You don't speak Italian?
What's Sicily like without speaking any Italian?
It is easier than you think.
What about learning Italian?
That is a little more difficult.
You can learn enough to get by, anyway.
We'll assume here that there aren't a ton of Italian-language experts.
The great majority of holidaygoers in Sicily don't speak Italian – except for the words everybody knows like "pizza".
So we'll talk first about how you can enjoy your holidays in Sicily with no knowledge of Italian. Thanks to the hospitality of Sicilians, this is easy.
And if you always wanted to learn Italian?
Then holidays in Sicily are just the thing.
We'll show you how.
Traveling without any Italian
Wherever tourists can be found around the globe, people speak English. Sicily is no exception.
Many tourists, of course, pass through Sicily's three airports. At each airport you will find it easy to make your way using English, especially since the auto rental offices at each airport also use English. Ideally, you would have a car reservation ready for when you arrive – and if you do, you will have no problem.
English is the working language not only in the terminals and at the car rental services, but also in various shops located in the airport – as well as at the ticket offices for long-distance buses.
So you see: holidays in Sicily are almost always off to a good start without a word of Italian. However, a great way to make a good impression when you are dealing with Italians is to say thank you with a friendly "Grazie" – and if you can, roll your "rrrrr". Of course, for some people this requires practice.
In tourist areas
Of course, holidays in Sicily often involve hotels – and in Sicily most hotels are international environments. Whether you use your hotel as a playground or for peaceful relaxation, speaking English is no problem.
Hotel are not for everyone, though. Individuals traveling solo often prefer private apartments. Luckily, there are a variety of options in Sicily for people speaking English.
It can even lead to exciting adventures in Sicily as well since you are off the beaten path. You can use us to search for English-friendly private accommodation. Many times you end up getting excursions, cooking classes as well! You may even get the chance to learn Italian.
If you like to travel solo and English is your primary language, you can find everything you need on this website.
Taking the train with only two Italian words
Anyone who wants to vacation in Sicily without a car usually ends up using the Italian railway, Trenitalia. Timetable information is available in English.
However, a few simple caveats when it comes to train stations in the smaller towns. Some stations don't have electronic ticket machines. And in some the ticket window might not even be open. In these cases you can almost always buy your ticket at the tobacco shop (Tabaccheria).
Don't worry – it isn't going to turn you into a smoker. Tobacco stops, for being so common in Italy, actually serve a number of public functions. These range from selling train and bus tickets to letting Italians pay local taxes there. Buying your train ticket at the tobacco shop, you need the name of your destination train station and one of these Italian phrases:
- Andata (one-way) or
- Andata e ritorno (round-trip)
Italian for the stomach
The charm of classic Italian bars or pizzerias is probably lost on nobody. And, of course, you can get by in these places wtihout speaking a lot of Italian.
Of course, talking with the hands and feet is not for everybody. Though we repeat, in Sicily the hands are beautifully expressive and the feet offer you a warm welcome.
For Sicily holidaygoers who prefer to use English only, the easy thing is to stay close to the resort towns such as Taormina and Cefalu. The bars and pizzerias are very used to foreign tourists. But the tourist going solo may try for something more local and authentic.
The solution here is: be on the lookout for bars and pizzerias where young people are working. And if you are in a large city, try bars and restaurants located in or near major museums, bookstores, and department stores. These places are often magnets for educated English-speaking middle-class types and are rarely "overrun" by tourists. In Palermo, for example, try:
Whether you can't speak a word of Italian or are a student of Italian at a high level, holidays in Sicily are always helped by having a dictionary handy.
The most dedicated students of Italian will have at least a good list of verbs ready to consult. Dictionaries, too, are great – but can sometimes not be enough since everyday expressions are often missing.
Of course, nobody wants to drag a gigantic dictionary along on their Sicilian vacation. Some of the better-known dictionaries have their own apps – which are good as long as you avoid the crude, cheap ones that don't work.
For any "normal" holiday in Sicily, a little bit of technology can really help. But this doesn't mean you have to pay: Google Translate is now available to anybody with an internet connection. And it is even available offline to anyone with an Android mobile. This can help you avoid roaming charges while on holiday in Sicily.
Important: Android 2.3 or above is required. Download the Google Dictionary before your trip since it is a bit of a download. Data charges may apply!
We've seen already that holidays in Sicily are very possible without a word of Italian. Many people though can't resist the temptation to learn the most beautiful language in the world during their Sicilian vacation – or at least, to start.
Of course, learning the world's most beautiful language isn't a one-day affair.
Being on holiday in Sicily is the perfect time to take an Italian course. You can mix things up a bit from all the relaxation and sun – and get individual lessons tailored to your skill level. In a short amount of time, you will have a solid foundation in Italian.
The way to make the most of an intensive course is an apartment in the historic city center of a town like Santa Flavia. One gets to put his or her Italian to use immediately by traveling to all the local shops.
You'll be buying your bread from the baker, fruit from the fruit stand, and meat from the butcher. Always buy small amounts. You'll be asking for every kind of coffee at the "corner bar", and in the evenings, placing orders at the local pizzerias. Of course, by the time you're done, you'll have gorged yourself on all the delicious Sicilian food. But the Mediterranean diet is the best in the world!
Click here for holiday apartments with benefits like a language course.
Sicilian – not quite Italian
In the previous section, we suggested you combine a nice intensive Italian course with as much "loitering" in bars, shops, and pizzerias as possible. Just by doing this you will pick up a lot of Italian in no time.
But don't be surprised if no matter how sharp your Italian gets, you still just can't understand some of the locals sometimes – especially the older people. For many of these, Sicilian is still the real mother tongue in the truest sense.
Some scholars don't consider Sicilian a dialect of Italian, but a separate language. There are many differences in vocabulary, and even in grammar. So it's no wonder you might not understand!
Sicilian and Italian are different in sort of the same way that someone on the American West Coast would speak English differently than someone in the highlands of Scotland. They can basically understand each other – sort of – but sometimes baffle each other completely.
Let's stay in touch
Holidays in Sicily are always over too soon. You have just started getting used to all the beauty and the wonderful sunshine - and it's time to go home! And there was so much more to see!
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