Archive for December, 2013

5 Innovative Ways To Perfect Your Italian

Posted on December 29th, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »

To refer to something simply as an “Italian” accent is a bit of a generalization… despite being a small country, Italy is incredibly diverse, and accents can vary from town to town.  However, you will do yourself a huge favor if you get over certain English-speaking habits and learn to speak like a native.  Nobody wants to stand out as a tourist, and speaking Italian with a strong foreign accent can mark you as someone who can easily be swindled or taken advantage of.  So follow these quick and easy strategies to having a more organic Italian accent, and you can’t go wrong!


  1. Know Your Vowels.  English pronunciation of vowels is different and more complicated than most Latin-based languages.  Italian vowels are much simpler and much more musical, with only one sound ascribed to each: A, E, I, O, U are pronounced “ah (as in father), eh (as in best), ee (as in street), o (as in home, but not as pronounced), oo (as in loose),” with few exceptions.
  2. Know Your Consonants.  Fortunately, most consonants in Italian are pronounced the same as they would be in English.  However, there are one or two tricky consonants and combinations that can trip up beginners.  First of all, the letter “g” is pronounced as a hard consonant, as in “ghost” when it come before the vowels a, o, and u.  When it comes before e or i, it makes a “j” sound.  Similarly, the letter “c” makes a “k” sound before a, o, and u; when before e or I, it makes a “ch” sound.  Also, the consonant “z” makes a “ts” sound, like in “pizza.”  The consonant “h” has no sound, the same as in Spanish or French, and the “r” is always slightly rolled.
  3. Know Your Dipthongs.  Even more bizarre to English speakers are the two main dipthongs that sound nothing at all like we think they should.  The two consonants “gn” make a “ny” sound—just think of the word “lasagna.”  Similarly, the consonants “gl” make a “ly” sound, so the article “degli” would be pronounced “dell-yee.”
  4. girls_teenagers_talk_267746_lEnjoy Yourself!  Italians are enormously proud of their language, and even if you’re new to it, the Italian language should be savored when spoken.  Don’t be shy when speaking; enunciate your words with verve and enjoyment and try to appreciate the innate musicality in the language.  And, of course, to truly fit in with the locals, you will have to learn to illustrate your conversation with hand gestures!

Depending on which area of Italy you intend to visit, you will learn plenty of other shortcuts and specific rules for pronunciation.  The details will come to you as you interact with people, but before you get an opportunity to do that you will have to learn the basics.  Get a head start and check out one of our Italian courses, or send us an enquiry and see what we can offer that’s right for you.

Buon Natale! Christmas Traditions in Italy

Posted on December 26th, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »


Italy’s culture is steeped in tradition and ritual dating back thousands of years.  Not surprisingly, one of the most festive days of the Italian calendar, Christmas has its fair share of exciting traditions.  If you’re lucky enough to be in Italy around the end of December, you’re sure to experience a few of them for yourself.

As Italy is still a heavily religious country, their Christmas celebrations revolve around the Catholic holy days—in fact, the actual celebrations of Christmas start eight days before the 25th of December and last until the Feast of the Epiphany.  While families are starting to exchange gifts on the 25th due to American influence, Babbo Natale (Italy’s version of Father Christmas,) traditionally brings children gifts on the final night of the Christmas season, January 6th.  Masses and special church services are ubiquitous during this time—seasonal prayers such as the Novena are prayed.  Drawing from the mummery traditions of the Middle Ages, children dress up as shepherds and other key figures from the Nativity story and go caroling door to door in exchange for gifts of money.

As with all other aspects of Italian life, food plays a key role in Christmas celebrations.  While fasting is observed for the 24 hours leading up to Christmas, after that comes the Cenone, the traditional Christmas feast.  This feast is strictly vegetarian (fish count as a vegetable here,) but it is presented with the customary verve and creativity expressed in all meals: spaghetti and anchovies plus other types of fish, as well as broccoli, salads, fruits, and a vast number of pastries.  After the Cenone, it is customary to then go to Christmas mass with the family.


