Here are 30+ funny Italian language mistakes foreign missionaries have made while living abroad in Italy.
Some of these are pretty embarrassing!
If you want to sound like native Italian speaker, make sure to avoid these common misunderstandings. Some of these Italian language fails are common among beginners and some happen with even the most proficient Italian speakers.
Funny/Embarrassing Italian Language Mistakes
- One time I was with my new Greenie at an investigator’s home. He was sick and wanted to tell them he was suffering from a chest cold. He asked me for the Italian word for “chest” (which in the masculine voice is busto) but I told him to say “chestino” which means small garbage can. Everyone got a good laugh, but I was on a certain Elder’s bad list for quite some time. It was totally worth it. (Michael, Italy Milan Mission)
- I used surgelato instead of suggellato when discussing sealing in the temple (surgelato apparently means chryogenically frozen). (Aaron, Italy Rome Mission)
- Not a mistake per se, but on the way from the Catania airport to the mission office, I was in the back of the mission van with the luggage. As we got into the city, the AP who was driving kept pointing at other drivers and saying: “Die!” At least that’s what I thought he was saying. He was actually saying: “Dai!”, which means (essentially) “let me through.” I didn’t know that’s what it meant at the time, and it was some time before I was able to convince myself that the AP was not a homicidal maniac. (Jared, Italy Catania Mission)
- The words for congratulations (auguri) and watermelons (angurie) were a little too close for my ears to distinguish at first– more than once I wondered why members would walk up to each other on holidays and shout “watermelons!” (Evan, Italy Milan Mission)
- Once, I told some people that we as a missionaries were living in a box instead of a house. I said “cassa” instead of “casa”. (Victor, Italy Milan Mission)
- While I was teaching English class in Milano, I was explaining basic words and writing them on the board as I went. Sadly my Italian spelling was not perfect. When I wrote “years” on the board, instead of writing “anni” I wrote “ani” which means anus… Yeah… my Italian companion, although she quickly corrected my mistake, couldn’t stop laughing much to my embarrassment. (Emily, Italy Milan Mission)
- I once went in and instead of saying “Gesu ha sofferto per i nostril peccati” to “Gesu soffrite per le nostri peccati.” and another Sister once, instead of saying, “Questo e un dunno per te,” she said, “Questo e un donna per te.” When he said, “una donna?” she confidently replied, “Si!” We all died laughing once we found out. Make sure you know your feminine from your masculine. (Cassi, Italy Milan Mission)
- In Italian, saying “piacere” means nice to meet you. “Mi piace” means it is pleasing to me or I like. Well I walked up to a man, trying to be brave and talk to everyone, and instead of saying “piacere” I said “mi piace”. Which if you translated it would mean “you are pleasing to me”. I just froze and let my companion take over after receiving a really confused look from the old man. (Broc, Italy Milan Mission)
- My first city I kept saying Bounjour instead of boungiorno. I also was reading the Ensign in English and read the word kinder as it is pronounced in Italian like the chocolate candy. (Staci, Italy Catania Mission)
- Asking if it was going to rain but saying dust instead. I said “wow” all the time and got teased for it because I said it in an American accent. (Summer, Italy Catania Mission)
- I told an old man it was a picchiare instead of piacere and waived my hand sideways as we said good bye. My companion told me that it looked like was trying to threaten the old guy or saying it was a “beating.” The old guy didn’t seem to notice, but it was funny anyway. (Greg, Italy Catania Mission)
- Haha, I listened all the time to words, so I asked a member and he said… quelloquelloqueuna parolacacia … oops haha… so it was a really bad word. (Julieta, Italy Milan Mission)
- My companion said “soffrito” instead of “sofferto” a few times. (Blake, Italy Milan Mission)
- I couldn’t remember what the word was for sink, but I knew there was a difference. Rubinetto = sink (for tap water). Gabinetto = toilet. I mixed them up. (Jennifer, Italy Milan Mission)
- I was trying to explain baptism and accidentally made it seem like we take people into the font naked. The investigator freaked out, but luckily my companion was quick to correct that mistake and calm the woman down. (Emily, Italy Milan Mission)
