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Italian Hand Gestures- A Book Review

Italian hand gesture

Italian hand gesture for “What the bleep?”

An expressive addition to your resource kit to learning Italian is the book by Bruno Munari: “Speak Italian: The fine art of the gesture”.

I definitely recommend adding this humorous tool to your box. The book is an accurate depiction — illustrated in photos with an explanation on the opposite page — of the myriad Italian gestures. My one exception would be the ‘horn’ gesture (see photo below)… which differently from what the book says, is used to communicate to someone that they ‘have horns’ or are ‘cornuto’ … meaning they have been cuckholded, aka cheated on.  Perhaps the single most offensive Italian gesture… it is considered more insulting than ‘the finger’!

“Speak Italian, The fine art of the gesture, a supplement to the Italian dictionary”


Italian hand gesture


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Italian Books & Materials

Recommended books:
Learning a language is fun when you enjoy what you’re doing. Good materials are important, just like a good teacher (and lots of practice and patience!). Try different materials and approaches to find what works for you. My students and I have road-tested these Italian books and materials, and we’ve found them helpful along the path to fluency.

[ Clicking on any of the links below takes you to, where you can purchase these or any other items and help support this website at the same time with no additional cost to you. Please bookmark it! … e grazie!]

  • 1- Italian Survival Guide.  The language and culture you need to travel with confidence in Italy:  survival vocabulary, survival grammar, survival social knowledge.

  • 2- Italian/English Visual Dictionary. A delightful and colorful way to learn useful vocabulary. Thousands of color photos.

  • 3- Italian in 10 Minutes a Day. A great place to start. Lots of illustrations and a good intro to basic Italian phrases and vocabulary. Geared toward travelers. Includes interactive CD-Rom.

  • 4- Italian Conversation QuickStudy Chart. A handy, fold-out laminated chart featuring basic Italian vocabulary, including pronunciation, numbers, colors, basic verbs and grammar, food, family, travel, days, months, seasons, time, weather and more.

  • 5- Italian Grammar QuickStudy Chart. A handy, fold-out laminated chart that includes at-a-glance info on pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and verb tenses and forms.

  • 6- Learn Italian the Fast & Fun Way. Great for beginners, with lots of dialogs and vocabulary organized by topics of interest to travelers. Basic grammar in context.

  • 7- Italian Self-Teaching Guide. For beginners to advanced. Easy to grasp explanations of grammar, useful vocabulary, dialogs, workbook exercises with answers included.


  • 8- Easy Italian Step-by-Step. For beginners to advanced. Easy to grasp explanations of grammar, useful vocabulary, readings, workbook exercises with answers included. This book is similar to #7 Italian Self-Teaching Guide (above), with the added feature of companion audio recordings that I created for a large portion of the book. These are available to subscribers of my Italian Audio Club (along with many other study materials) for $6.95/month, a great value!

  • 9- Schaum’s Easy Outline of Italian. Excellent grammar reference book. Concise, easy-to-follow explanations. No workbook exercises. Easy-to-carry, smaller-sized book.

  • 10- “50 Ways to Improve Your Italian”. Great book for smoothing off the rough edges — featuring 50 stand-alone lessons on the most common mistakes English-speaking students make when speaking Italian. Easy-to-carry, smaller-sized book.

  • 11- Italian Fluency. A companion book for the Italian learner who wants to focus on vocabulary expansion to complement their grammar study.  Learn tricks to learning and recalling a wealth of words to improve your fluency. Also available in Kindle.

  • 12- Complete Italian Grammar. A workbook of targeted grammar practice exercises. Appropriate for advanced beginners and intermediate levels.

  • 13- Schaum’s Outlines Italian Grammar. For intermediate to advanced students. Schaum’s does grammar really well. Very detailed grammar explanations, lots of exercises, answers at the back, 350 pages.

  • 14- Diario della studentessa Jean. Collection of short stories appropriate for adults, beginner to intermediate. Written by an American woman who began studying Italian as an adult.

  • 15- Eserciziario per Diario della studentessa Jean. Exercise workbook to accompany the story book.

  • 16- Jean e Roscoe vanno a Perugia.  The follow up reader to Diario della studentessa Jean. More advanced language and stories of a student learning Italian in Perugia, Italy.

  • 17- Easy Italian Reader. For advanced-beginner to intermediate students. Great variety of stories: everyday student life, Italian history, contemporary writers. Includes comprehension questions, answers, a glossary, and an audio CD and CD-Rom.

  • 18- Read and Think Italian. A collection of 100+ illustrated readings and articles about the life and culture of Italy, many of them narrated on the included 70 min. audio CD.

  • 19- Non soltanto un baule. (Not just a trunk) Collection of interesting stories about Italian immigrants. For intermediate to advanced readers.

  • 20- La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales.  An entertaining history of the development of the Italian language over the centuries, from Dante to the present. In English, with loads of Italian expressions, vocabulary, and language ancedotes.

  • 21- Italian Magnetic Poetry. We use this to play “Grammar Pong” in the Saturday Class. Turn your refrigerator, metal filing cabinet, or even a cookie sheet into a practice surface. Write sentences, poetry, or just group the over 500 words into parts of speech categories. One of my fave learning tools!

  • 22- Speak Italian, the fine art of the gesture. What are Italians saying with their hands? This illustrated guide demystifies Italian gestures. Read my book review here.

  • 23- La lingua italiana per stranieri – Level 1: Corso elementare ed intermedio.  This text book is all in Italian, including instructions and explanations, and therefore a great option for students whose first language is not English and who may find Italian books geared to mother-tongue English speakers cumbersome to use.  Contains grammar lessons and exercises.


One Wild Woman! ~ MINA ~

italian singer Mina.

