Home Advice Speaking of Italian: How to Speak (and Gesture) Like a True Italian

Speaking of Italian: How to Speak (and Gesture) Like a True Italian

by Sara Lepley

If you’re here, then you already know there is much more to a language than the words. That’s why we broke down a few of the gestures, idioms, and friendly phrases that can help bring you speak like a local.


It’s hard to untangle what’s said in Italian from how it’s communicated with body language. But why would you want to? The gestures, sincere tone and poignant facial expressions so common to Italian speakers add that extra something that makes the language so endearing.

When you say, “Ma che vuoi?” you’ll want to bring your fingertips together into an upright position and wave them up and down.

Expect to see the movement quite a bit while in Italian company. As journalist Silvia Marchetti shared in an article for CNN:

“It’s often an involuntary gesture—something we can’t help doing, like blinking or producing the world’s best gelato.”

Need to ward off bad luck? Italians say, “Facciamo le corna,” literally let’s make horns, the Italian equivalent of knocking on wood. To get the gesture right, point your pinky and pointer finger down toward the floor with your thumb pressed over your two middle fingers.

If someone is carrying on and you would prefer to speed things up, it’s perfectly acceptable to press your hands together to accent an “allora!”


Idioms are those phrases that only make sense if you don’t take them at face value, like couch potato, down-to-earth, or quitting cold turkey. They add warmth and familiarity to a conversation, allowing us to relax, let down our hair or chill out.

Peppering idioms into your Italian can help you sound like a local, and knowing them can help you avoid embarrassing mistranslations.

One of our favorites is “in bocca al lupo” which translates to “in the wolf’s mouth” in English. It’s a way of wishing someone good luck and exactly what we would say to you before you try speaking Italian to some native speakers. (You’ll do great!)

Now if you are looking for some feedback on said Italian, you may want to add, “Non avere peli sulla lingua.” Literally, this means “without hair on his tongue.” It’s a way to signal you want someone to be brutally honest.

If you do ask for that honestly, though, you’ll want to roll with the punches. As they say, “Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala!” You wanted the bike? Now you’ve got to ride it.  

This seems like a good time to say, really, you’ll do great.

Friendly phrases

So you’ve moved past the acquaintance stage and made a few friends through your Italian. Splendido!

If you see someone you know and it’s been awhile, give them a slight tilt of the head and say, “Uhè I ué.” Literally, this means “I see you,” but it communicates so much more. Italians use this to say, “It’s been a while! How have you been?”

Now let’s say you two get chatting and you want to make the case to get some grub at the local pizzeria. Say, “Allora!” which can be used to say “Let’s go! Come on!”

But idioms, gestures and pleasantries are only the start. Italy has a lot of great things to offer and all of it is better when you have a command of the language. If you’re interested in speaking Italian, you should give our free trial a go.

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