3 common mistakes in Italian and how to start saying the right thing

Maybe you’ve done it without being aware of it. Maybe you’ve done it and you realized that you did it. Or maybe you’ve just seen other people doing it. Whatever your case is, you surely know about the typical mistakes that can happen when you think in English and speak Italian.

These types of mistakes are, as you can guess, totally normal. So, if you make them, I would like to reassure you. You’re not making them because something is not right with your brain, but because it’s normal and common to have interferences from your first language. I have interferences myself, both in English and in Spanish, and I’ve been learning English since I was a child so, as you can see, they never stop showing up.

Anyway, we want to do something with them, at least with the most important ones. Because some of these interferences don’t stand in your way when you’re trying to pass a message. But others… they can leave your Italian friends with a big question mark on their face. Especially if they don’t know any English and they can’t understand where you’re coming from.

This is why I’ve decided to show you three of the most common mistakes that I’ve heard and seen in Italian from English-speaking learners. I took these mistakes from my personal experience, and the reason why I’m showing them to you is simply to make you become aware of them so that you will know what to say the next time that you speak Italian.

After that, I’m going to show you some exercises to help you remember the correct way of saying things in Italian.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

È importante di fare…

Because in English you say “it’s important to do”, you might easily want to translate that with “è importante di fare”. But in Italian, we don’t need the preposition “di”. We simply say “è importante fare”. And the same thing happens with other impersonal constructions like:

  • È facile
  • È difficile
  • È necessario
  • È bello

And so on.

Here is a table with a few examples to help you remember this rule better.

INGLESEITALIANOITALIANO
Don’t say thisSay this
It’s important to do things well.È importante di fare le cose bene.È importante fare le cose bene.
It’s easy to do these things.È facile difare queste cose.È facile fare queste cose.
It’s hard to understand what she says.È difficile di capire cosa dice.È difficile capire cosa dice.
It’s nice to be here.È bello di essere qui.È bello essere qui.
common mistakes in Italian

Sono annoiato con…

Another common mistake. Because in English you say “I’m annoyed with” the temptation is to translate it with “sono annoiato con” in Italian. But we cannot do that for a couple of reasons:

  1. we don’t say “sono annoiato con” in Italian. It’s simply a phrase that we can’t find in the language.
  2. annoiato means bored, not annoyed. The correct translation of annoyed is infastidito.

But there’s also another possible translation for annoyed, and it’s arrabbiato (angry). And it’s exactly what we’re going to use for our translation.

Same as before: below you have a table to help you better understand how to say the correct thing.

INGLESEITALIANOITALIANO
Don’t say thisSay this
I’m annoyed with my neighbor.Sono annoiato/a con il mio vicino.Sono arrabbiato/a con il mio vicino,
I’m annoyed with my sister.Sono annoiato/a con mia sorella.Sono arrabbiato/a con mia sorella.
I’m annoyed with everyone.Sono annoiato/a con tutti.Sono arrabbiato/a con tutti.

A quick note: arrabbiato is not the only possible translation for annoyed, and it doesn’t help when trying to translate annoying into Italian. So, plesae, use these examples carefully and only when translating the phrase “I’m annoyed with”.

common mistakes in Italian

Anche, …

Because in English you say “Also, …” at the beginning of a sentence, you might be tempted to say “Anche, …” at the beginning of an Italian sentence. But this is not what we do in Italian. We don’t say anche at the beginning of a sentence. At least, not in the way you would do it in English.

Let’s see, then, how you can make your anche sound more Italian.

INGLESEITALIANOITALIANO
Don’t say thisSay this
Also, it’s an interesting and original movie.Anche, è un film interessante e originale.È anche un film interessante e originale.
Also, there’s a museum you might like.Anche, c’è un museo che ti potrebbe piacere.C’è anche un museo che ti potrebbe piacere.
Also, we could go to MilanAnche, potremmo andare a Milano.Potremmo anche andare a Milano.
common mistakes in Italian

How to stop making these mistakes

We’ve seen that, if you’re making these mistakes it’s not because of you, of your brain or your ability to learn Italian. It’s because your first language creates interferences and, if nobody corrects you, it’s hard to know how to say the right thing.

Corrections and feedback are an excellent ally and, if you’re working with a teacher who can give them to you, you can expect a lot of improvement from them.

But if you’re a solo learner, it’s hard to know if you’re saying the right thing. You need some explanation first (and you can find it in some book) and you need a lot of meaningful practice and you need to work actively on some good quality material.

In a nutshell, if nobody can give you any feedback, you need a lot of exposure and you need to engage in what you have.

You can’t expect to see immediate results, of course, but with consistency and practice, you will start to see the first changes.

Some practical exercises

Here are some exercises to help you learn these new correct structures.

1. Connect each sentence to the right picture.

2. Try to remember the correct translation of these English sentences. You can check the solutions as many times as you want.

  • Also, we could go to Milan
  • I’m annoyed with my neighbor.
  • It’s easy to do these things.
  • It’s hard to understand what she says.
  • Also, it’s an interesting and original movie.
  • I’m annoyed with everyone.

3. Translate these sentences from Italian into English.

  • Sono arrabbiato con tutti.
  • È importante fare le cose bene.
  • Potremmo anche andare a Milano.
  • È bello essere qui.
  • Sono arrabbiatoa con il mio vicino.

Pro tip: you can also write your own sentences with the constructions that you’ve learned in this article. Do it after a few days to see if you can remember what you learned. If you can’t, you can always go back to this article and check again.

To sum up

  • Sometimes, we make mistakes because our first languages create interferences.
  • If you’re learning with a teacher, their feedback can be a crucial ally.
  • If you’re learning on your own, you will need a lot of meaning practice and active learning.
  • This article is not a substitute for a teacher. It’s just a basic tool to give you an idea of how you can start to work. It can’t replace anyone, especially, it can’t replace the valuable feedback that a teacher could give you, based on what they know about your challenges and background knowledge.

References

Bultena, S. et al. (2020). How the errors we make help us learn a second language. OASIS Summary of Bultena, S. et al. (2020) in Language Learning. https://oasis-database.org/concern/summaries/hm50tr858?locale=en

Freiermuth Mark R, L2 Error Correction: Criteria and Techniques, The Language Teacher – Issue 21.9; September 1997, Available at: https://jalt-publications.org/tlt/articles/2197-l2-error-correction-criteria-and-techniques

Lethaby Carol, Mayne Russell, Harries Patricia, An Introduction to Evidence-Based Teaching in the English Language Classroom – Theory and Practice, Pavilion ELT, 2021

Thompson-Lee, S., Yang, Y. & Lyster, R. (2019). What is the correct way to correct? . OASIS Summary of Yang, Y. & Lyster, R. (2010) in Studies in Second Language Acquisition. https://oasis-database.org/concern/summaries/2z10wq326?locale=en

Wagstaffe, J.P. et al. (2019). Is meaningful exposure to second language grammar rules sufficient for learning to take place? . OASIS Summary of Sanz, C. & Morgan-Short, C. (2004) in Language Learning. Available at: https://oasis-database.org/concern/summaries/zs25x8542?locale=en

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