

Bottled tea is really quite popular here. I kept seeing tè alla pesca. I decided that pesca must mean "fish", but I was quite confounded by this and assumed  I had to be wrong. However, lack of internet and forgetfulness when I had it kept me from double checking this matter. Lack of pictures of peaches or fish on the bottles made it impossible to verify by sight alone.

One night we went go-karting with some of Will's colleagues. We sat across from two siblings who we tried to talk with in Italian as best we could. One said the word pesce, and I noted that it sounded different than what I thought pesca would. I found out from her that pesce meant "fish" and pesca meant "peach", much to my relief and chagrin, as she wanted me to explain why I was laughing so hard when she explained the two words to me.

2. Waiting for the call that never came...

I was talking to one of the many, very nice hotel workers here at Hotel 77. I was trying to tell her that I was waiting on a call from my father and imagined papa would be an okay way of saying it. I'm pretty sure that's exactly how I said it too, stressing the first "a". Another guest arrived for her to assist, so she never got to tell me just how interesting that was, since papa is the word for "Pope" and papà is apparently how "dad" is pronounced. 

My apologies to the Pope for inadvertently suggesting I was expecting a call from him which I never received.

1. Would you care for what Theon just lost on GoT?

I humbly come before you all to admit this last error. May my embarrassment bring you both laughter and knowledge, and may you never ask the same atrocious question I asked a colleague of Will's.

Everyone was signing their lives away consent forms at the go-kart track (they went 70 mph), and I had a pen. Another person needed to fill his form out, so I offered him my pen, only I said pene when I looked to him and offered it. Awesome. 

I was so confident I knew the right word because I had read it just the night before in my Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary

However, I was dead wrong. I had just offered one of Will's colleagues a penis. I am mortified. The man said nothing and kept a poker face. Penna is pen. 

That's one word I will never forget!

Have you had a similar experience with a language you are learning? Please share it below (you can even do so anonymously if it's terribly embarrassing!).

I miss this book, which I had to leave in the States because it was SO BIG and I *never dreamed* that I would get to stay in Italy for so long. Maybe if I had it with me, I would have actually offered that poor man a pen!


  1. What a lovely post :-)

    My husband and I moved to Portugal four years ago and have had our own embarrassing/amusing incidences with the language. My personal faux pas was trying to order food in a bar based on what I saw someone else eating. I accidentally asked to order the woman who was eating it!

    My husband's best one was asking for steak on his, er, bits, instead of a steak sandwich.

    Still, after four years we have become pretty proficient and even developed some cheats of our own:

    I'll keep an eye on your blog to see how you are getting on.

    Best wishes,


    1. Hi Louise,

      It's nice to know I am not alone with my language mistakes! Although it's quite embarrassing at the time, you always remember the right way to say the word after the fact.

      Thank you for linking your article. It's quite nice! We haven't visited Portugal yet, but I have every intention of doing so.

      Best wishes,


  2. Oh my God!!!!
    I'm an Italian girl, in the province of Ancona and as soon as I read the title of your blog, I opened it to read it!
    was hilarious, although I realize that these errors have caused embarrassment.
    The Italian language is wonderful and risky! Then, in the Marche region, there are also many dialects, and even among us sometimes fool you risk like.
    But this is one of the many aspects that make our country attractive, is not it?
    Anyway, nice article! Thank you!


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