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DRIVING

Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

As if the process of obtaining an Italian driving licence wasn’t complicated enough, you also have to take the tests in Italian.

Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test
Photo by Vincenzo PINTO/AFP

If you’re a resident in Italy and want to drive on the nation’s roads, you may need to get an Italian patente di guida – depending on whether Italy recognises licences issued in your country.

At the moment, some of Italy’s British residents are working on passing their tests again in Italian just in case, as it remains unclear whether UK-issued licences will still be valid from the end of this year.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my UK driving licence still be valid in Italy after 2021?

Other international residents find themselves taking the driving test in Italy for various reasons, such as finding themselves living in a rural area and needing a car for the first time.

Passing through all the stages of applying, taking theory and practical tests – for which there is a limit on how many attempts you can take – all make for a demanding experience.

The language barrier can be the biggest obstacle to passing, as it’s not possible to take the tests in English.

Some regions of Italy do allow residents to take tests in French, German or other languages widely spoken in the area, but so far none have an English-language option.

And while some of Italy’s foreign residents have told us that they’ve been putting off getting their Italian driving licence, as they were so daunted by this part of the process, others say it’s nothing to be scared of.

Those who’ve done it and made it through the other side, patente proudly in hand, tell us the language needed is “technical and formal”. So much so, that you’ll know how to label engine parts and tyre terminology once you’re through.

As there is an Italian Driving Manual and several online portals for practising the theoretical knowledge in Italian (see the bottom of the page for details), we’ll focus on the practical side of getting your Italian driving licence – the language you’ll need in your driving lessons and the final exam, the esame di guida.

It’s likely your instructor will speak to you in the imperative, the command form, as it’s the most appropriate for asking you to do something quickly. Let’s assume you’re on good terms with your instructor and we’re using the informal version of the imperative.

Here are some useful phrases and driving-related vocabulary that will help you to achieve motoring freedom.

Driving basics: getting going

Accendi la macchina: Turn on the car

Accendi le luci anteriori: Put on your headlights

Metti la freccia: Put on your indicator

Gira il volante a sinistra/destra: Turn the wheel to the left/right

Il semaforo è verde, rosso, giallo: The traffic light is green, red, yellow

Ferma la macchina: Stop the car

Accelera: Speed up

Frena: Brake 

Rallenta / Riduci la velocità: Reduce your speed

Piede sulla frizione: Step on the clutch 

Mettiti la cintura: Put on your seatbelt

Assicurati che gli specchietti siano ben posizionati: Make sure your rearview mirrors are correctly positioned

READ ALSO: Who are the worst drivers in Europe?

Gears (Marce)

Metti la prima, la seconda, la terza, la quarta, la quinta marcia: Go into first, second, third, fourth, fifth gear

Metti in folle: Put the gearbox in neutral

Turning and moving around

Vai in questo senso unico: Drive along this one-way road 

Dai la precedenza: Give way

Supera il camion: Overtake the lorry

Entra/inmettiti in autostrada/rotonda: Merge onto the motorway/roundabout 

Ricorda che è una strada a senso unico/a doppio senso: Remember it’s a one-way/two-way road 

Prendi la prima/seconda/terza uscita: Take the first/second/third exit

(Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI/AFP)

Controlla il punto cieco: Check your blind spot 

Guarda lo specchietto retrovisore/posteriore: Look through the rearview mirror

Cambia corsia: Change lane

Mettiti nella corsia interna/esterna: Take the inside/outside lane

Prendi la prossima uscita : Take the next exit

Precautions

Non superare i limiti: Don’t go over the speed limit

Attento(a) alla svolta/curva: Be careful with the turn/bend

Fai attraversare i pedoni sulle strisce: Let the pedestrians cross at the zebra crossing

Assicurati che l’incrocio sia libero: Make sure there’s no oncoming traffic at the crossing  

READ ALSO: British drivers in Europe to escape speed camera fines (and vice versa)

Parking 

Metti la retromarcia: Reverse 

Accendi le luci d’emergenza/le quattro frecce: Put on your emergency/hazard lights

Parcheggia a nastro/a lisca di pesce/a pettine: Parallel park, park at an angle, park in line

Tira/togli il freno a mano: Pull up/down the handbrake 

Extra useful phrases

Suona il clacson: Honk your horn

Aziona i tergicristalli: Put on the windshield wipers

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Now you’re all set for the road, you can prepare for your theory exam with these useful sites:

For more information on driving in Italy, check the Italian government’s page on steps to obtain a Patente B.

