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How to Make Small Talk in Italian: Tips, Topics and Phrases 

 February 10, 2021

By  Jessica Maggi

Being able to converse naturally about something simple, like your hobbies or the weather, is a key skill to have if you are learning Italian.

Here is our guide to small talk in Italian, with conversation starters, powerful questions, useful vocabulary and topics to avoid.

What’s small talk?

Commonly used when you are talking to someone you don’t know very well, small talk (parlare del più e del meno in Italian) is light, informal, general conversation. It not only helps build the foundation for authentic conversations, but is also a great way to practice your target language. 

You can make small talk, or chit-chat, pretty much any time you and your conversation partner are gathered in one location, and aren’t already talking about something.

The best small talk topics

Some small talk topics are universal, meaning you can use them with nearly anyone. Things like the weather, sports and hobbies are usually safe conversation starters.

Let’s have a look at the best small talk topics.

The Weather

Weather is the ultimate small talk topic. Here are some handy phrases and vocabulary to use when talking about the weather:

Sole
Sun
PioggiaRain
GrandineHail
VentoWind
NeveSnow
Ondata di caldo, ondata di caloreHeatwave
LunaMoon
GhiaccioIce
AfaSuffocating heat, stifling heat
CaldoHot
FreddoCold
FrescoCool
NuvolosoCloudy, overcast
SerenoSunny
UmidoHumid
TemporaleThunderstorm
NuvolaCloud
ArcobalenoRainbow
LampoLightning
FulmineThunder
Tromba d’ariaStrong gust of wind
StelleStars

This is the most basic of the weather-related vocabulary, but it forms the basis for all weather-related conversations.

The Day

If you are not sure what topic to talk about, you can simply ask someone about their day. You can ask them:

Cosa hai fatto di bello oggi?What have you been doing today?
Com’è andata la giornata?How was your day? / How has your day been so far?
Cosa hai fatto di bello nel weekend?How was your weekend?
Novità?What’s new?
Cosa fai di bello stasera?Do you have any interesting plans for the evening?

The most important thing is to keep a perfect balance of talking and listening. Relax, be yourself and let the conversation happen naturally, instead of asking rapid-fire questions like a list, and don’t just talk about yourself the entire time. 

Carefully listen to your conversation partner, always follow up and provide a thoughtful response. If you smile and show interest, you will set a positive tone for future interactions.

Free time, hobbies and interests

Cosa ti piace fare nel tempo libero?What do you like doing in your free time?
Cosa fai nel tempo libero?
What do you do in your free time?
Quali sono i tuoi interessi?What are your interests?

When meeting a new person in Italy you may be asked these questions. Talking about free time and hobbies is a very good way to start a conversation, and find things in common. 

Delve into the other person’s interests and passions, and you will get the chance to connect with them on a deeper level.

Note that in Italian the word hobby stays unchanged in the plural. As with other words of foreign origin, you don’t have to add an “s” at the end of it, only the article changes. For example:
Quali sono i tuoi hobby?What are your hobbies?
Hai qualche hobby?Do you have any hobbies?
Suoni qualche strumento musicale?Do you play any musical instruments?

Here is a list of the most common hobbies

Andare a teatroto go to the theatre
Andare al cinemato go to the movies, to go to the cinema
Andare in biciclettato go for a bike ride
Ascoltare musicato listen to music
Leggereto read
Guardare la televisioneto watch TV
Suonare il basso, il sassofono, etc.to play the bass guitar, the saxophone, etc.
Ballareto dance
Passeggiareto walk
Disegnareto draw
Cantareto sing
Uscire con gli amicito hang up with friends, going out with friends
Fare fotografie to take photos
Fare shoppingto go shopping

Sports 

Italians are hugely passionate about sports. Sooner or later, you will be asked the question:

Pratichi qualche sport? / Pratichi degli sport?Do you do any sports?

In Italian, sports are expressed with: 

  • fare (to do) or praticare (to practice);
  • giocare (to play).

You use giocare for most team sports, like football, basketball and volleyball, and you use fare or praticare for most individual sports, like archery, rowing and horseback riding.

Here is a list of the most common team sports:

CalcioFootball, soccer
PallavoloVolleyball
PallacanestroBasketball
RugbyRugby
BaseballBaseball
SoftballSoftball
Hockey su ghiaccioIce hockey
Hockey su pratoField hockey
PallamanoHandball
PallanuotoWater polo

Individual sports:

NuotoSwimming
EquitazioneHorseback riding
Tiro con l’arcoArchery
Ginnastica artisticaArtistic gymnastics
Atletica leggeraTrack and field athletics
CiclismoCycling
Sport nautici (windsurf, vela, ecc.)Water sports (windsurfing, sailing, etc. )
SciSkiing
PugilatoBoxing
GolfGolf
TennisTennis
AutomobilismoAuto racing
MotociclismoMotorcycle sport
Arti marzialiMartial arts
Danza classicaClassical ballet, ballet
Danza modernaContemporary dance, modern dance
Danza del ventreBelly dance, belly dancing
Pattinaggio a rotelleRoller skating
Pattinaggio su ghiaccioIce skating
AlpinismoMountaineering
ArrampicataClimbing
CulturismoBodybuilding
CanottaggioRowing
CorsaJogging

Italians of all ages are passionate about football in particular. Here is a list of useful phrases and vocabulary to use when talking about football:

Per che squadra tifi? / Per che squadra tieni?Which team do you root for? / Who’s your team?
Che gol!What a goal!
Che parata!What a save!
Chi è più forte? Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimović o Leo Messi?Who is better? Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimović o Leo Messi?
Non segna neanche a porta vuota!He couldn’t score in front of an open goal!
Calcio di rigorepenalty
Calcio d’angolocorner
Fuori giocooffside
Fallofoul
Cartellino giallo/rossoyellow/red card
Calcio di punizionefree-kick
Il primo/secondo tempofirst/second half

Player’s role

Portieregoalkeeper
Difensoredefender
Centrocampistamidfielder
Centravanticenter forward
Attaccanteforward
Capitanocaptain
Allenatorecoach

In the stadium

Stadiostadium
Tifosisupporters
Portagoalmouth
Arbitroreferee
Campopitch
La curvaseats behind the goals
La tribunaseats along the touchline

Work

Work is an excellent small talk topic, because the vast majority of people have something to say. Start with simple questions, like: 

Che lavoro fai? / Di cosa ti occupi?What’s your job?
Dove lavori?Where do you work?
Da quanto lavori lì?How long have you worked there?
Ti piace il tuo lavoro?Do you like your job?

