Ciao, Pronto, Prego – Learning Basic Italian

Next week I will be stepping out of the Australian Winter and into the European, specifically the Italian, Summer. While I am definitely looking forward to the temperature change, I do have some reservations about the language change!

On Wednesday 8 August I will be taking my first enthusiastic steps on the Via Francigena. A +1000km journey to Rome.

Man throwing a pizza
There will be plenty of pizza consumed over the next 7 weeks! Photo:

The path is another pilgrimage route with all its wonderful history, questionable directional signage and simple accommodation. Unlike the more heavily travelled caminos in Spain, this is a relatively quiet walking route and the all-important accommodation stops – convents, monasteries and hostels – are not waiting around for random pilgrims to arrive on their doorsteps.

The word on various internet forums and websites is that it is both necessary and polite, to give your target accommodation fair notice and to book in advance. As having a reliable and safe bed each night is pretty important to me, it has encouraged me to focus on picking up the basics in Italian. The forums also mention that while English is widely spoken in the larger cities, in the more remote areas it is less frequent.

Time to get prepared.

I love learning new languages and particularly enjoy the response from the locals when I make even the slightest attempt to communicate in their native tongue. I do cringe a bit and fear that I am murdering their lingo, but at least I make the attempt and I hope that with plenty of smiles, arm waving and laughter, all is forgiven.

Complete Italian course - book and CD
Photo: Book Depository

The beauty of living in rural Australia is that frequently it requires a long car trip to get anywhere. I have been relishing these trips as, on goes the ‘Complete Italian’ CD, and I spend the next 2-5 hours greeting the cows in the passing paddocks, listing the days of the week and most importantly, learning how to order a bottle of red wine.

Italian is a lovely language. It seems to roll off the tongue with great expression and emphasis. Sometimes I feel that I should be gesticulating wildly as I repeat the Italian phrases, but that wouldn’t be the safest driving technique.

My ‘Complete Italian’ course also has a workbook to study and I am hoping that by seeing the words and phrases written down, as well as all the listening, it will firmly implant the basics in my brain. Yes, I am the Eternal Optimist.

In the meantime, I have developed a number of ‘cheat sheets’ to cover the most important information. Luckily for me, we had a lovely Italian AirBnB guest stay with us recently, and she wrote out:

Buon Giorno/Buonasera      (Good morning/Good afternoon)

Mi chiamo Melanie.             (My name is Melanie)

Purtroppo non parlo Italiano. (Sorry I don’t speak Italian)

Sto facendo la camminata della via Francigena verso Roma. (I am walking the VF to Rome).

E vorrei prenotare una camera singola (o un letto) per (Lunedi….) sera / per la note di (Lunedi…) (I would like to book a single room (or bed) for the night of..)

Grazie in anticipo (Thanks in anticipation)


I am hoping this will cover me for my accommodation bookings by both email and telephone. The challenge will be if the person on the other end of the phone replies in rapid-fire Italian! I will be completely bamboozled!

Coffee Break Italian logo
Photo: ITunes

Other Italophiles have suggested some alternate language tools, including:

  • Coffee Break Italian: There is a comprehensive website with plenty of courses to review, although only the first course is free. Alternatively ITunes has 83 separate podcasts to listen to for free.
  • Google Translate: Would be perfect to use for advance preparation. You simply type in what you intend to say in English and it instantly translates this to Italian. I think I am going to give this tool a run for its money!

While all these tools would be handy, I think that sometimes you can’t beat simply being in the country and being immersed in the language. When everything is written in Italian and you are attempting to communicate in basic Italian every day, I find that languages do tend to sink in and stick better.

Italian Phrasebook

In the meantime, I will have my small Italian/English phrase book at the ready and use it to translate on the go and when there is no WIFI. No doubt there will be plenty of ‘lost in translation’ moments, but that is all part of the fun of travel I reckon.

So, watch this space. I will be doing my best to blog along the way, technology and WIFI permitting. The LIVE posts may be a little rough around the edges as I want to focus on the joy of the journey rather than perfect punctuation, so bear with me.

Please feel free to share my posts with friends and family who have a passion for all things Italian or walking. I may need all the moral support I can get!

Arrive derci!


Italian moped
This could be an attractive option! Photo:

The Basics

What: The Via Francigena is a 1 900km pilgrimage route established in 990AD.

Where: The path starts at Canterbury Cathedral at Canterbury in England and ends in the Vatican City, Rome Italy.

When: The path can be attempted at any time of year, although snow closes the Great Saint Bernard Pass from mid-Autumn to mid-Spring. You must schedule your walk accordingly or use public transport to cover this stage.

Why: Because these boots were made for walking.

How: By foot, car, plane, train, plane, train, bus, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, (repeat for 40 days), train, plane, train, foot, foot, plane, car, foot. Phew!

Who: Everyone, including you!

Related Posts: For more background on this walk, have a look at my planning post.

Related Blogs: Here’s a thought – how about learning Italian by reading Italian blogs? There’s plenty to choose from.

Read About it: Grab your via Italian language books and CDs from Book Depository. They have over 870 resources to choose from!

Italian t-shirts

11 thoughts on “Ciao, Pronto, Prego – Learning Basic Italian

  1. Ciao bella! Buona avventura!


  2. Buongiorno Mel, enjoy your Italian adventure. FYI, Duolingo, is a great website to complement your Italian language studies. I’ll be keenly following your blog. I’m hoping to walk from Canterbury in the next year. Buon Camino & ciao.


    1. Thanks Annie. I have just finished working through another three chapters of my Italian language book and my brain HURTS! I am not sure how much is actually going in and staying there!! 😉 Thanks for the Duolingo tip – I will check it out. Ciao


  3. Douglas Wielfaert August 2, 2018 — 9:00 am

    Marcy and I hung out in Tuscany the last two Marches courtesy of some great deals from Gate1 travel. We loved traveling along SR2 and SP146 and exploring the towns along the via francigena. After dilligent studying, I did write a Blog post entitled something like “On Learning Italian” – spoiler alert, it was a big fail – hope you have better luck!!! I’ll be following your adventures.


    1. :-)! I am sure I am going to make a million faux pas and language mistakes, but I hope my laughter and enthusiasm will offset any upset! 😉 Thanks for following and I look forward to talking to you from the road! Have a great day, Mel


  4. I Really hope you’re enjoying Italy and managed to pick up some Italian there. It must be a but crazy with jet lag for you but hopefully you got used to it by now !!😁


    1. Yes, it is an amazing country. Everyone So welcoming and friendly. I can hardly believe there are only 7 days left.


  5. Hi Melanie, my sister Sonia (we did correspond before the Camino which we did and loved) passed on your blog address as, would you believe we are two weeks behind you! (But only started at San Minato due to meeting our son in Siena and a side trip to Florence). I’ve loved reading your blog, sharing many of your experiences. For future reference, how did you get to the start? (Grand St Bernard).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear from you Tania and I hope you are having a fabulous time on the Via. I flew into Zurich and then caught a train from the airport which connected to the bus at Orsieres. The bus doesn’t operate all year ’round – only in Summer. I also looked at flying into Geneva (with the same train/bus combo), but the times from Aus were better into Zurich. Have fun and ciao, Mel

      Liked by 1 person

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