- I don’t know if this is a true story, but it’s funny if you know Italian. It goes like this: An Elder knocked on a door and a woman answered the door, obviously saddened by something. The Elder asked her why she was sad, and she said that her son had died in a motorcycle accident recently. The Elder wanted to console her by saying “what a shame!”, but he said “Che scemo!” (Neil, Italy Rome Mission)
- One of my companions swore profusely at the kids in primary, not realizing that the word he was using over and over again was the Italian version of the F-bomb. 🙂 (Neil, Italy Milan Mission)
- My Greenie asked if ragno (spider) was the word for branch (ramo) right before getting up to introduce herself to the branch. I corrected her. (Lilly, Italy Milan Mission)
- I liked to learn from the natives, because I figured they would give me the best examples of how to speak colloquially. One Saturday we were to have a baptism, and just about everything that could go wrong with the baptism did. I heard a member use the phrase “un po` di casino”, and I thought that sounded pretty cool. So I looked it up in my pocket dictionary, and it said “colloquial expression for a little bit of chaos.” The next day I decided to bear my testimony in Church, during which I used that phrase. I knew something was up when I saw the native Italian sister missionary’s jaw drop open. She told me later that phrase was not acceptable for a missionary, so I went back to my dictionary, and sure enough, the 2nd definition it listed was “whorehouse.” (Mark, Italy Milan Mission)
- I believe the most common mistake is saying that Gesù cristo a soffrito per i nostri peccati. Which means Jesus Christ fried for our sins. Just change “soffrito” to “sofferto” and that changes everything! (Robert, Italy Milan Mission)
- One of my companions tried to say “Questo e un donno da Dio!” This is a gift from God!) and ended up saying “Questo e un donna da Dio!” (This is a woman from God!) I had a good laugh! He didn’t like me very much that day! haha! (Joshua, Italy Milan Mission)
- It was my first month in Italy. A family was feeding us dinner. There was an unopened bottle of orange soda on the table. I saw a dead ant floating in the orange soda. I did not know the word for “ant” so I pulled out my pocket dictionary and looked it up. I then said that “There is an ant in the orange soda.” Everyone looked puzzled and amused and asked me to clarify. I pointed at the bottle and said “There is an ant in the orange soda”. By this time I had lost everyone. They thought that this newly arrived missionary had his language confused. My companion asked me in English what it was I was trying to say. I told him that there was an ant in the orange soda, look! He saw the little critter floating in there and said that I was saying what I meant! We all had a good laugh. (Alan, Italy Milan Mission)
- Oh my gosh! In my first area when I didn’t know the language very well, I was giving my testimony and instead of saying “Quando scorAggiarci, possiamo pregare” “when we are discouraged, we can pray” Instead I said “Quando scorrEgiarci, possiamo pregare” “When we flatulate, we can pray”. (Heather, Italy Milan Mission)
- I said “carne ed ossa” poorly once, and the sister we were teaching thought I’d said “carne rossa” We had already taught her about the Lamanites, so she thought Heavenly Father was one of then. I also was confused with volere and volare. That was interesting. (Janice, Italy North Mission)
- I’ll give two. First I went downstairs to our bakery to get some raisins. I knew they had them because they put them in some of their breads. Anyway, I didn’t know the word for raisin so I tried to explain to them that they were little black things made from taking all the water out of a grape. Problem was, I used the word uova (egg) instead of uva (grape). It took us a while to figure that out. Another time, I was telling a member we were going home to have strawberry short cake. She didn’t know what that was so I explained you take a cake, put strawberries on it and then put whipped cream on top. Problem was, I used “fagioli” (beans) instead of “fragole” (strawberry). She thought we were crazy. (Bart, Italy North Mission)
- Teaching the investigator class, the missionary said, “Siamo un po corti come tempo.” Translated directly, it means, :We’re a little short on time.” That’s not how they would say it in Italy, so it dropped dead right there. None of the investigators got it. But, it didn’t matter, they got the rest of the discussion. We were somewhat embarrassed at the event, but it was okay. (Keith, Italy North Mission)