Then move on to open-ended questions, which can spark longer and richer discussions and nudge the conversation into deeper, more authentic territory. Here are a few examples:

Cosa ti piace di più del tuo lavoro?What’s the favorite aspect of your job?
Cosa ti ha portato a scegliere di lavorare nel settore X?Why did you decide to work in X field?
Quali competenze usi di più nel tuo lavoro?Which skills do you use the most in your work?

Travel 

Many of the greatest memories and experiences in people’s lives come from traveling. People love talking about places they have explored. Here are some useful questions:

Quanti Paesi hai visitato finora?How many countries have you visited so far?
Hai mai fatto un viaggio da solo?Have you ever traveled by yourself?
Qual è stata la parte più interessante delle tue vacanze?What was the most interesting part of your vacations?
Dove ti piacerebbe vivere? Perchè?Where in the world would you love to live most? Why?

Your country or hometown 

Talking about your hometown or country is useful for your conversational Italian. 

Here are some phrases and expressions that will make awkward small talk much easier:

È una grande cittàIt’s a big city
È un paesinoIt’s a tiny town
Nordnorth
Ovestwest
Sudsouth
Esteast
È molto…It’s really…
… verdegreen
… piccolosmall
…particolarepeculiar / interesting

Useful questions:

Di dove sei?Where are you from?
Com’è il tuo paese? È diverso da qui?What’s your hometown like? How is it different than here?
In quali città hai vissuto? Cosa ti piace e cosa non ti piace di ciascuna?Which cities have you lived in? What do you like and dislike about them?

Food and cooking

Food is universal and cuts across cultures. Italians love talking about food. It is perhaps the lightest topic you can think about. Here are some good questions to ask:

Ti piace cucinare?Do you like cooking?
Ti piace provare nuove ricette?Do you like trying new recipes?
Qual è il tuo piatto preferito?What’s your favorite dish?
Cosa ti piace cucinare?What do you like cooking?
Ti piace mangiare fuori?Do you like eating out?
Quali sono i piatti tipici della tua zona?What are the typical dishes of your region?

Useful phrases to talk about food:

Il mio piatto preferito è…My favorite dish is…
Il piatto tipico della mia zona è…The typical dish of my region is…
Si fa con…It’s made with…

How to make small talk in Italian: conversation topics to avoid

To avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable, there are a number of inappropriate conversation topics that you should steer clear of.

Mafia 

If you get into conversation with Italians, one subject is definitely to be avoided: the Italian mobs. 

Foreigners tend to be intrigued by mafia movies, games and TV shows, like Scarface, Grand Theft Auto, The Godfather and Gomorrah, which have made the Italian mafia world-famous. However, such pop-culture portrayals tend to glamorize and romanticize an extremely dangerous phenomenon. 

Organized crime is a problem that still poisons everyday life in some parts of Southern Italy. Don’t forget that mafia – in both its southern Italian and American incarnations – causes many deaths per year and still hurts millions of people who have nothing to do with its illegal business.

Inquiring about local mafia would be VERY rude. What you can expect when starting this subject is people feeling extremely upset and avoiding you.

Political views

Politics is a very controversial topic you should avoid at all costs, especially now that the political turmoil is harming Italy’s economy. There’s almost no chance that this topic will bring up any positive feelings. Steer clear of politics, then.

Money

Etiquette says that talking about money is a no-no. Never, ever ask someone about their finances, wage or salary. This is one of the most inappropriate and intrusive things you could talk about. 

Religion 

Religion is a touchy conversation topic. Avoid the subject completely.

Past relationships

Past relationships are too sensitive of a topic. Avoid the subject and make sure not to ask questions that are too personal.

Gossiping

Avoid talking about other people who are not present. Gossiping makes you look bad in an immature kind of way.

Be aware of regional sensibilities

Let me give you a good piece of advice: when in a place don’t praise other Italian cities or regions, and never, ever compare the place where you are with other ones. For example, saying something like “Verona looks like a little Rome” may sound extremely offensive to locals. 

Don’t compare North and South. The Southern Issue in Italy is still a hot topic. What you can expect when starting this subject is people feeling very uncomfortable. Avoid the subject if you don’t want to be involved in a never-ending dispute about how different the two poles of the Bel Paese are.

Put away your cell phone

There’s nothing more annoying and disrespectful than talking to someone who is scrolling through their phone. Put it away! While you are engaging in small talk, don’t text, respond to emails or check your cell phone. Smile, maintain eye contact and show that you are listening. 

In order to gain conversational fluency in Italian you’ve got to speak, simple as that. It is definitely an essential step in your learning process. So, use some of these handy hints, be yourself and converse in Italian as much as you can, as often as you can.

Jessica Maggi


Jessica is a native Italian speaker, a passionate linguist and a proud Grammar nerd. She has a lifelong passion for English and studied Linguistic and Cultural Mediation at the University of Milan. She currently works as a freelance translator and copywriter.

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