Other age-old seasonal customs include the Ceppo, a structure of shelves depicting a manger scene surrounded by small gifts, fruit, and candy.  It is often decorated with candles and colored lights—essentially, it is the Italian version of our Christmas tree.  (Originally, the Ceppo was the Yule log which was burned to determine how long the Christmas celebrations would last.)  The Urn of Fate is another custom, a large bowl from which the paterfamilias removes wrapped gifts for his children on the night of the present exchange.  La Befana is a Christmas witch, Babbo Natale’s female counterpart, who according to legend ran after the three wise men on the night of Christ’s birth with an armful of presents belonging to her dead child.  However, she could not find the stable, so to this day she wanders the world on Christmas, delivering gifts to good children and coal to bad ones.

With so many fascinating customs surrounding Christmas and other festivals, Italy offers enough holiday cheer and surprises to warm the hearts of any number of Grinches and Scrooges.  To get a first-hand experience of the language that inspired these and many other customs, look into one of our different levels of Italian courses.  Or, if you prefer, send us an enquiry.  Happy holidays!

Buon Appetito! Italian Dishes Every Kid Will Love

Posted on December 23rd, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Every parent wants their kid to eat a healthy and balanced diet and, hopefully, to branch out into a variety of dishes.  Similarly, every parent knows how picky children can be, and that getting them the nutrients they need is an uphill battle.  Luckily, anyone who’s familiar with cooking Italian food can easily whip up a few quick and easy recipes that will satisfy both kids and adults.


  1. Pizza—Clearly, this is a dish that chances are your kids will love.  Depending on how much time you want to put into it, i.e. whether you want to make your own dough or simply pick up a pre-baked pizza crust from the supermarket, it can be a fun kitchen activity for you and your kids.  Give your kids a chance to be creative by picking their own toppings: offer bowls of sliced bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, sweet corn, pineapple, ham, and pepperoni—see how colorful they can make it!
  2. Spaghetti and meatballs—Another Italian classic that tastes great and is easily customized, spaghetti is the perfect after-school meal.  Get your kids involved with preparing the meatballs—mix a pound of ground beef or turkey with one egg and one minced onion, plus salt and pepper to taste and have your kid roll them into bite-sized balls to bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Alternatively, you can make a quick meat sauce by sautéing ground beef with chopped vegetables and garlic, then adding a jar of tomato sauce plus some tomato paste.
  3. Lasagna—While this may be a little bit more alien to some kids’ tastes, remind them that it’s Garfield’s favorite food and they’ll probably be willing to give it a try.  Baking a lasagna from scratch can be time intensive, but there are plenty of short-cut recipes involving ground beef, spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese, and whatever other fillings you’d like to throw in that are easy to prepare.  You could also go for a store-bought lasagna, but be careful when choosing these—they often have a very high salt content. cooking-industrial-kitchen-413474-l
  4. Baked Stuffed Shells—This one may take a little persuasion if your kids have never seen a stuffed shell before.  But they’re easy to cook and tasty, and they can be a good way to sneak greens like spinach into your kids’ diets.  Most recipes include ricotta and mozzarella cheese with chopped up basil and spinach as the stuffing for the shell-shaped pasta, which you then bake in a casserole dish of marinara sauce.
  5. Minestrone Soup—If you have a lot of leftover side dishes that you don’t know what to do with, combine them into a soup!  A good, hearty minestrone is the perfect opportunity for something like this, and the beauty of it is you can use virtually anything you want.  To a base of beef or chicken broth, add any leftover beans or veggies or meat that you have in the fridge and be sure to flavor it up with plenty of garlic, oregano, basil, and parsley—your kids won’t even know what they’re eating, but it’ll taste so good they won’t care!

