How exactly do you say do you speak English in Italian?
You have finally realized your dream of traveling to Italy for an unforgettable vacation. You visit art museums, drink cappuccinos at cafès… and then you realize that your limited Italian vocabulary is not enough to cover all possible topics of conversation.
That’s where you have to fall back on using English.
As you will see in this lesson, there’s actually more than one way to ask whether someone speaks English or not, depending on the situation.
Don’t worry, non ti preoccupare, I’m here to help you!
By the end of this lesson, you’ll know everything you need to know to ask do you speak English in Italian like a real pro. Let’s get started! Iniziamo!
How to formally ask do you speak English in Italian
When you are on vacation in Italy, you will often find yourself in conversation with complete strangers and people you are not on very familiar terms with.
In such cases, you will have to choose carefully how to ask do you speak English in Italian. Italians are very friendly people and can certainly chiudere un occhio, turn a blind eye to language bloopers (in fact, we do love it when foreigners take time to learn our language!), but formality, when formality is needed, is always appreciated.
Plus, it makes a very good impression!
So, how do you formally ask do you speak English in Italian?
Lei parla inglese? / Parla inglese?
Do you speak English? (formal)
Let’s analyze this sentence word by word.
Lei usually means she, third-person singular subject pronoun, but it also functions as the polite form for you in Italian especially when it’s written with a capital l, Lei.
Parla is the third-person singular present tense conjugation (that’s a mouthful!) of the verb parlare, to speak. It might be useful to have a look at the entire present tense conjugation, so here it is, complete with pronunciation:
Present tense conjugation for parlare
From this table, you can see that the correct conjugation for the pronoun lei is parla.
English is translated as inglese. If you have to write it down, make sure you don’t capitalize the initial letter.
Languages and nationalities are not capitalized in Italian.
Subject pronouns can be omitted in Italian, so that’s why you can use the short version Parla inglese?. Since the conjugation forms are different for each pronoun, unlike in English, there’s no doubt you’re addressing the person with a degree of respect.
You will also notice that you don’t need an auxiliary verb to form questions in Italian. Sweet, isn’t it? Affirmative and interrogative forms differ only by a symbol! 😉
How to informally ask do you speak English in Italian
Italians don’t address children with the formal lei, even if they don’t know them.
If you ever happen to be chatting with a kid and want to start speaking English with them, you can ask…
Tu parli inglese? / Parli inglese?
Do you speak English? (informal)
Look at the table in the other paragraph. What’s the parlare conjugation for tu, the informal form for you in Italian? That’s right, parli.
Other ways to ask do you speak English in Italian
Let’s say you’re in a crowded room and you can’t go around asking everyone if they speak your language. What should you do? There’s a specific formula you can use in both informal and formal settings.
C’è qualcuno che parla inglese?
Is there anyone who speaks English?
We’ve already covered some of the elements in this sentence, so let’s focus on the words we haven’t seen yet.
C’è is the shortened form of ci è, but you will only ever find it as c’è. Ci è is NEVER used, not even in the written language. Qualcuno translates both someone and anyone.
That said, this is the best question to ask if you are in a group of people and want to know if there’s anyone who speaks English.
If you want to sound a little more polite, you can say:
C’è qualcuno che parla inglese, per favore?
Is there anyone who speaks English, please?
With per favore meaning please. Literally for favor.
How to say do you speak English in Italian to groups of people
There’s another way to ask do you speak English in Italian, and that’s the plural form of the question.
Again, let me show you the present conjugation for parlare.
The plural you in Italian is voi. So let’s say there’s a group of students and you want to ask them do you speak English in Italian. You can either use the formula we’ve just seen, is there anyone…? OR you can ask…
Do you speak English? (plural)
Aiuta Lingookies con un 👍!
Parla inglese? … No, mi dispiace
Keep in mind that language skills vary widely throughout Italy and you may not always get a yes when you ask do you speak English in Italian.
Tourist areas may be full of people who speak a second language, but smaller villages and towns are more likely to be inhabited by older people who probably don’t speak a word of English.
If you’re traveling through the Italian countryside, it might be a while before you run into someone who speaks your language! You might hear a lot of…
No, mi dispiace.
Mi dispiace, non parlo inglese.
I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.
Sometimes, you may be asked if you speak Italian:
Parla italiano? / Parli italiano?
Do you speak Italian? (formal/informal)
With italiano translating Italian in Italian. Remember, nationalities are not capitalized!
You can answer with:
Mi dispiace, non parlo italiano.
I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.
But wait, maybe you speak a third language!
If you want to ask any person if they speak a certain language, you can use the Parla…? formula we saw earlier on and add any language from this list:
- spagnolo (Spanish)
- tedesco (German)
- francese (French)
- cinese (Chinese)
- russo (Russian)
- arabo (Arabic)
Do you speak Arabic? (polite)
Parlare arabo and parlare turco (speak Turkish) are popular Italian expressions that mean to be impossible to understand.
If someone tells you that you parli arabo, it means they don’t understand a single word you’re saying!
Do you speak German? (plural)
Do you speak German? (informal)
That’s the end of our lesson, now you know everything you need to know to ask do you speak English in Italian. Don’t be shy and ask away: we love to have a good chit-chat with foreigners, and if we really can’t find a common “spoken means of communication”, we can always speak with gestures! 😉
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