How long does it take? : Italian lesson problems #1

I feel like I should find this a lot easier by now, but something I get stuck on every week in my Italian lesson is when I want to talk about how long something takes.

in general, I seem to have a block on anything to do with time. It has taken me 12 years to learn to say how long something has been happening for, using da for example.

“Da quanto tempo studi l’italiano ?”

“Studio l’italiano da 12 anni.”

How long have you been studying Italian?

I’ve been studying Italian for 12 years.

Having finally got the hang of that, I now wrestle every week with how long it takes to do something. A direct translation doesn’t work here. The verb volerci is used to express the need for something or how long something takes.

some examples : degli esempi

ci vuole un’ora : it takes an hour. (Use vuole as an hour is a singular thing )

per arrivare in centro ci vogliono 20 minuti. It takes 20 mins to get to the centre. (Use vogliono as minutes are plural!)

my own example from yesterday, talking about when I was on the phone for half the day trying to buy life insurance. (Assicurazione di vita!)

ci è voluta tutta la mattina. it took all morning!!

Tantissime domande, tipo, Hai mai fumato ?

Ultimo esempio: vi racconto la storia di l’anno scorso quando ho fatto una torta grande a forma di 4, per il mio figlio più piccolo. È stato un incubo perché la torta era così grande, si devono mettere 12 uova. Ho pensato che la torta non si sarebbe MAI cucinata …. alla fine si è cucinata ma ci sono volute tantissime ore!!

final example, I’ll tell you the story of when I made a big birthday cake shaped like a 4 , for my youngest son last year. It was a nightmare because the cake was so big, it needed 12 eggs. And i thought it was never going to cook, it did cook eventually but it took HOURS! I had almost given up 😂


How to sound more Italian in 7 easy words

Today I am talking about those “filler” words that exist in every language and which native speakers naturally drop into conversation, without even thinking about it.

Those little words and phrases such as “like”, “I mean”, “well” and  “basically” which people use to buy themselves thinking time, to clarify their meaning, or just to fill a silence when they’re not sure what else to say, for example, “So….”

Let’s identify some of these in Italian. If you get the hang of sprinkling them into your chat I guarantee that conversation will go along better and you will ultimately feel more Italian!

1. “Ehhh” This first one isn’t even a word, more a thinking sound, the equivalent of “ummm…” in English. But why not start converting to the Italian version instead?!

2. “Tipo” – This word is equivalent to the English “like” or “I mean”, used when you’re stuck in your thoughts and need a little more time, or to introduce an example.

3. “ Cioè” – this little word is incredibly common, another way of saying “I mean”, to sort of clarify or better explain your previous statement.

4. “Beh” – This simply means “well…” as in the ‘thinking’ well you use when you’re a bit unsure about something. Don’t say it too many times though or you risk sounding like an Italian sheep 😂

5. “Diciamo” – Literally meaning “let’s say” in English, this can be liberally used in conversations when you’re trying to explain something.

6. “Praticamente” – with the meaning of “basically” in English, this is a very useful word if you need some extra thinking time, as with its 4 syllables you can draw it out  a bit whilst you figure out what to say next!

7. “Allora” – Last but not least, I love “allora” which has many meanings in different contexts but very commonly is used to mean “So…”. Incredibly useful as a filler! And at the start of a question for example, “Allora, cosa facciamo?”… “so, what are we doing?”.

Seven is the magic number for today, although arguably I really should also have included “quindi” seeing as that’s very very common as well. That one can save for next time.

Ciao, a presto!

Chicchirichi fa il gallo : exercises in phonetics

After a month or so of regular Italian lessons with my brilliant teacher on italki, I am taking a couple of weeks’ holiday break, and trying to spend it profitably by attempting to improve my bad pronunciation. I have no doubt that my Italian has been greatly improved by the lessons, (though still painfully slow at times with frequent lapses back into English!!) but feel increasingly aware of my English accent. I thought I would share with you yesterday’s phonetics exercise, which is at first glance a little kids’ verse about animal noises, but it combines lots of different tricky letter combinations ( tricky for the English speaker at any rate!).

Chicchirichi fa il gallo,

Squittisce lo scoiattolo,

la cinciallegra cinguetta,

Facendo cip, cip, cip,

l’asino raglia,

il maiale grugnisce.

If I was clever I would be able to link to a Youtube video of this verse being pronounced, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet, however if you search you should easily be able to find it like I did! 🙂

I really struggled with the word ‘scoiattolo’ (squirrel) and am still not sure I can pronounce it properly. It is also very difficult for English-speakers generally to pronounce words containing the ‘gli’ sound properly, such as ‘raglia’. In my opinion it’s definitely worth spending some time focussing on phonetics if you are feeling pretty serious about improving!! I may add some more exercises through the week as I work my way through them. the other essential element in improving speech is to LISTEN as much as possible. So obvious, so true. I recommend watching Youtube videos on any subject where the person is speaking Italian and imitating them as closely as possible!! Those are all my words of wisdom for the day. Good luck fellow Italian learners. And thanks to my Mum for letting my use her photo of the Red Arrows flying over York, just because I like it 🙂



View of Vinci

Walking from  the town of Vinci in Tuscany on the path to Anchiano, following the “Strada Verde”, through olive groves where the trees are still flowering, and the land is on the cusp of summer, you are rewarded with this view . There is an abundance of wildflowers and a redstart is singing from his perch on the top of a post. Through the olive trees we can hear the purring of a turtle dove. At our destination in Anchiano, 3 km from Vinci, is the ‘Casa natale’ of Leonardo Da Vinci, his family home, now a museum.  This walk is the perfect antidote after touring around cities with overheated kids!!

