What you should really be paying attention to, and studying more of, in Italian.
Or any language, really.
This might surprise you: NUMBERS
I did an experiment on my way to work this morning.
I listen to the radio in my car, so I counted the number of times that a number was spoken by the announcers in a five minute period.
Eighteen times. I did it again in the next five minutes. Twenty-seven times.
They discussed the time, date, the weather, and when the news came on it was all: "four people were injured" and "60% of respondents to a poll", and so on. Admittedly there were sports scores included in that second big number, but it just goes to show how many times you need to understand a number that is being spoken aloud.
Now let's assume that you are a tourist in Italy and you're not worried about the news or the sports. You have breakfast, and you need to pay your bill. Numbers. You want to pay to gain admission into a historical site. How much? What time do they open? When do they close? Numbers.
They may not always be visible. If the man at the front of the line asks you for dieci euro settanta, can you figure out to pay him EU10,70 before the rest of the crowd is yelling at you to hurry up? Or are you praying that there is a sign somewhere that you can possibly read it from?
Try it for yourself. Pick a random 5 minute period when you are watching TV or listening to the radio or-- even better-- when you are out at dinner or at a bank or shopping, and see for yourself how many numbers are spoken.
While in Rome, I went into a small alimentari one morning to buy some bread, eggs, and milk to make breakfast with, back at our rented appartamento.
I gathered up my items and got into the line. The woman rattled off a number at me so fast that I almost didn't recognize it as a number. Fortunately there was a digital display, and I just held out my 20 Euro note. She quickly gave me change and probably told me what that was, as well. Then she said something else to me, and I had no idea.
I just sort of smiled bashfully and said "no". She pushed my three items past her, and said "prego" when I said "grazie".
Now, six years later, I'm fairly certain that what she asked me was, "Vuole una borsa?" (Do you want a bag?)
Because I carried my items home without a bag.
That was a fun experience, though. Made me want to learn to speak Italian.
I'm fairly certain that what she asked me was, "Vuole una borsa?" (Do you want a bag?)
If you were in Rome, it is more likely that the question was Vuole una busta? (a disposable carrier bag of flimsy plastic) rather than una borsa (a larger bag, made of plastic canvas or other material).
Busta is an informal word for this meaning; the proper one is sacchetto, which is seldom used (differences may exist on a regional basis).
There is a certain overlapping between these words, which may easily confuse a non-native speaker.
When the shopping bags are full, we mention them collectively either as buste della spesa or borse della spesa (a reminiscence of times when plastic carrier bags had not come into use yet, which still lingers in the contemporary language).
When they are empty, though, nobody would call borse the disposable ones.
Carrier bags in paper (with handles) are buste di carta more often than borse di carta. Instead the smaller ones with no handles (i.e. for fruit or vegetables) are usually sacchetti di carta.
A padded carrier bag for taking home frozen food (thermal bag) is more likely called busta termica than borsa termica; the latter usually refers to the larger type (cooler), in fabric or hard plastic, carried on a picnic or on a journey.
I'm sure you're correct.
The fun part was that all of the ladies who shopped their brought their own wheeled carts with them, and they stored them at the front of the shop while they did their running around inside. There was no room for people to pass each other if you pulled a cart with you, so it made sense.
Then they took their (bagged) groceries to their cart and wheeled it home.
It was also the place with this "on sale" offer:
That's 5 liters of wine for 6 euros. Almost 7 "normal-sized" wine bottles in volume.
Sì, pacchetto, sacchetto, traghetto:-) Couldn't resist mentioning ... all experienced a Venezia! Adoro questa lingua. Ciao.
I was at a Coop in Venice last fall and the checkout girl definitely asked if I wanted "una borsa" because I wouldn't have understood any of these alternatives. When I answered "si" she grabbed a plastic grocery bag and scanned it: €.10 :)
Hmm, getting used to the various 2000s after cheerfully rattling off the 90s was tricky (a different rhythm), I still have to stop and think 60 or 70:-) and I can relate totally to the vuole una borsa story. Tanti auguri.
Yes! Couldn't agree more, numbers are pretty much the first thing you should learn --- yet I only recently realized that I've always pronounced the English word "eleven" wrong, whoops.
One time I was having a very clumsy phone conversation in Italy, forgot how to say "19", panicked and just asked it in English from the first person that walked past me... He ended up handling the rest of the conversation for me and even helped me find a place that I was looking for :' )
I've been sure to practice my numbers ever since --- it's no fun to be a stupid tourist --- but in a pinch you can always just ask people to write them down for you.
Btw, I believe "settanta" is 70, not 60 :)
The person who made a big deal out of correcting me insisted /ɛlɛv.ən/ is the only right way to pronounce it. It might be correct in some accent but now that I actually looked it up it turns out my /ɪˈlɛv.ən/ is the more used version?
I probably shouldn't have trusted them in the first place as they aren't a native English speaker anyway, but they were my boss while I was interning abroad and spoke pretty decent English... And I do mispronounce a lot of words so I believe almost anyone who bothers to correct me :' )
Hah, but you always can check it in a good dictionary or their on-line version. And it reminds me that sketch about voice recognition elevator in Scotland :-)
In a crowded market, or in any place where there is noise in the background, sessanta and settanta can be easily misunderstood even by locals.
Hear, hear! Numbers are notoriously difficult to master in foreign languages, especially in languages that group bases of 10 differently (ie, how in Japanese, “100,000” is literally “10 10-thousands”).
In French, I adopted the practice of using the Roman numbers (ie, septante for 70 and nonante for 90), instead of the “standard” Germanic numbers (ie, “quatre-vingt-dix” for 90) precisely to minimise mistakes when speaking. It sounds strange to French ears outside of Belgium and Switzerland but it is understandable.
Very often I find myself forgetting numbers more than grammar and even abstract nouns (ideas) because I have the bad habit of punching in numerals whenever I think of a number and defaulting the pronunciation to my native English. It's better if you learn how to spell out the number and do it until you memorize it enough to use numeral characters without switching to your native language.
This is actually very helpful... going to practice all the numbers on my target languages now!
Learning the numbers, colors, a good amount of verbs, and how to say other countries' name is always my first thing I learn in a new language
First thing I try to learn is how to conjugate "to be" and "to have". They always seem to be irregular.
Grazie. It took me longer than I thought it would in French, lol I am fully bilingual yet I struggle with numbers in French.
Yes you are right Mabby, Mankind is obsessed with numbers so your comment makes perfect sense. I often forget the changeover point in the teens.
Numbers are the most boring essential part of any language to learn; they are abstract, and are often irregular and arbitrary to boot (more memorable/guessable in the Romance languages, however). I don't deny their importance and practicality, but I think they need slow, distributed learning in any language, after one has learnt to say simple, concrete things.
I do a lot of driving and even though I don't necessarily need it I use a navigation app called Waze. One of the options is to chose from a number of voices. I chose "Sophia" who gives me all of the directions in Italian. It's a great way to learn and be comfortable with numbers! Miles, route numbers, etc... È diventata mia amica!