They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And I believe it’s true. But here in Italy we also say that a gesture is worth a thousand words! Because Italy has a second (unofficial) language. That of hand gestures, and there are dozens of them!
So if you come to Italy you don’t necessarily have to learn Italian, although it would be best! These hand gestures, as in the following video, are fairly easy to learn with a bit of practice. But keep in mind to make just the right body movements and facial expression along with each one as they are important too!
But perhaps you’re thinking, “Why should I bother learning another language — even an unspoken one?
There are several good reasons for learning another language.
- Other languages useful.
- Learning another language makes learning still others even easier!
- It’s a gesture that shows people you’re interested in their ways and culture.
- And speaking even a few basic words in their language really causes them to open up. It makes them feel that they matter!
Can’t wait to get started? Great! But Super Mario (that’s what my husband’s preschool kids call him), would warn you that learning a foreign language takes work. Too bad he can’t convince his older students of this. Kids just soak English up like sponges. And most adults and teens seem to think they can too. Ten lessons, with no study on their part, and they’re ready to tour the world. Speaking English like a native. Ah, not quite!
Language learning is not simple, but a discipline.
But lest I discourage you, it’s helpful to know that Italian (along with other Latin languages) is among the easier languages to learn. And you probably know many Italian words already! Foods like spaghetti, pizza, espresso, and cappuccino most quickly spring to mind. And others that we sometimes forget are Italian like: zucchini, broccoli, or caffé. Then music lovers the world round know of opera, piano, a cappella, and maestro. Or the typical bravo, bravo! for a job well done. So you see, you already speak some Italian! Bravo!!
And here a couple more encouraging facts. Italian is read just as it’s written. Letters nearly always make the same sound. Even vowels, which in English are so tricky and changeable, stay the same! Basically all you have to remember is: ah, eh, eee, oh, and you! So once you’ve learned the 21 letter alphabet and some basic rules, you should manage a few simple words.
But use familiar words carefully! They may not mean what you think!
Vorrei una pizza ai pepperoni.
Upon reading this, you might think someone is ordering a pepperoni pizza. But it really means… “I’d like a pizza with green peppers on it. (If you’d like the meat American’s call pepperoni, ask for salsiccia piccante, or better yet, salame piccante!)
Vorrei una banana.
Now you’ll be thinking that someone wants a banana. This time it means just what you it sounds like. I’d like a banana. (With the word banana only the pronunciation changes!)
Words can sound so similar but have very different meanings! You might be tempted to do like a relative of ours did, and call a car a carro. But don’t! People will either think it’s highly strange that you’re driving an army tank, or that you’ve lost your mind, or both!
Words like these are what linguists call False Friends. They seem so friendly and useful. But they create a lot of confusion, just like false friends in people. But don’t worry. It’s really not that hard to make yourself understood. And if words fail you… at least learn a little “Italian without words!”
Italian without words: the hand gesture language all Italians are so fluent in, and graceful at!
Enjoy this great video and then see how many you remember!