Mina – Bio info

(Links to music & video below)

Anna Maria Mazzini, born 25 March 1940, known simply as Mina, is an Italian pop singer with Swiss citizenship. Born to a working class family in Busto Arsizio, Mina grew up in Cremona and was college educated in accounting. She went on to become one of Italy’s great modern female vocalists. Distinguished by the great extension and agility of her soprano voice and her image as an emancipated lady, she was a staple of the Italian television variety shows and a dominant figure on the Italian charts in the 1960s and 1970s. Mina combined several modern styles with the traditional Italian melody and swing music, making her the most versatile pop singer in Italian music. She dominated the Italian charts for fifteen years and reached an unsurpassed level of popularity in Italy.

italian singer Mina.

Mina’s first TV appearances in 1959 presented the first female rock and roll singer in Italy. Her loud syncopated singing earned her the nickname Queen of Screamers (La Regina degli urlatori). For her wild gestures and body shakes, the publicity also labeled her the Tiger of Cremona (La Tigre di Cremona).


Mina’s pregnancy and relationship with a married actor (Corrado Pani) caused her to be banned on the public Italian channels in 1963, because her lifestyle did not agree with the dominant catholic and bourgeois morals. After the ban, the Italian broadcasting service RAI continued, unsuccessfully, trying to prohibit her songs, which were forthright in dealing with subjects such as religion, smoking, and sex. To her ’bad girl’ image, Mina added sex appeal and a cool act, featuring public smoking, dyed blond hair, and shaved eyebrows.

italian singer Mina.

Mina’s voice had distinctive timbre and great power. Her main themes were anguished love stories interpreted in a dramatic way. The singer combined classic Italian pop with features of blues, R&B and soul music in the late 1960s. Top Italian songwriters created material with large vocal range and unusual chord progression to showcase her singing skills.


Around 1978, the singer went into a sort of self-imposed exile in Switzerland. On March 30, 2001, after 23 years of reclusion, Mina’s made her last public appearance, on video showing her in a recording studio. Mina remains somewhat of an enigma, and in these years of ‘voluntary exile’, she has declined to give interviews and has communicated with her fans only by way of her records and her columns in magazines such as Vanity Fair and contributions to Italian newspapers.


Here, a few Mina tunes I like (links to music & video):

    • Tintarella di Luna, a light upbeat tune considered ‘surf pop’, was Mina’s first Italian #1 hit (1959). The name, “Tintarella di luna,” means “Moon Tan”, which was performed in her first musicarello (musical comedy film) “Juke box – Urli d’amore.”

    • Io Sono il Vento, (I am the Wind), a song of a more dramatic flavor. Good collection of pictures here.

  • Le Mille Bolle Blu, (The Thousand Blue Bubbles), clip from the film “Mina… Fuori la Guardia”     — check out the hair, the set, etc…  Lady Gaga’s got nothing on Mina! 😉


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Italian Holiday Traditions, Part 2

Italian Christmas Traditions & Practices – A Survey

I asked my friends in Italia (Milano, Lombardia Region) the following questions:
Generally, what is the tradition on present-giving in Italy? Who gives gifts to whom? Do adults exchange gifts? And when are gifts give to children, and by whom? – the day of Christmas or la Befana [Epiphany]? By Santa Claus or by the Befana? Who goes to church and when? And when and how do families celebrate together (a big dinner, which day? Typically, what is eaten?)

What follows is a synthesis of their answers. Following my summary are the actual answers of my friends, in original form. Take a look; see what you can understand. Buona lettura!

“Generally speaking, everyone gives gifts to everyone. Among adults: friends exchange gifts, especially younger adults. Gifts are also important between spouses and couples. Among adult family members, it is common to exchange ‘small gesture’ gifts, just to have something to unwrap, such as a tie, stockings, or a silk scarf. Also in use is giving a card that tells the recipient a donation has been made in their name (e.g. to the cancer foundation).

Like ‘everywhere’ children receive the bulk of the gifts! These are left under the albero or near the presepe, by Babbo Natale or Gesu` Bambino – depending on how religious the family is. Most often, kids wake up Christmas morning and run to see if Santa/Baby Jesus came by with presents during the night.

Some families observe la Befana on Jan. 6th and some don’t. The Befana fills kids’ stockings with candies, chocolate and sweets if they’ve been good, and ‘carbone’ – a dark-colored sugar candy shaped like coal – if they’ve been bad.
Yet another ‘twist’ on when bambini receive their gifts is in the Bergamo area (50km northeast of Milano). There, kids get presents on December 13th, Santa Lucia Day, which also coincides with a similar practice in Scandinavia.)

Church: In smaller towns and the in the south, more people go to church for Natale. In bigger cities, only the very religious go to a Christmas mass or service. Though like in the US, those who don’t go to church every Sunday will often go on the occasion of Christmas. The most popular is midnight mass on Christmas Eve, but many also go Christmas morning.

Celebrating Christmas in family is very important and consists most importantly of eating, eating, and eating! As one friend reported, the eating/celebrating starts the 24th and continues on thru the 26th/27th, only to start up again on Capo d’Anno. “The average Christmas or New Year’s Eve meal lasts 8-12 hours.” (And he was only half joking!) The most common day of the big family dinner depends on location: in Rome and further south it’s a huge dinner on the evening of Christmas Eve, based on fish, especially eel. In northern Italy, families tend to celebrate on Christmas day with a midday dinner based on some type of roast meat. And perhaps the most common dolce (dessert) – especially in the north, since it originated in Milano – is panettone – this sweet fruit cake absolutely, ‘rigorosamente’ must be a part of the meal.
And finally, many claim that southerners are bigger ‘mangioni’ than northerners– m’boh! Seems to me like both do some pretty serious face-stuffing (abbuffare)!

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