Examples of common mistakes English speakers make in Italian

Discussion in 'Italian-English' started by StaceyLee, Apr 30, 2007.

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  1. StaceyLee Senior Member

    USA/ English
    What are some common phrases or grammatical constructions you hear native English speakers use that tip off Italians to their unfamiliarity with "Italian's Italian"? (like penso che instead of credo che, fare una doccia vs. prendere una doccia) The kind of examples I am thinking of would probably be due to literal translation.

    I am hoping that we can compile a good list of examples so that students of Italian (like me) will have some good ideas of which threads to investigate.

    Please translate into English when you include the example, and make sure to indicate the correct form of the phrase in Italian, not just the mistake.

  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Personally I don't think it is limited to the fact they are American, though to an extent it is, we use (English speaking natives from all over the world) "I think that" instead of "I believe that" - wheras I know "credere" is used by Italians to mean "to think" much more than we use it in English, and I suspect most English natives from around the world use "Penso che" a lot more, so generally it's not limited to Americans it's just more common in English to use "I think".

    Then slightly shifting from my point I have noticed that "I think" is used by Americans far more than English or Australians and maybe while we translate literally sometimes we don't use "Penso che" as much as Americans do, I tend to find myself using or thinking "Sembra che..." or "Pare che..." probably even when it is wrong to do so, but I don't think I overuse "Penso che".

    I'm not sure if I have explained this well, Credere and Pensare can have the idea of "to think" in Italian and the usage (I think, wait, no I BELIEVE) and it's much more balanced, but it's not the same in English, but if you run out of any other ways just look at the gut:D.
  3. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Ciao a tutti.

    This thread has the potential to be very useful to nonnative speakers of all stripes. ;)
    However, to keep it manageable, I'd like to ask that this thread be used only to identify the common problems, which can then be discussed individually in specific threads.

    Grazie della vostra comprensione. :)

  4. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    The accent will do it even if your sentences are perfectly constructed. You won't be able to hide being American (and why would you want to?) if you open your mouth, which of course you will and should do! People are so kind and you will learn so much by trying, talking, listening....

    The year will teach you to Italianize your Italian. Until then you'll stumble on idioms (take a shower = fare una doccia, for example) especially if you think in English and translate as you go. And I will avoid general pronunciation, per Trentina's warning, except to say that Americans also tend to forget that many pastas end in e and need to be pronounsed that way (lasagne, fettucine, etc).
  5. MünchnerFax

    MünchnerFax Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    As for the "penso che" thing, we use secondo me, per me, a mio avviso and such costructions as often as (if not more often than) any verb of opinion. Of course we have some difficulties when trying to translate them in a language where "I think that" is the standard...
  6. StaceyLee Senior Member

    USA/ English
    I was really thinking about other expressions and grammatical constructions (I just intended to give Penso che as an example, not as the whole topic of the thread- that thread exists already) that nonnative speakers use even after having studied Italian for a while and being fairly good speakers of the language... like the difference between nonnatives' Italian and Italians' Italian...
  7. MarcoMac Senior Member

    English speakers tend to use pronouns more frequently.

    Also the habit to complete a sentence with a pleonastic interrogative (isn't it? - do you? - etc) makes its way in how English people "thinks" Italian in their minds before percolating to the tongue. We have those as well, but we don't use them that much.

    As per the accent, well... Italo-anything aren't able to hide their being foreigners... ;)
  8. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    MarcoMac, can you give an example of the pleonastic interrogative issue? What is the resulting thing that English-speakers tend to say in Italian that sounds odd to native speakers? :)

  9. MarcoMac Senior Member

    First thing that comes to mind:
    we use to say "yakityyak, no?"
    Some Eng I met, liked it and used it. But "no?" means "what's your take?" and require me to reply, they seemed to use it as "got what I mean?" (just checking if I was following them).
    They used it more than I'd do, and in different places

    ... will think others at will
  10. virgilio Senior Member

    English UK
    Two things tend to single out native English speakers:
    (1) A seemingly congenital inability to pronounce double consonants.
    In English - as also in German - double consonants are pronounced as singles and their sole effect is to render a preceding vowel short.
    (2) Spoken English emphasizes words almost always by vocal accent and stress, whereas Italian - like Spanish - normally emphasizes them through word-order.
    È arrivata la tua lettera.
    Your letter has arrived.
    No English speaker would say:"Has arrived your letter" - which in any case sounds to the uninitiated English ear like a question, whereas it is of course a statement.
    Very few native English speakers in my experience get this right.