- Flatulate and discouraged… the senior missionary kept saying she was flatulated at the beginning. Practice telling stories, not just memorizing vocab… no one could tell me how to say I crashed my car into a tree, but I tried to include it in my talk anyway .. no one understood. (Calvin, Italy Padova Mission)
- Some similarities between Italian and English words. There are also a few similar Italian words that sound the same but mean something completely different. For instance the word for “message” is “messaggio”. There is also another closely sounding word “massaggio”, which means “massage”. Don’t get the two mixed up when delivering your “message” of the restored gospel. (Joshua, Italy Padova Mission)
- A man told me his daughter was a “monella” and I said “Che Bella!” He looked at me like I was crazy. (Layne, Italy Rome Mission)
- I once accidentally told a young boy that he was good using the feminine form and he quickly corrected me that he was a boy! Young children are the best language teachers! (Christina, Italy Rome Mission)
- After having studied one phrase to say to an Italian family for weeks in the MTC, my first day in the mission, my companion had me stop a family on the street for the first time. I stepped up nervously and said the one thing I had rehearsed so many times before. They looked back at me and said in Italian, “Oh, we’re sorry. We don’t speak Portuguese.” And walked away… (Ian, Italy Rome Mission)
- Haha . . . in the MTC, a sister got the word “I am (sono)” confused with the word “I know (So)” and ended up saying something like she was Jesus Christ the Savior on accident, instead of saying she knows he lives. We tried not to giggle. (Mary, Italy Rome Mission)
- Once I learned the verb impazzire which means “to drive crazy.” I told a native missionary “mi fai impazzire” which means you’re driving me crazy…. but then he got all awkward and said….. “you know that when you say it that way that it means that I drive you crazy cuz you have a crush on me, right?” (Shane, Italy Rome Mission)
Here are some helpful videos to help you avoid making embarrassing mistakes in Italian.
Italian Language Mistake Videos
Top 5 Italian Mistakes to Avoid
Learn Italian Grammar: Somme Common Mistakes to Avoid
For more resources about serving in Italy:
- Italy Catania Mission
- Italy Milan Mission
- Italy North Mission
- Italy Padova Mission
- Italy Rome Mission
Funny Language Mistakes Compilations:
7 thoughts on “30 HILARIOUS Italian Language Mistakes”
There’s always the false cognate “preservativi” which I heard an Elder use (rather than conservanti) while describing American food to an Italian woman. Needless to say she could not stop laughing.
Another one I have heard is missionaries (thinking of one very proper sorella) forgetting to stress the double “n” in penne pasta.
I was serving in the Milan mission. Our mission president has just told us in a zone conference to offer help or service when going tracting. So when just after I rang the doorbell a women answered behind the door but didn’t open it. I thought she said that she was making something sweet (such as candy or whatever) and I offered to help. Wrong answer! The word for sweets in Italian is dolce but she used the word doccia which is shower. My senior companion actually heard her correctly and laughed. You see, she said she was about to take a shower and I thought she said she was about to make sweets. So asking if we could help was not good!
👆🏼The very same thing happen to me! Except I was the senior companion and in the Italy Rome Mission. It was a mortifying experience, to say the least.
Hilarious. You win best story!
I hate to be a jerk but so much of what’s supposed to be correct Italian in these stories is just another version of poor missionary Italian. For me, reading these mistakes is almost more embarrassing than the stories themselves.
I understand what you’re saying for the most part. I just don’t think it’s embarrassing if they continue to make mistakes. I find humor in the stories above for what they are.
If the name of this article had been 30 ways to speak Italian correctly, then I would say “this is embarrassing.”
I think it’s safe to say that most returned missionaries also don’t have the opportunity to even practice their mission language once they get back home.
I intended to ask the hotel clerk if I could use his pen (penna) to make a note. I absently mindedly asked instead if I could use his “pene” (penis). The shocked look on his face was my first clue that I had made a mistake.