To taste some traditional Italian dishes that your entire family will love, why not go to Italy?  Send us an enquiry if you’re interested in learning some Italian, or check out our different levels of Italian courses.

5 Italian Conversation Starters

Posted on December 20th, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »


If your Italian has progressed to the point at which you’re comfortable enough for a real-life conversation, you’re in luck because Italians love talking.  And Italian culture has such a variety of interesting topics—sports, art, opera, film, wine, cars, and so on—that you’re spoiled for choices as to what to start chatting about.  In Italy, the conversation is viewed as an art-form, organic and free-flowing, so don’t be afraid to just jump in and offer your views and opinions; if you wait patiently for your turn to speak, you’ll be waiting for a very long time!  But what are the best ways to start a conversation in Italian?  If you’re tongue-tied, here are a few icebreakers you might want to consider.

  1. Compliment the food.  There are two common ways to do this.  If you’re dining at someone’s house and wish to speak about a specific dish, say, Questo cibo e molto buono.  This translates to, “This food is very good.”  Alternatively, if you want to compliment the food in general, say at a certain restaurant, say, Il cibo e molto buono.  And, of course, there is the indispensable, Buon appetito!
  2. Talk about football.  It’s a pretty safe bet that whoever you’re talking to is an avid supporter of their local team, and are just dying to talk your head off about it.  To ask them what is their favorite soccer team, say, Qual è la tua squadra di calcio preferita?  It’s sure to lead to a long and impassioned talk about the recent match.
  3. Talk about art and films.  This covers a broad range of subject matter, and is generally safe grounds for a conversation.  Ask about someone’s opinion on the works of Dante, Cosa ne pensi di opere di Dante? and you are sure to learn more about the great poet than you ever wished to know.  If you have no interest in antiquated literature, you can always ask, Quale preferisci, La Dolce Vita o 8 ½? or express your wish to see some of the great works of Italian art: Hai visto il David di Michaelangelo?  Spero di vederlo un giorno.  (Have you seen Michaelangelo’s David?  I hope to see it someday.)ball_ball_macro_266209_l
  4. Flirt with them.  Depending on the social situation, (not appropriate for business meetings, but the nightclub scene is okay,) flirting can be a good way to meet Italians.  Gain their attention by telling them they’re enchanting, Sei affascinante if speaking to a man and Sei incantevole if speaking to a woman, or very simply, Sei bellissimo/a to say that they’re beautiful.
  5. Compliment their English.  Just as you would feel gratified to have a native compliment your Italian, it can be a lead-in to a friendly conversation about language-learning.  (They will most likely protest that their English is bad, and then you can ask them where they learned it.)  A good way to begin this exchange is to tell them, Parli (or Parla, if you want to be formal,) benissimo l’inglese.  To learn more great conversation starters as well as the skills to follow up on them, sign up for one of our Italian courses, or send us an enquiry—we’d love to hear from you!

Top 10 Places To Visit in Italy

Posted on December 16th, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »


For a relatively small country, Italy is immensely diverse, with more culture and local traditions that you could hope to experience in a year of traveling.  However, if you are going to Italy and have limited time to see as much as you can, hit up these ten crucial places to ensure that you get as much out of your trip as you can.