    Just a couple of points about "pensare" and "credere" and the difference between them. If we go back to where they came from - Latin - "pensare" has the original meaning of "to weigh (something) repeatedly". Technically speaking it is a frequentative form of the verb "pendere" (to hang (and so) to weigh). Hence, from the point of view of its history it is (figuratively) used in the sense of "to mentally weigh something, or turn it over and over in the mind, to cogitate upon something". So "pensare a qualcosa" is its most natural use.
    "credere" on the other hand comes from the Latin verb "dare" (to give) and the stem "cre" which means "increase, augmentation, enhancement", - seen in Italian words such as "crescere" and "incremento".
    Hence, when you say to someone "Ti credo", you are saying "I give you increase" in the sense of "You can add one more (namely, me) to the number of those who think you are telling the truth"
    . So strictly speaking "credere" means to accept what someone says - an act of the intellect-, whereas "pensare" strictly speaking means to weigh something over and over again mentally - an act of the mind via the brain.
    A bit of etymology can usually separate apparently similar words.
  11. malva7 Senior Member

    Italy - Italian
    Sorry for intervening...
    I am terribly impressed by the cultural level of you all. Virgilio, you've managed to further enrich my knowledge (and believe I was quite proud of it before reading through this thread).

    Back to the penso che and credo che, etc....
    There might be the differences that Virgilio pointed out, but only 0.001% of the Italian natives could reach such an in depth analysis.
    Penso che, credo che, secondo me, a mio avviso, a mio parere,... are all 99.999% interchangeable and not even Dante Alighieri would ever spot a non-native for using one solution or the other.
    Even when speaking a grammatically perfect Italian we would manage to spot at least the region (if not the town) of origin of the vast majority of Italians...
    Just as well you'd manage to spot a Scot or Irish.
    It's music rather than grammar or, simple accents.
    It is one of my innocent hobbies to carefully listen to the "music" one plays when talking. Each of us has its own, which is similar to that of his relatives, is common to his neighbourhood and friends,... ...city, region, nation...
    Thank God it's so! Vive la difference.
    If two think perfectly alike, then one is unnecessary...
  12. virgilio Senior Member

    English UK
    Re: " Thank God it's so! Vive la difference.
    If two think perfectly alike, then one is unnecessary"

    You're absolutely right, Marco.

    Nothing withers conversation so much as agreement and nothing is so boring as standardisation - which is one reason why I hate tv soap-operas, but that's another story!

    All the best,

    PS: Glad you liked the etymology! Watch this space!
  13. StaceyLee Senior Member

    USA/ English
    What a beautiful way of putting it! And I agree completely- there is a different music to the English Americans speak in the South versus the North, and also different grammatical constructs (We Northerners joke that in the South every statement sounds like a question becuase of their intonation, and just adds to the flavor of "Southern hospitality").

    But again, speaking more generally than penso che and credo che, are there other specific constructs or phrases (not accents) that seem to be particularly common to non-natives (English speakers) when speaking Italian? A reverse example that comes to mind is how one of my Italian friends says "you need to take a decision" rather than ÿou need to "make a decision" because of the literal translation, just as I was inclined to say "devo prendere un esame" instead of "devo fare un esame"...
  14. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Moderator note: please address the thread topic, which is
    If you want to discuss specific issues in more detail, please do so in a thread dedicated to that issue. :)

  15. Sicanius

    Sicanius Senior Member

    I agree with Malva7,
    pensare and credere are fully interchangebale when expressing opinion, whereas they have the difference pinted out by Virgilio when used according to their specific meaning.

    A for the pronounciation, as Virgilio said, English speakesr are not able to pronounce correctly double consonants, but there tow more marks of an "English" origin concerning the pronounciation:
    - dental sounds are differently pronounced in Eglish (t,d, are dental in Italian, while they are alveolar in English: in other words, the tip of the tongue is slighly further back wthe pronouncing t,d)... Have you have heard an Englsih speaker uttering the sentence "Ed è tutto intorno a te"? (also, "dr" and "tr" are retroflex in English, while they are not in Italian (dream, train vs. dritto, treno).
    - English speakers (especially Brits) tend to diphthongise plain Italian vowels, e.g. "nou" for "no" , "cousì" for "così".

