Three Hard-to-Remember Italian Words

Ahhh, Italy. A country rich in history, brimming with beautiful people speaking the flowery, romantic language of love. To the untrained ear, general street directions, such as go to the end of the road, turn right, then turn left at the light, are an alluring combination of seducing sounds and amorous gestures.

Then, you learn the language.

Or at least you learn a little.

The last two and half years I’ve spent traipsing from continent to continent and, if I can say so myself, my Italian language skills have skyrocketed.

However, there are still three sets of words that stump me every time.

Albergo (hotel)
Albero (tree)

See that little “g” up there? It makes a world of difference. Not only do you pronounce the “g,” but the stress changes, as well leaving me saying, “We have lemon and orange hotels in our yard,” instead of the more geographically correct, “We have lemon trees.”

Other times I’ll surprise ever-patient Italians with the declaration, “We stayed in a great tree in Palermo,” until their quizzical looks and half-smile alert me to my mistake.

Pesce (fish)
Pesca (peach)

Yep. Just one final little vowel is the difference between ordering “fish tea” or “peach tea,” and trust me … you don’t wanna try the fish tea.

The “c” in pesce (fish) has a “sh” sound, while the fuzzy little round fruit has a hard c. To complicate matters, the verb “to fish,” or “pescare” coverts back to that hard “c” as the does the word “pescatore,” or fisherman.

You are just not living until you’ve been out on the river … fly peaching.

Retto (a straight, honest person)
Ratto (a rat)

Although you’d think the seemingly similiar letters between Italy’s “ratto” and our own, “rat” would make this an easy word to remember, you are forgetting that sometimes – just sometimes – when you are speaking another language oddly-formed sounds burst from your mouth without consent.

This is my problem with ratto and retto. I’ve only been embarrassed by this once, however, when I innocently tried to give my father-in-law a compliment for doing the right thing, and proudly told him he was “una persona ratto” or a “rat person,” rather than “una persona retta,” an “honest, standup, kind of guy!”

What are some of the biggest problems you have when learning a foreign language? Do these things ever.go.away? Please say yes!

15 Responses
  1. The peach one always gets me! Esp peaches, it’s plural form. One time we were at a lido and they were frying up some fish, my husband told them it smelled good. As he was walking away the lady ran after him and handed him some peaches!! He had said, “pesche”, instead of “pesce”!
    Ha. That is cute. I can see you guys all puzzled as to why she was handing you fruit …
    South of Rome’s last blog post..La Ruzzola del Formaggio – The Rolling of the Cheese!

  2. Before I moved here I was taking Italian classes at the Italian Cultural Institute.

    During an oral presentation I said I was excited about something. I thought the word for exited was eccitato. It is not. My professor informed me that the word meant “horny” and said while men might like to hear that I’m “excited” the correct word is “emozionante”.
    LOL. That is a new word for me, NYC! Thanks. 😉
    nyc/carribbean ragazza’s last blog post..A week from today is a very important holiday…World Nutella Day

  3. I make plenty of mistakes all the time in French but I mainly think I will just never learn the correct genders for everything. Never. So I will always mess them up as badly as I do now.

    Also, strangely, my accent appears to have gotten *worse* recently. I would have thought it would have improved with living here but that seems not to be the case. : (
    That is so strange about your accent. I mean, French is SO hard to master (the accent, I mean!) so I know how hard it can be to try. Maybe you are using bigger words and that is why it seems “worse?”
    Kim B.’s last blog post..The Last Drive

  4. The fish one caught me out on two of our holidays but not the last!!
    That was has *always* stumped me and now it is a total mental thing for me. I did seriously ask for fish tea. How embarrassing was that?!?!
    anne’s last blog post..There are times…

  5. Kim – luckily in Italian you don’t need to memorise genders and (usually) it’s masculine if it ends in an o and feminine if it ends in an a. Very easy language although I definitely still make mistakes (to be honest I don’t care!)

    The words which always get me are:

    giacca – jacket
    ghiaccio – ice

    I’m always asking for jackets in my drink or asking the sales lady if I can try on a bigger ice. 🙁
    Ha. And I get both of those confused with “ginocchio,” which is knee. Those are all three so similiar!!
    kataroma’s last blog post..Solids!

  6. My mother got poison, poisson and poussin mixed up in a restaurant in Paris. She thought she was ordering fish and got chicken but pronounced it ‘poison’.
    I still don’t pay attention to my genders in plural in Italian and I always say ‘Ti aranci’ rather than ‘ti arangi’!
    French was tough for me, too but I didn’t know genders were an option in Italian. What have I been so worried about?!?
    Scintilla’s last blog post..Lemon Delicious

  7. carol

    I know this is a *family rated* blog, so I totally understand if you delete this…..but before I started studying Italian, I would occasionally confuse the following 2 words: cannoli and coglioni…..always cracked up my suocero…
    Oh that is funny. And no worries on me hitting the delete button. I’ve been thinking of doing “this kind” of post, as well! lol

  8. Jean

    Fish and peaches… I was at a restaurant in Cinque Terre and couldn’t remember the difference and the very nice (as you put it, ever-patient) proprietess said, “Easy! Pesce – fish-eh!” That worked.
    Good one! I will think of that next time and I’m sure it will help me, too! Grazie.

  9. Joanne at frutto della passione

    Remind me to tell you my ice cream and condoms story some day! Talk about a language faux pas! But at least now I have a really funny story to tell at parties!
    Great attitude. I tell you guys most of my mistakes, too. Sometimes you just gotta laugh at yourself, right?
    Joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..The Apple Pie Story

  10. Imani

    @Joanne….ha ha ha!

    I can probably guess where you were going with that. I grew up speaking “Calabrise” and studied Italian a couple of years. But sometimes, it is easy to “transform” an American word like preservative to an “Italian” version..preservativi.

    My SO is Italian and I was telling him that the jam didn’t have preservatives. Instead, I said it didn’t contain condoms. The look on his face was priceless and my face was red when he explained my error.

    Gotta watch that! 🙂
    Yea, ouch! That is a bad mistake. I was never even worried about that one before you and Joanne … thankyouverymuch. 😉

  11. carrieitly

    scuola v. squalo (school & shark)

    In my first Italian course many of the students had pronunciation problems with “gesso” (chalk)… they constantly confused it with Gesù (Jesus).

    But then I had to explain to my old company’s cleaner that Polish and polish were not exactly the same word…

    My fiancé is constantly confusing hill, hell, hail, and heel.
    Oooh, scuola and scualo … good ones! You also make a good point about how confusing English can be. We have a lot of words that are alike, too… but they are easier for us, at least! Right?

  12. Many years ago I spent a semester in Florence and my language instructor warned us about making sure to pronounce every single letter in a word, even if a double consonant is present. Namely:
    pene and penne (penis/pasta quills)
    pena and penna (sorrow/pen)
    ano and anno (anus/year)

    You don’t want to end up saying, “I have 27 anuses.”

    What a difference an “n” makes!

    Also, I had problems with quindi (then/therefore) and quindici (the number 15).

    I was telling my boyfriend a story that sounded like this, “I realized I missed the bus, fifteen I had to walk to class.”
    That is funny. And the anusus. I had 29. 🙁 I learned that one the hard way!
    Amanda’s last blog post..The Queso Suizo Project: Le Gruyère (Salé)

Leave a Reply