Member comments

  1. Sure, foreigners should learn the language of their host country. However, not everyone has the opportunity to do that before requiring a driving licence. And they certainly can’t learn it well enough to pass trick questions that fool even native speakers. Many EU countries understand that, which is why they have licence exchange agreements and offer tests in other languages.

    And then there is Italy. You can go to any bancomat or self-serve petrol station and select any of six languages. Yet, the electronic driving exam only comes in one. There’s simply no technical or economic reason for that.

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For members

ITALIAN ELECTIONS

The Italian vocabulary you’ll need to follow the elections

Italian political goings-on are famously unpredictable, but they don't have to be impossible to understand. Here's a guide to the words and phrases you need to know ahead of Italy's crucial elections this Sunday.

The Italian vocabulary you'll need to follow the elections

Italian politics is hard enough to follow even for those with a lifetime’s experience of the political system and fluency in the language. For foreigners trying to follow events, it can be extremely confusing.

But once you’re armed with a bit of background knowledge and some specifically Italian political language, Italian politics does get easier to understand (at least, most of the time).

READ ALSO: Your ultimate guide to Italy’s crucial elections on Sunday

With Italy preparing for crucial general elections on Sunday, September 25th, it’s especially important to be able to at least get the gist of what’s going on.

From vocabulary basics to the peculiarities of Italian ‘politichese’, here’s The Local’s guide to the language you’ll need when following the election and political news in the coming weeks.

The basics

You may already have a good grasp of some basic political vocabulary, such as partiti politici (political parties) and i sondaggi (opinion polls).

L’elezione is ‘the election’, but Italians use the plural form (le elezioni) for general elections since voters will be choosing representatives in both the upper and lower houses of parliament.

The names for the two parts of parliament are la Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies – the Lower House) and il Senato della Repubblica (the Senate of the Republic – the Upper House).

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

Italians vote on September 25th in elections expected to bring easy an victory for far-right and right-wing populist parties. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The system is anything but simple: it’s a mixed voting system with some seats allocated via proportional representation (‘un sistema proporzionale‘) and others by first-past-the-post (uninominale secco).

Don’t be alarmed if, on election day (il giorno di voto), you hear people talking about urns, or urne. Like its English equivalent, an ‘urna‘ is a kind of vase or container, but in Italian it’s used to refer to the ballot box, rather than anything to do with funerals. In Italian, andare alle urne means to ‘go to the polls’, or to cast your vote.

You do this using a scheda elettorale, or ballot paper – in fact, voters get two ballot papers – one for each house of parliament – at the polling booth (cabina elettorale). Or you might not: abstaining from voting (astensionismo) is increasingly common in Italy. 

As soon as voting ends, we’ll get an exit poll (this one’s easy – ‘gli exit poll’) and by the early hours of the morning, we should have the early results (risultati preliminari)

The parties – and campaign slogans

Italy has a large number of political parties and an ever-shifting political landscape, meaning some of the bigger names in this election may already be familiar while others were previously unknown.

Here’s a quick rundown of the main parties in the mix this time, their names in both Italian and English, and the slogans they’re using:

Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, or FdI).

Slogan: ‘Pronti’ – The hard-right party expected to take the largest share of the vote has the single word slogan pronti, meaning ‘are you ready?’

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

Is Italy ready for election season, and a new government? – A campaign poster shows hard-right Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni, who is likely to become the next prime minister. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

The League (Lega)

Slogan: ‘Credo’ – meaning ‘I believe’. Matteo Salvini’s right-wing populist party was told off by Catholic bishops for using a slogan with religious themes in attempt to appeal to the country’s conservative, religious voters. Posters have since featured various longer slogans, including ‘credo negli italiani‘ (I believe in the Italians).

Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S)

Slogan: ‘Dalla parte giusta’ – The populist party now headed by former PM Giuseppe Conte has chosen a simple slogan meaning ‘on the right side’.

Democratic Party (Partito democratico, PD)

Slogan: ‘Scegli’ – another one-word campaign slogan, this one means ‘choose’. Political analysts say it’s being used by Italy’s second-biggest party as a way to highlight its opposition to Brothers of Italy.

