Travel Italian & French - Tricks of the Trade
Updated: Jul 15
by Guest Blogger, Kathryn Occhipinti
When is the Perfect Time to Learn Italian or French?
The “perfect” time for us to learn another language is when we have a reason to do so (such as travel) and also when we can dedicate a bit of time each day to the effort. Waiting for Italy and France to open their doors to us again or planning for a trip to Provence or Umbria are actually the perfect times to brush up on a few phrases that will help us communicate while there!
Italian “Trick of the Trade” — Use the Polite “Può”
One theme throughout my teaching travelers the conversational basics is how to ask politely for what you need while in Italy using the word “può.” The added benefit to this method is that there is no need to conjugate!
In short, the Italian word “può,” means “could you (polite),” and is a helping verb. This verb needs to be followed by an infinitive verb. Create a question with può + infinitive verb and you can ask for whatever you need in a simple, polite way.
If someone is speaking too quickly for me, I can ask: Può parlare più lentamente? Can you speak more slowly?
If I need some information, I can ask: Mi può dire... dov’è...? Can you tell me... where is...?
When I get into a taxi, I can say: Mi può portare...? Can you take me...?
If I need something checked in my rental car: Può controllare... l’olio/le gomme? Can you check...the oil/the tires?”
Of course, if you are walking down the via el Fiori Imperiali in Rome and preface your request with a simple, “Mi scusi...” for “Excuse me,” or “Per favore...” for “Please...” I am sure you will find most Italians very helpful and polite in return!
French “Trick of the Trade” — Use the Polite “Pouvez-vous”
Since I have modeled my conversational French tips as closely as possible to the Italian approach, I have used the same method in French for making requests. In French, use the words “pouvez-vous” to start your question. Again, the added benefit to this method is that there is no need to conjugate!
In short, the French words “pouvez-vous,” mean “could you (polite),” and “pouvez” is a helping verb. This verb needs to be followed by an infinitive verb. Create a question with pouvez-vous + infinitive verb and you can ask for whatever you need in a simple, polite way.
If someone is speaking too quickly for me, I can ask: Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement? Can you speak more slowly?
If I need some information, I can ask: Pouvez-vous me... dire où se trouve…? Can you tell me where is…?
When I get into a taxi, I can say: Pouvez-vous m’amener... ? Can you take me to... ?
*Although, in France it is more common to simply greet the taxi driver and then state the street address for where you want to go :
Bonjour, (pouvez-vous m’amener) au 37 rue Berger!
Of course, if you are at the Marche des Puces ( flea market) looking for directions to the Louvre and preface your request with a simple, “Pardon...” for “Excuse me,” or “S’il vous plaît...” for “Please...” Most Parisians will be happy to help you find your way.
Looking to improve your conversational Italian or French? Check out Kathryn’s helpful “Just the Important Phrases” books: Conversational Italian for Travelers and Conversational French for Travelers.
About the author: Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist of Italian-American descent. She fell in love with Italy during her first trip to Stresa on Lago Maggiore. Kathryn has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for about 10 years. During that time, she founded Stella Lucente, LLC, a publishing company focused on instructional language books designed to make learning a second language easy and enjoyable for the adult audience. Follow Kathryn https://www.facebook.com/Stella.LearnItalian/