  1. Milan: Famous for its high-end fashion and business, Milan is filled with historic castles and cathedrals.  At the same time, it is Italy’s quintessentially modern city, and its entertainment factor—nightlife, art galleries, shopping, football, and opera—can’t be beat!
  2. Venice: One of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, Venice is renowned for its Carnival and canals.  The sanctuary in past centuries for hundreds of European artists and expats, Venice is slowly sinking and won’t be around for long.  So visit soon before it’s gone forever!
  3. Genoa: A port city known for its spectacular seafood, Genoa is filled with trendy boutiques, historic churches, and one of Europe’s largest aquariums.  Plus, it’s the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
  4. Bologna: A dynamic university city filled with culture and energy, Bologna is less popular among foreign tourists, making it the perfect place to practice your Italian.  It boasts a thriving theatre and nightlife scene, as well as the oldest university in the western world.BBBBB
  5. Florence: An absolute must-see on a trip to Italy, Florence is the city of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, as well as artists Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.  It is the cultural and artistic heart of Italy, with a great deal of historic museums, luxury fashion boutiques, and buildings to visit.
  6. Pisa: A city in Tuscany most commonly known for its Leaning Tower, Pisa also boasts a university with plenty of parties, cultural events, and lesser known architectural wonders that are well worth your attention.
  7. Rome: Known as the “Eternal City,” Rome is a UNESCO Heritage Site and offers something to impress and indulge everyone.  It is steeped in thousands of years of history dating back to ancient times and is filled with ruins, monuments, and basilicas dating back to the Renaissance.  Add to that unbeatable shopping, museums, markets, plazas, and fountains, you could live here for years and still not experience it all.
  8. Naples: The culinary capital of Italy and the birthplace of pizza, Naples is a vibrant city with historic architecture.  But don’t kid yourself—go there for the food.  You’ll be glad you did.
  9. Campania: For the history lover, Campania is where you’ll find the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient city that was wiped out by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  It offers plenty of insights on the life and culture of the ancient Roman empire.
  10. Palermo: The capital city of Sicily, Palermo offers a completely different lifestyle from the peninsula.  Go there to experience a more rural aspect of Italian life, as well as for their great wine and unbeatable seafood dishes.

Wherever you’re planning to travel to in Italy—especially more rural areas—it will help you immensely to speak a moderate amount of Italian.  Send us an enquiry, or look into our various Italian courses and get started learning right away!

Dress For Success: Business Attire in Italy

Posted on December 12th, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »


Dressing for a formal occasion in Italy, whether it’s a dinner, a corporate meeting, or any other important occasion, can be quite intimidating.  Italy is the country of Prada, Gucci, and Armani, and first impressions are crucial in the developing of business relationships; dressing with elegance and panache can mean the difference between respect and derision, success and failure.  So no pressure.

First of all, for both men and women, it is expected that you wear name brand labels, professionally tailored suits of either wool or silk, and expensive shoes.  For men, stick to dark colors; black and navy blue suits are the safest, but a dark grey suit is also appropriate for business situations.  Your tie must be both professional and fashionable; when it comes to patterns, paisley and stripes are both appropriate.  Men can have a little more freedom with their shirts—bright colors are allowed as long as it matches both your tie and your business suit.  Always wear a long-sleeved shirt, even in the summertime, and by no accounts should you ever be seen wearing shorts, which will mark you out as a tourist.  Stay away from accessories of any sort, aside from an expensive, high-quality watch and leather belt to accentuate your professional attire.

Women are also expected to wear dark-colored business suits with a blouse underneath to a professional meeting or gathering.  When in the office, a dress or skirt is acceptable as long as it exudes a professional demeanor—obviously, no backless dresses or miniskirts, no matter how high-end the designer.  Italian women, even in the workplace, tend to wear more makeup and jewelry than women of other nationalities, but make sure that it’s tasteful and ties your outfit together.


As for other aspects of dress, there are plenty of details that can also greatly influence the impression you give of yourself; for men, always make sure you wear knee-high socks rolled up, as it is considered unseemly to have any part of your leg showing underneath your trouser cuff.  Shoes are just as important as the rest of your wardrobe, so make sure that your shoes are of high quality and without scuffs or blemishes.  Men should wear leather shoes with pointed or square toes, and women should wear high heels—two inches is standard in corporate situations, but you may see women in the office with three inches or more.  It’s common for both men and women to wear good perfume or cologne, and for an extra good impression, buy an expensive leather briefcase and business card holder to prove how invested you are in giving off an air of organization and competence.