  16. malva7 Senior Member

    Italy - Italian
    Trying to synthesize...
    Tim has listed some good examples of negligible mistakes that anglophones experiment.
    The general rule to avoid being identified is not to translate, but to use the bricks (no matter how few) you are familiar with, to construct the phrase.
  17. StaceyLee Senior Member

    USA/ English
    Sorry that Tim's list is gone- those were exactly the kind of mix-ups I was talking about... :(

    To me, they are neglible when you are learning a language (your meaning will still be understood) but when you really want to advance, those are the kinds of things I would think you'd want to be aware of. I would think also that seeing a general list like Tim's might give Italian learners some ideas about different threads to investigate! :)
  18. Sorcha Senior Member

    Ireland, English
    I personally find that as some have pointed out we tend to construct sentences that may be grammatically correct, at least not entirely incorrect, yet they would never be said by a native speaker. However its the exact same for Italians speaking English, I reckon unless you speak to natives enough to realise it yourself its hard to categorise these mistakes...
    may i also add that when speaking about native English speakers, can you please say many/most? Because seriously, I know lots of English speakers that make none of those mistakes in Italian....thank you (I know im being over sensitive here :p)
  19. Sicanius

    Sicanius Senior Member

    Oh yes.... phrases!
    entro la stanza, prendere una foto (e com'è stato già detto, doccia e bagno), fa senso, ti guido a casa, cammino la bicicletta, non posso parlare italiano bene, sono caldo/freddo, sono X (anni), voglio tu/te andare...
  20. StaceyLee Senior Member

    USA/ English
    There we go... that's what I was hoping for- hope it is not too specific for this thread. ;) Maybe I will be able to think of some reverse ones as well (Itlain/ English), and I can start another thread.
  21. virgilio Senior Member

    English UK
    I think I know what you mean by "to use the bricks (no matter how few) you are familiar with, to construct the phrase." but I prefer your earlier metaphor of the 'music' of language.
    Just as anyone with music in him doesn't 'listen to' music but rather 'bathes in' it (and consequently can sing or hum its melodies and rhythms later fairly accurately from memory), so a good linguist learns the rules first and then mentally lets the foreign language accents and rhythms 'wash over' him.
    For example no-one who had ever become used to the compelling rhythms of the hexametres of Ovidio Nasone (il poeta sulmonese), would ever fail to pronounce Italian double consonants. Such a thing would be unthinkable.
  22. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Yes, this problem of "translation" is true between any two languages. This thread, however, is asking for specific examples from English to Italian that can help nonnative speakers of Italian sound more natural (similar to the one she gave in the first post). Can the natives provide a few more concrete examples? If not, the thread will be closed.

  23. valeINbremen New Member

    Italy - Italian
    I have a good friend from Manchester that has been living in Sardinia for a year and he learnt Italian in there. His level is incredibly good, and he has an amazing English-Sardo accent. The main problems he has when speaking are related to the use of articles, he often doesn't use them at all.
    Quoting from one of his e-mail: "Quando parti per Germania?" or "Mio numero è..." instead of "Quando parti per la Germania" or "Il mio numero è..."
    And, probably because he learnt Italian in Sardinia (hihi :p ), when writing he has problems in using the proper "doppie" ex: "Lavoro fa caggare" (which sounds really funny to me...) or "fine staggione"

    Hope this is of any help
  24. MünchnerFax

    MünchnerFax Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    Another case of literal translation from English (to be found often in this forum :D):

    Thanks, I appreciate that very much => Grazie, lo apprezzo molto.

    It's fully correct, understandable, kind & nice :) and has no problems whatsoever... apart from the fact that a native will say it quite seldom, because it has quite a strong meaning. For instance, it's suitable in the following: I'm (very) depressed and you try to give me some consolation with kind and lovely words. In this case, I'm likely to reply: Grazie [delle belle parole, del tuo aiuto, etc.], lo apprezzo molto.

    Instead, you won't hear a native saying it in everyday, more "relaxed" situations. If a guy does me a favour (say, he translates a couple of lines for me in WR ;) ), I'll reply:
    Grazie, molto gentile
    Grazie mille!
    Ti ringrazio, sei stato gentilissimo.
    Grazie della cortesia.
    ...and so forth.
  25. malva7 Senior Member

    Italy - Italian
    The most common mistake practised by non-natives is the use of endings (sorry, I miss the proper linguistic term) such -lo and -ci (et ceterae, Virgilio ;)).
    Puoi prendermelo? Is often said Puoi prendere quello per me?
    Vuoi andarci?
    Becomes Vuoi andare lì?

    The list is never ending...
  26. Murphy

    Murphy Senior Member

    Sicily, Italy
    English, UK
    I think the most common mistakes I make (when speaking) are to do with word gender, in particular making pronouns agree with nouns.

    Eg. La mia penna è sulla tavola. Me la passi, per favore? (If I'm a little distracted, I'll say use "lo" instead.)

