After you have learned quite a bit of Italian and you are comfortable with the Italian verbs and can congiuntivo trapassato, which in English means past perfect conjunctive or compound tense. If you are still repeating grammatical mistakes, you will never sound like an Italian native. It’s these little grammatical errors, habit or tics, which will always give you away as a native English speaker regardless of how well you speak the language.
As your lessons progressed your instructor, or Italian friends have made a point in telling about these Italian grammatical errors, and you are still making them. Sometimes those particular Italian lessons just didn’t stay in your mind. Here is a list of some of the mistakes made by English speakers, which will make them stick out in a crowd no matter how well their pronunciation of the Italian words.
It is not unusual for English speakers to have a problem pronouncing double consonants in Italian. Unlike English and because Italian is a phonetic language you must pronounce both consonants. If it will make it easier for you then say it and write it, say it and write it. This will prevent you from asking for pain, which is pena instead of pen, which is penna.
Many of the students of Italian, especially the beginner’s have a tendency to stick with what they are familiar with. Once the beginners learn the three modal verbs, which include potere, which means to be able to or can, they will then come up with many sentences beginning with the word “Posse….? attempting to sound tactful, when the verb riuscire, which means to succeed, to manage, to be able, is a more accurate verb. This is a quirk which will identify the speaker as a person for whom English is their madrelingua meaning native tongue.
For those students who are studying English as their second language, it may seem as if there is no rhythm or reason for the use of prepositions. For those who are studying Italian, they seem to have the same problem. As a student of Italian you will need to reconcile the fact that just as in English, there are few rules and many exceptions when it comes to the use of prepositions in Italian. By accepting that fact as soon as you possibly can, you will be able to move forward in the process of learning the language much quicker. There is one sure way to approach the prepositions and that is to commit to memory the use of the simple prepositions, such as a, con, da, di, in, per, su and tra and fra, which are interchangeable.
For a person reasonably fluent in the English language as a second language, there are certain usages of words and phrases you will never hear them speak, such as replacing the word says with the word goes. There are several other words and phrases, which are not part of the formal English grammar but are used commonly by us during casual conversations. You will not find these phrases or the improper usage of words in the formal or the written language.
Italian is not that different. There are several words and phrases in Italian, which have minimal meaning in the language, but serve important functions within the language. When a person is having a conversation and never uses those words sound slightly overly formal. The words are difficult to translate, but mastering them will make you sound as if you fit into the norm.
Italians will use body language and hand gestures to emphasis a point and add just a little more meaning that the word or phrase is missing on its own. Since you don’t want to be mistaken for the indifferent, non-native Italian, learn a few Italian hand gestures and other nonverbal responses.
Upon asking an Australian the colors of the flag of Italy and most of them will tell you rosso, blanco, e verde, which means red, white and green. Even though the colors are correct the order in which they were said will sound grating to most native ears. If someone said the colors of the American flag were blue, white and red, it would sound the same to us as using the red, white and green is to the Italians. We have had the red, white and blue ingrained into our society and into the DNA of our language that saying the colors of our flag any other way is just not the same.
The same holds true for the Italian. To respond correctly to the question of the colors of their flag, you should answer verde, blanco, e rosso or green, white and red. It may seem as a trivial difference, but it will tag you as a non-native speaking Italian.
Here in Australia the winter months fade away and the spring and summer starts warming up you will see many Australians dining outside whether it is at home or in a restaurant. Many restaurants have outside setting areas and as Australians we refer to this as dining al fresco. There are several restaurants named Al fresco all across the Australia.
When you make your next trip to Italy and upon arriving at your favorite restaurant for lunch, the hostess will ask you if you want to dine indoors or outdoors. The hostess will probably snicker if you tell her you want to dine al fresco. In Italian the word al fresco means in the cooler, which is a slang term for being in jail or prison. If you wish to dine on the patio in a restaurant in Italy you will be better off using the term all’aperto or all’areia aperta or even fuori.
Another term English speakers have a tendency to misuse include il Bel Paese when referring to Italy. The phrase is the name of a popular Italian cheese. It is similar to a native New Yorker referring to New York City a The Big Apple. They almost never say it. Another phrase usually found in English textbooks or travel guides is la bella lingua when referring to the Italian language. Native Italians don’t use that phrase either when referring to the native tongue.
Humor and proverbs are probably the most difficult to learn when learning a foreign language. Many times they are idiomatic and usually reflect the culture. For instance Italian proverbs are usually agrarian or nautical in nature do to the country’s background. Consider this English proverb “The early bird catches the worm”. An Italian proverb which reflects the same meaning is “Chi dorne non piglia pesci”, which means “Who sleeps doesn’t catch fishes”.
Language experts will tell you that by speaking proverbs one learns about the language and about the tradition and more about the culture.
If you want to immediately become known as a non-native Italian speaker, continue the use subject pronouns as a language crutch even after you have learned how to conjugate Italian verbs.
Differing from the English language the use of subject pronouns is not necessary and the use is considered to be redundant unless used for emphasis because the verb endings identify the mood, tense, person, number and in some cases gender.