There are many finer rules to Italian business etiquette that can only be learned firsthand, by interaction with colleagues and gauging their reactions to various situations.  In order to do that, it’s imperative that you travel to Italy with a decent understanding of the Italian language.  Look into our Italian courses, or send us an enquiry to find out what program is right for you.

Traditional Italian Weddings and How To Survive Them

Posted on December 9th, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »

We all know the iconic opening scene to The Godfather: a lavish wedding reception where Talia Shire surrounded by legions of extended family members all singing, dancing, eating, and drinking.  But is that an accurate portrayal of an Italian wedding?  If you are invited to one, what can you expect to happen?


First of all, Italian weddings—like much of their culture—is steeped in tradition, so many rules are followed that date back generations.  As much of Italian life, especially outside of big cities, is still very religious, marriages can often last all day, beginning with a mass at the local church, followed by the wedding ceremony, or sposalizio, which is performed by the priest.  Afterwards comes the reception, a celebration with friends and relatives that may last all night and into the morning.

As in most western weddings, the bride will generally wear a white gown, (although in the past it was traditional for her to wear a black dress and a white hat,) and it is considered very rude to wear white if you’re a guest to the wedding.  Rather, play it safe and dress in black, which is considered very chic in current Italian fashion.

Another crucial tradition to know before you attend an Italian wedding is that, in lieu of gifts, it is customary to make a donation to the wedding.  Often this will be done in exchange for pieces of the bride’s tossed garter belt, or the groom’s tie.  Other times, money will be given to the bride in exchange for a chance to dance with her, and then the bride’s grandmother will guard the stash of donations.  Otherwise you can just give the money in an envelope to the hosts of the wedding; it is good form to pay around $100-$150, depending on how extravagant the wedding is, how well you know the bride and groom, and how much you can afford.


As with all Italian celebrations, a wedding is filled with good wine and gourmet food for all.  Sweet liquors and other alcoholic drinks will be served to guests before the reception by the best man.  If you don’t wish to drink, make sure to state your case firmly, because for the rest of the night people will be toasting the newlyweds with wine and any other drink in hand.  If you wish to make a toast yourself, the most common one is, “Evviva gli sposi!” meaning, “Long live the newlyweds!” to which it is then seemly for everyone in the room to applaud wildly.  Another popular toast is, “Per Cent’Anni!” meaning, “For a hundred years!” which suggests the hope that the newlyweds may live so long in happiness together.

Of course, to truly get the most out of an Italian wedding, whether it be in elaborate toasts or meeting the relatives, your best bet is to learn some Italian in preparation.  Make an enquiry with us, or check out our listing of language courses to enroll an Italian class as soon as possible.

A Guide To Social Media in Italy

Posted on December 5th, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »


The presence of social media as a business tool is still a burgeoning idea in the Italian marketplace.  In fact, internet usage is shockingly low compared to other European countries, with only 23 million internet users, and only 39% of households having a broadband connection.  However, Web 2.0 tools are currently popular for marketing and public relations.  And addition to this, public awareness of brands and companies via social media has tripled in the past few years, making a professional social media presence an increasing priority for businesses.

Currently the most widely used networks by Italian consumers are Facebook, followed by YouTube, Messenger, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Skype.  In addition to these global umbrella networks, local specialty networks are also popular and should be taken into account, such as ItalyLink, where users share their interests in the Italian way of life, Vinix, which focuses on connoisseurs of Italian food and drink, and Fubles, which is organized around Italians’ love of football games.ockingly low compared to other European countries, with only 23 million internet users, and only 39% of households having a broadband connection.  However, Web 2.0 tools are currently popular for marketing and public relations.  And addition to this, public awareness of brands and companies via social media has tripled in the past few years, making a professional social media presence an increasing priority for businesses.

In general, social networks such as Facebook are not automatically linked with the business world, as many Italians prefer to do business face-to-face, which they feel provides a better understanding of partners and situations.  However, when making first contact with a business partner, it is appropriate to introduce yourself to a prospective colleague via LinkedIn, or by sending a good, old-fashioned email query.