    And I often get the gender wrong for nouns ending in "e" , a particular favourite being "errore", for which I've been corrected a number of times in this forum. :eek:

    I think these kinds of errors are more likely to be made by English speakers than by speakers of other European languages, as it's something we rarely have to think about when speaking our own language. (Unless it's just me, of course:D )
  27. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Grazie, Münchner. Many of us need to work on gender agreement and other clear-cut grammatical issues, but this is the kind of thing that isn't often taught in the textbooks. :)

  28. joanpeace

    joanpeace Senior Member

    Alberta, Canada
    Canada - English

    In order to help those of us learning Italian, could you please indicate the correct way to say the phrases in your list, i.e.

    prendere una foto (doccia, bagno) :cross:
    fare una foto (doccia, bagno) :tick:

    If we want to go into detail, as the moderator has said, we can open another thread on each phrase, but it would be helpful to know the proper alternative to the above-mentioned phrases.

    Thanks! I look forward to seeing this list grow!
  29. Sicanius

    Sicanius Senior Member

    Hai ragione, scusa, provvedo subito!:)

    -to enter the room = entrare nella stanza
    -to take a picture/photo = scattare/fare una foto
    -to take a shower/bath = fare una doccia/bagno
    -to make sense = avere senso
    -to drive you home = ti accompagno/porto a casa in macchina, ti do' un passaggio (in macchina)
    -to walk the bicycle = portare la bicicletta a mano (o qualche altra frase simile)
    -I can't speak Italian = non so parlare italiano
    -to be cold/hot = avere freddo/caldo
    -to be X (years old) = avere X anni
    - I want you to go = voglio che tu vada

    Adesso dovrebbe essere chiaro, no?
  30. StaceyLee Senior Member

    USA/ English
    Thanks for asking for both the translation and the correct way of saying the phrase in Italian, joanpeace- it is more helpful.

    I always mess up when I say, E' molto importante a me (should be per me). Also, when using qualche (some) I am tempted to follow with a noun in the plural, as we do in English. It is an elementary mistake but again it has to do with thinking in Italian and making a literal translation in my head (bad habit)! :(

    To add to the point made before by valeinbremen (Il mio numero é- English speakers forgetting to add "il", it is confusing to try and figure out when we are not supposed to add it (per esempio... Comunque, fatti recenti dimostrano...). :confused:

    Natives- more examples???

  31. audia Senior Member

    Something that has been alluded to already are the prepositions in Italian. I find that one of the most difficult things to learn and use.
    ex. difficile da capire o di capire.
    Also I and many other AE speakers know Spanish and there is often
    interference/mistakes because of the many cognates.
  32. virgilio Senior Member

    English UK
    In reality this is not so much a mistake of syntax as of translation.
    The fault, I suggest, lies in thinking of "qualche" as meaning "some". Many mistakes made in foreign languages could easily be eliminated by selecting - or in the case of a less advanced student having selected for one - a more exact and more widely appropriate translation for the word under consideration.
    I think that, if you simply delete "some" for "qualche" and in its place enter "a - or two" (where the hyphen represents the substantive following the "qualche"), all will be well.
    Hai comprato oggi qualche libro, non è vero?
    You've bought a book or two today, haven't you?

    Hope this helps
  33. StaceyLee Senior Member

    USA/ English
    Qualche (A... or two)- What a great way to think of it, Virgilio!
  34. malva7 Senior Member

    Italy - Italian
    To enrich the list of "bricks" is the the use of "possibly" that can be most often be translated in "eventualmente" instead of "possibilmente".
    This mistake is far more often among Italians speaking English that translate "eventualmente" in "eventually" , thus bringing the audience to a terrible confusion.
  35. Le Peru

    Le Peru Senior Member

    Italy - Umbria
    Sometimes, in some sentences, it can be ok to use "alcuni/alcune" instead of "qualche". In order to don't pay attention to plurals once in a while: they are plural words.

    Ciao :)
  36. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    Non-natives don't always catch the meaning of "da" in sentences like "Dove vogliamo mangiare stasera, da me?"

    And check out threads on false friends, they're easy mistakes to avoid if you read up on them here.
  37. stella_maris_74

    stella_maris_74 Mod About Chocolate

    Italian - Italy
    I can't find that word in the dictionary = non riesco a trovare quella parola nel dizionario :) (instead of the very common mistake "non posso trovare...")

    Ciao :)

  38. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Stacey, your follow-up question about potere vs. riuscire has been moved to a thread that addresses exactly that issue. :)

    As I feared, this thread is requiring a lot of pruning and redirecting. One more time: it is meant to be a list of examples. Discussion of those specific examples should occur in separate threads (you'll often find that the issue has been discussed here before, as in the case cited above, but if not, open a new thread). For example:

    (scroll down to the thread links)

    Philosophical ruminations will continue to be deleted. ;)


    P.S. In the interest of better focussing this thread, Stacey has reworded the question in the first post. Please be sure that additional answers address this objective. Grazie!
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