When vassoio doesn’t sound like a tray

The other day I learned the Italian word for tray, il vassoio, and had one of those moments of incredulity when I looked at the dictionary. Vassoio? Tray? Really? naah, that can’t be right. Vassoio does not seem like it would mean tray. I could believe it meant vase, or some other kind of vessel, that would be fine with me; For example annaffiatoio means watering can, and I am happy with that. However, a translation of a word is not something you can argue with, it just is ! This internal struggle made me smile as I could have ended up thinking I’m the only one to have issues like this with vocabulary, had I not recently read a book by Rachel Cusk, called The Last Supper : A summer in Italy. 

Towards the beginning of the book she talks about her approach to learning Italian, and how she likes learning vocabulary:

“It is in the area of vocabulary that I feel my resources can be most securely invested. An identifiable object has a kind of neutrality, like Switzerland : It is a place that seems to offer the possibility of agreement. I have no difficulty with an armchair being una poltrona or a rug il tappeto : indeed I almost prefer calling a mirror uno specchio , for it seems to suit it better.”

This is all fine until she reaches the word scarpa 

“But sometimes I cannot escape the feeling that the word in my hand is counterfeit money, for there are other words that have no ring of truth about them at all. They are false somehow, I can’t believe they’ll work. How could a scarpa for instance be the same thing as a shoe? If i went into a shop and asked for a pair of scarpe, I would surely be handed a brace of woodland fowl, or two fish with particularly bony spines..”

I think this is my problem too in this case, for some reason I am unwilling to relinquish the reliable tray-ness of my native word.. although I have no problem with accepting the translation for the majority of other Italian words I have so far come across.

I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced a similar problem with learning a particular word, an Italian word, or in fact a word in any other language, especially Latin 😉




The cat purrs

I thought it might be nice to share my discovery, my favourite new phrase that I learned yesterday in my Italian lesson – at least for any cat-lovers out there who might like to talk about their cat purring. My teacher recommended that I should listen to a canzone carina “La Gatta” by Gino Paoli, after I had confessed to her that I didn’t know that la gatta existed in Italian, and had thought cats were always referred to as il gatto, whether male or female. She shared the lyrics with me ( il testo ), and the song is about a cat who has a macchia nera sul muso, just like my cat 🙂

The song continues like this:

Se la chitarra suonava, la gatta faceva le fusa, ed una stellina scendeva vicina, vicina, poi mi sorrideva e se ne tornava su.

When I translated faceva le fusa, I realised that listening to the guitar made the cat purr…. so my new phrase of the day is Il mio gatto fa le fusa (my cat purrs) because my cat is a boy cat!

After having spent a while this week studying pronominal verbs – farcela, andarsene, cavarsela, avercela – I also discovered that hidden in this song is another such pronominal verb – tornarsene –  which was a new one for me. The little star smiled and returned back up.

My particular favourite of the pronominal verbs I learned about is farcela ( to manage to do something) which is great to use in conversation at a moment of triumph – Ce l’ho fatta! I did it! I managed to do it! Remember it next time you want to celebrate something good that you have achieved in Italian 🙂 🙂






Ruote di carro – All about wheels

I have had some difficulty remembering “ruota”, the Italian word for ‘wheel’ : for ten years this word has literally rolled away from me every time I tried to fix it in my memory.
I tried describing this photo of some “ruote di carro” ( cart wheels) which I took the other day, as when I link a word or phrase with a visual image I find I retain it much better.
Ci sono tre ruote. (There are three wheels).
Sono ruote di carro antiche (they are old cart wheels).
Along the way I discovered a couple of other wheel-related expressions,
When talking about a car’s steering wheel you use ‘volante’ not ‘ruota’ so ‘at the steering wheel’ is ‘al volante’.

A ‘spare wheel’ is ‘una ruota di scorta’.

When I learn new words these days I always listen to hear how they are pronounced on Forvo ( I am addicted to Forvo!!) which has the additional benefit of showing you a list of other phrases which include your target word.
Hence I found out today this little gem : “essere l’ultima ruota del carro” which in English means being the least important person, equivalent to being lowest in the pecking order and therefore not given much responsibility-
For example “Non chiedere a me – sono l’ultima ruota del carro”. ( Don’t ask me – I’m the least important person here / I haven’t got any responsibility).

Bei fiori, bei ricordi : using the word bello

“Bello!” The Italian word for “Beautiful” – One of the first words I learned in the language. So short and simple, right?
Or maybe not…
These are a few of the reasons why “bello” has caused me problems over the years…
It can go either before or after the noun , and depending on where it goes this can slightly alter the meaning of the whole expression.
Una bella persona (good natured person) versus una persona bella (good-looking person).

When placed before the noun, bello has FOUR different masculine forms and follows the same rules as the definite article,
Bel bambino / bei bambini / bell’attore / begli attori.

Bello isn’t used for talking about food. For example A nice meal should never be described as “bellissimo” – and it would be totally wrong to say , for example, “Ho mangiato un piatto di pasta molto bello” . I have definitely made this mistake!!

The photo of the flowers was taken in the garden of the cottage where we stayed on holiday – the bumblebees just loved big globe flowers so much – at any one time there could up to four or five bees on one globe! Bellissimo!!!

My phrases for the day:
Un tramonto bellissimo
Ho fatto una bella passeggiata
Begli occhi
Ho fatto molte belle foto.