Among teenagers, predictably, MySpace and Badoo are very popular, while in professional circles LinkedIn and Xing are the leading networks.  Twitter has sonly just started to make headway as a powerful tool in business communication.  Blogs also represent a relatively large movement in online communications, with many Italians posting articles and videos, as well as following and participating in discussions on blogs about politics and current affairs.


Other fringe media networks, which are scarcely used but should be taken advantage of for their incredible promoting power in Italian society, are picture and video sharing sites such as Flickr, Slideshare, and YouTube.  Platforms specific to Italy include Libero, Tuo Video, and C6 TV, which allow users to upload and post their own videos.  Podcasts and online radio stations are also more prevalent in Italy than they are in the United States, with many journalists and newscasters having their own audio blogs where internet users can tune in to listen to subjects they care about.

While much of the Italian business world remains steeped in tradition, a shift towards a more connected lifestyle is undeniable, and companies such as Fiat and Barilla have taken advantage of social media with notable success.  If you’re seeking to expand your business in Italy, it would be prudent to jump on the internet bandwagon quickly to maximize the efficiency of your communication with possible clients and partners.  To do this, even with the help of an interpreter, it would be best if you started off with at least a basic knowledge of the Italian language.  So send us a free inquiry and let us set you up with the Italian course that’s right for you.

How Many Kisses? 5 Etiquette Tips For Doing Business in Italy

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by Anna in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Traveling to a foreign country can be stressful, especially if you aren’t sure about local etiquette customs.  How late or early should you show up to a meeting?  What sort of table manners are expected of you?  What topics of conversation should be avoided at all costs?  Especially if you’re traveling to Italy—Italians are known for being incredibly friendly and welcoming to visitors, but also quite rude to those who offend them—being able to follow the general rules of deportment will ensure that you have smooth travels from start to finish.


  1. First Impressions: Many Italians have a very extraverted, ebullient persona, and it is common in Italian culture to hug or kiss friends hello.  This probably won’t happen if you’re meeting someone for a first time, but in case it does it would be appropriate to respond with a hug back and one light kiss to the cheek.  By no means back away from hugging, as this may depict you as a cold person.  When speaking in English, keep your voice down—Americans are known in Europe for being extremely loud, and most people find it obnoxious.
  2. Table Manners: Always keep your hands above the table and do not attempt to share food with colleagues—this isn’t done in Italy.  Italian hosts are food-pushers, so you may have to be very insistent that you don’t want any more once you’re finished eating.  Make sure you keep your wineglass at least half-filled, otherwise your server will continually top it up.  A 10-15% tip at a restaurant is appreciated, but not necessary.  And if you really want to go local, don’t order cappuccino after breakfast—only espresso.
  3. How To Dress:  Italians are very fashion-conscious, so always be sure to dress formally when you meet with colleagues.  A dark suit with a white shirt and an expensive tie is always sure to impress—if you are a woman, dress stylishly and wear business-professional makeup and jewelry.  Even during leisure time, try to steer away from wearing shorts and sandals, as this will mark you out as a tourist.


  1. What Topics To Avoid:  Anything about politics, American foreign policy, religion, and the Mafia.  It may also be considered forward if you ask a new acquaintance about their family without their offering this information, and of course never ask a woman her age.  Italy is diverse country with deeply engrained rivalries between regions, particularly in the North and the South, so never compare different areas of Italy—you will be sure to offend someone.
  2. Learning Italian: The best way to demonstrate a deep respect and interest in Italian culture is to learn their language.  Even just knowing the basics will help you immensely, both in your travels and in developing relationships in the business world.  Overall, Italians are very patient and supportive of those trying to learn their language, and they will be thrilled to see that you’re making an effort to communicate with them on their own ground.  Inquiry about your Italian course today and get started as soon as possible learning what many consider the most beautiful language in the world.