The Italian language is the main tool for communicating with people. However, there are also other tools that play an important role in communication. Here is some information that will help you understand the best way to communicate with others.
The Italian language is the main way for communicating in Italy. If you don’t know it or want to improve your reading/speaking skills there are many things you can do. You can
- Take a course. There are many Italian language courses for newcomers, both free and paid, where you will learn with the help of a teacher. There are also many online courses that you can follow on your computer or mobile phone.
- Listen and practice speaking as much as possible. In addition to the course, listening and practicing speaking whenever you can will also help you learn the Italian language faster.
Remember not to be afraid to ask what a word you don’t know means or ask to repeat if you don’t understand a sentence.
People in Italy have specific rules regarding when a person should use informal or formal language.
In informal situations and with young people, Italians use “tu” (you). Instead, when they talk to older people, in formal settings or at work they use “Lei”. To use “Lei” correctly, you must always use the singular third person of the verb. For example, if with a friend you use the “tu” and ask “Come stai?” (How are you?), with an elderly person you use the “Lei” and ask “Come sta?”.
We also use “Lei” when writing emails or messages to older people or at work.
People communicate not only by speaking, but also with facial expressions, gestures and movements. These are part of “nonverbal communication”, that is, communication that doesn’t involve the use of words.
Nonverbal communication is very important in Italy. In fact, Italians are known for gesturing and moving a lot while speaking. Here are the main ones:
- Eye contact. Making eye contact with the person you are talking to is essential. It is a sign of respect and makes the other person understand that you are listening carefully to their words. If you don’t look the person you are talking to in the eye, they may think that you are not interested in what they are saying. Even if eye contact isn’t that important in your culture, always try to look people in the eye when talking to someone in Italy.
- Facial expressions. In Italy, people use facial expressions a lot to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Usually, during a friendly conversation, you will see people with a relaxed and smiling expression. While during an argument you will see people with a very severe and angry expression. Try to keep an attentive and relaxed expression when you talk to people. This will make the person you are talking to feel comfortable.
- Posture. Posture is the position of your back and body. When talking to someone, keep your back straight and your shoulders open. This way you will convey confidence and openness to the person you are talking to.
- Personal space. In Italy, people keep at least an arm’s length from the person they are talking to, especially if they don’t know them. This is because it is important for people to have their own personal space as they speak and move. Try to always respect the person’s personal space, otherwise you risk appearing aggressive or too friendly.
- Gestures. People in Italy use gestures a lot, that is, they move their hands a lot while talking. Many of their gestures have a precise meaning. Here is a video that will help you understand what it is.
The argomenti delicati (sensitive topics) are things that Italians don’t talk about openly, especially with people they don’t know well. Here are some argomenti delicati:
- Money. Salary and bank balance are private topics that are generally not talked about with everyone. Asking a person “Quanto guadagni?” (How much do you make?) or “Quanti soldi hai in banca?” (How much money do you have in the bank?) is considered rude. It is therefore best not to talk about money with someone outside of your family or circle of friends.
- Appearance. People in Italy are very sensitive about their appearance and image. If you tell someone “Non hai un bell’aspetto” (You don’t look good) or “Mi sembri ingrassato” (You look fat) you will probably offend them, especially if you don’t know them well. Try not to talk about people’s appearance, unless they are your friends or relatives.
- Intimate or inconvenient matters. There are topics, such as sex or drugs, which should not be talked about in public places and in conversations with simple acquaintances. Therefore, try to avoid phrases or jokes that could offend someone’s sensitivity or infringe on someone’s privacy. If you get stuck in a conversation and don’t know what topics to talk about, you can talk about neutral topics like weather, sports, or a person’s hobbies.
Greetings are very important. All people say “Ciao” or “Buongiorno” when they meet or leave. Many also shake hands, exchange two kisses on the cheek or hug (this only if they are close friends or relatives).
Some people will expect you to shake their hand when you meet. If you feel uncomfortable or your culture does not involve physical contact between men and women outside the family, you can politely explain it to the person in front of you. Or you can join your hands and gently tilt your head. In this way, you will still return the greeting in a kind way and establish contact with the other person.
Agreements and contracts are important forms of communication. Agreements are generally oral and frequent. For example, if a friend asks you out for dinner and you say yes, you’ve made an agreement. The other person therefore expects you to show up for the appointment. If for some reason you cannot show up for the appointment, you must let your friend know.
Contracts, on the other hand, are written agreements. When you open a bank account, buy a car or rent a house, you have to sign a contract. In the contract are written all the details of the relationship between you and the bank or you and your homeowner. Remember that a contract is legally binding. This means that if you do not comply with the terms of the contract there can be legal consequences.
You must read the contracts carefully before signing them and if there is something you do not understand, ask for further explanations. If you are very uncertain about what is written in the contract, you can ask for the help of a lawyer or a translator (which, however, you will have to pay). It is very important to understand the content of a contract and its implications well before signing.
Sometimes it happens that two people disagree on a subject. It’s normal to have different opinions and it’s okay to show your point of view in a conversation. If you happen to disagree with the person you are talking to, you can calmly and politely explain why you disagree.
If people who disagree get agitated or aggressive, the conversation can turn into an argument. If you get involved in an argument, try to stay calm and explain your point of views. If the person you are talking to raises their voice, explain to them that there is no need and try to bring the conversation back to a normal level. If the person is very angry and aggressive, try not to respond to his provocations and end the conversation.