Italian Phrase: Parli italiano? (Do you speak Italian?)

If you are a non-Italian living in Italy, a question you might wish to ask other foreigner nationals or travellers you meet is Parli italiano? which means Do you speak Italian?

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Parli is the second-person singular of the verb parlare (to speak / talk) whereas italiano means Italian. Note that the names of languages aren’t capitalised in Italian!

Before we proceed any further, it is important to be aware that this is the informal way of posing this question. Most teenagers and young adults prefer this form when addressing their peers, regardless of whether or not they know each other well.

Parli italiano? – Certo, lo parlo molto bene!

Do you speak Italian? – Of course, I speak it very well!

If you’re addressing an older stranger or someone of a higher status than yourself however, the formal alternative Parla italiano? is preferred.

Parla italiano? – Sì, lo parlo abbastanza bene.

Do you speak Italian? – Yes, I speak it fairly well.

Important: In both cases, we haven’t included the subject pronouns tu (informal ‘you‘) and Lei (formal ‘you‘) since they are usually omitted in Italian, but it wouldn’t be incorrect to say Tu parli italiano? (informal) or Lei parla italiano? (formal). In the case of the latter in particular, adding the pronoun Lei sounds more polite.

Some possible responses to this question include:

  • Sì, un po’ / un pochino. = Yes, a little.
  • Sì, molto bene. = Yes, very well.
  • Sì, certo. = Yes, of course.
  • No, non lo parlo molto bene. = No, I don’t speak it very well.
  • No, mi dispiace. = No, I’m sorry.
  • No, parlo soltanto inglese. = No, I only speak English.
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Parli italiano? – Sì, un pochino. = Do you speak Italian? – Yes, a little.

What’s interesting about this expression is that you can also say Parli l’italiano? with the determiner l’ (the) in front of italiano. Literally this translates as Do you speak the Italian?

Both versions are grammatically correct but their usage varies across different regions. Some Italian speakers swear by italiano on its own whereas others would find it funny to leave out the determiner.

This rule only applies to the verbs parlare (to speak / talk), insegnare (to teach) and studiare (to study) however. With other verbs such as apprendere (to learn / assimilate), imparare (to learn) and conoscere (to know), the determiner is required.

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