Italian Democratic Party (PD) leader Enrico Letta is asking voters to ‘choose’ his party over the ruight-wing coalition. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Azione + Italia Viva (Action and Italy Alive)

Slogan: ‘Italia, sul serio’ – These two small centrist parties are running together for election, presenting themselves as the sensible, moderate choice with the campaign slogan ‘Italy, seriously’. 

Forza Italia (Variously translated as ‘Go Italy’ or ‘Forward Italy’)

Slogan: none. Silvio Berlusconi’s party has chosen not to use one particular slogan this time, though some campaign posters feature the words ‘oggi più che mai‘, meaning ‘now more than ever’.

Find our complete guide to who’s who in the Italian elections here.

Italian ‘politichese’

Political-speak (or ‘politichese’) can be as dense and impenetrable in Italian as in any other language. 

But it can also be illuminating to learn a few of the words and phrases used in political discussions (and by journalists in particular) to describe the peculiarities of the Italian system.

Here are a few examples:

Toto-nomi

The prefix toto- is used in Italian news reports wherever speculation abounds: it comes from the football pools or totalizzatore calcistico (‘Football totalizer’, or football sweepstake), known as Totocalcio for short.

Totonomi then translates as something like ‘name sweepstake’. It’s an adaptation of toto-nomine (‘nomination sweep’) – which at election time is used for speculation about the most widely-tipped candidates for various offices.

You’ll also see toto- in totopoltrone (‘parliamentary seat sweep’), or totoministri (‘minister sweep’, referring to who will make the cabinet in a newly elected government).

A variation on this is fantapolitica, which similarly comes from fantacalcio, or Italian fantasy football. This word is used to talk about hypothetical election results, government coalitions, and future cabinet members, whether these are realistic or improbable: fantasy politics, if you will.

Former Prime Minister Matteo in parliament. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Ipotesi

An ipotesi is, as you might guess, a hypothesis or theory. When used in newspaper headlines, it fulfils a similar role to toto~, allowing journalists to speculate as to what may have happened or be about to happen.

In the context of election news, you’ll usually see ipotesi followed by the last name of a potential nominee, e.g. ‘l’ipotesi Melonii‘ or ‘l’ipotesi Conte‘, along with discussion of the likely success of that person’s policy or candidacy.

Trasformismo

A time-honoured Italian tradition, this is the act of switching your political allegiance depending on how the wind blows.

Gattopardismo

Un gattopardo is a leopard, so what is ‘gattopardismo‘? Not too distant from trasformismo, it’s a word used to describe the act of adapting your attitudes to the changing political climate in order to maintain a position of power and influence – something political figures in Italy are regularly accused of doing.

The concept was described in the book Il gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the most frequently-quoted line of which is: “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi” (If we want everything to remain as it is, everything must change).

Poltrone

Why would a power-hungry politician be keen to deny that he is “hunting for armchairs”? In this case, such a statement has nothing to do with furniture shopping. Una poltrona does of course mean “armchair” or “seat” and it can be used to talk about a job or position within a company, or in this case, a government. 

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered on how Italy’s elections work

In a political context, a politician on the hunt for poltrone is attempting to gain important ‘seats’ or positions for his party members within the government. Expect to see this word in news reports following the election.

Political nicknames

Some politicians and political parties in Italy have well-known nicknames.

For example, the League is sometimes referred to as ‘Il Carroccio’, the name for a medieval ox-drawn altar used for pre-battle church services. This was used as a symbol by the party back when it was called the Northern League.

And League leader Matteo Salvini is often referred to by his supporters as ‘Il Capitano’, or ‘The Captain’, which seems to be a reference to his preferred policy of leaving migrant rescue ships stranded at sea.

Meanwhile, Italia Viva leader and former PM Matteo Renzi is known as “il rottomatore” (“the scrapper”, or “the wrecker”) due to his unpopular habit of destabilising coalition governments.

Silvio Berlusconi meanwhile is often referred to in media reports as “l’immortale” (the immortal) because of his long political career, which continues today despite numerous sex scandals, a tax fraud conviction, regular health scares, and his advancing age.

There are of course plenty of other, more insulting nicknames used in Italian politics, which we won’t list here.

Is there another word or phrase you think we should add to the list? Please get in touch by email and let us know.

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