Adventures of Learning a Language – Part 4


1. All the words of a language.
2. The sum of words used by, understood by, or at the command of a particular person or group.

Without vocabulary a language would cease to exist.You can learn things like basic grammar, pronunciation, and common phrases but without vocabulary you will soon find yourself at a bit of a roadblock.

Building vocabulary can be the most time-consuming (and sometimes boring) part of learning a language, but it is also very important.Without words, communication in any language is limited.

If you are learning Italian, like I am, you will be pleased to learn that you may in fact know more vocabulary words than you thought you did. There are many words in Italian that look like and have similar meanings to their English counterparts. These words are called cognates or “parole simili”.

Here are some that I have come across in my efforts to build my Italian vocabulary. You will notice that they are spelled slightly different but still very recognizable to their English equivalent.

attore – actor
colore – color
conversazione – conversation
curioso – curious
dottore – doctor
famoso – famous
frequente – frequent
geloso – jealous
intelligente – intelligent
nervoso – nervous
possibile – possible
professore – professor
stazione – station

And the list goes on and on…

However, such is with everything there is always the exceptions. There are also words that look similar in both languages but in fact have different meanings. They are called false cognates or “falsi amici”.

parente – means relative not parent which in Italian is genitore
– means bookstore not library which in Italian is biblioteca

Don’t be fooled by some of these other falsi amici:

annoiato – bored (not annoyed)
camera – room (not camera)
casino – confusion (not casino)
collegio – boarding school (not college)
morbido – soft (not morbid or gruesome)
rumore – noise (not rumor)
Again the list goes on and on…

So for those learning Italian (or any language for that matter) don’t get discouraged when you are trying to build your vocabulary.It will take some time and patience but it will get there.We are always building our vocabulary (even in our native languages) with every passing day so keep that in mind when you are struggling while reading an article, or are memorizing your never-ending pile of flashcards.You may never know ALL the words in a language but you’ll learn enough to get by.

Feel free to leave your own examples of parole simili or falsi amici that you come into contact with on a regular basis. It will help all of those currently building their vocabulary to maybe learn a few new words they didn’t already know.

Ci vediamo!!


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  3. lucy

    August 19, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Bon Viaggio! Have a wonderful trip, make lots of memories. My memories of Sicily stay with me all the time and make me smile daily and I haven’t been back in 27 years! When my father passed away my sister and mother took him back to be buried with his parents. I regret not going now…but one day I’ll be back again.

  4. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    July 24, 2008 at 8:46 am

    I agree with Ms. Espresso. I am not a fan of the false friends!

  5. bleeding espresso

    July 12, 2008 at 2:50 am

    Great tips here; those false friends can be killers….

  6. LuLu

    July 11, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    I remember hearing the words “figo”, “figa” and “figgissimo/a” in a movie and couldn’t wrap my head around what it meant. I had to look it up. It does sound like it should mean fig. If you had said that to the bar tender it could have been embarrassing….or interesting….you could have ended up with an extra scoop of gelato for dessert!!! 😛

  7. Leanne

    July 11, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    The word FIGO sounds like it may mean fig…but it does not! It means sexy – I made the mistake whilst drinking some fig wine in Sicily at a hotel…thankfully my Italian colleague was there to save me from a very embarassing conversation!
    I wanted to say the wine tasted of figs, not that the bar tender was sexy!

  8. LuLu

    July 11, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks Enrico. I’m going to give it a try and see if it works out okay for my purposes! 🙂 I like the concept and it would take about the same amount of time creating the flashcards with the program as it would to write them out by hand. But I like the portability of paper flashcards. Maybe I can do both…we’ll see.

  9. Enrico

    July 11, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Speaking of flashcards, I’ve recently started using a program called Anki that allows you to create flashcards and presents them to you according to a spaced-repetition algorithm. The idea is that based on psychological research, the best time to review something is _just_ as you’re about to forget it.

    It seems primarily aimed at people learning Japanese but supports making flashcards of just about anything, really.

    Try it out:

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