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.
Weather is the ultimate small talk topic. Here are some handy phrases and vocabulary to use when talking about the weather:
|Ondata di caldo, ondata di calore||Heatwave|
|Afa||Suffocating heat, stifling heat|
|Tromba d’aria||Strong gust of wind|
This is the most basic of the weather-related vocabulary, but it forms the basis for all weather-related conversations.
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?|
|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 teatro||to go to the theatre|
|Andare al cinema||to go to the movies, to go to the cinema|
|Andare in bicicletta||to go for a bike ride|
|Ascoltare musica||to listen to music|
|Guardare la televisione||to watch TV|
|Suonare il basso, il sassofono, etc.||to play the bass guitar, the saxophone, etc.|
|Uscire con gli amici||to hang up with friends, going out with friends|
|Fare fotografie||to take photos|
|Fare shopping||to go shopping|
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:
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:
|Hockey su ghiaccio||Ice hockey|
|Hockey su prato||Field hockey|
|Tiro con l’arco||Archery|
|Ginnastica artistica||Artistic gymnastics|
|Atletica leggera||Track and field athletics|
|Sport nautici (windsurf, vela, ecc.)||Water sports (windsurfing, sailing, etc. )|
|Arti marziali||Martial arts|
|Danza classica||Classical ballet, ballet
|Danza moderna||Contemporary dance, modern dance|
|Danza del ventre||Belly dance, belly dancing|
|Pattinaggio a rotelle||Roller skating|
|Pattinaggio su ghiaccio||Ice skating|
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 rigore||penalty|
|Cartellino giallo/rosso||yellow/red card|
|Calcio di punizione||free-kick|
|Il primo/secondo tempo||first/second half|
In the stadium
|La curva||seats behind the goals|
|La tribuna||seats along the touchline|
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?|
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 città||It’s a big city|
|È un paesino||It’s a tiny town|
|È molto…||It’s really…|
|…particolare||peculiar / interesting|
|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.
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.
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.
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 is a touchy conversation topic. Avoid the subject completely.
Past relationships are too sensitive of a topic. Avoid the subject and make sure not to ask questions that are too personal.
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.