There are five main languages of the Dolomites: Italian, Friulian, Austrian, German and Ladin. Yes, there is no English among them. Find out if you can speak it during your trip to Italian Alps.
— From my seven years experience in the Dolomites I learned that not everyone knows English here.
However, you will find someone for sure who speaks English at least a little and you are likely to be understood if you will speak as simple as possible. Usually they are young people, who study English at school or university or the ones with international life, work and travel experience. Older people may knew English, too, when they were younger, but they didn’t remember it, because they don’t need it very much in a daily life and not everybody in Italy works with tourists.
So English is enough for easy communication with locals during a tourist trip. Other European languages are a big plus in the Dolomites. Sometimes you can also meet Russian-speaking travelers and local residents from the Russian speaking counties like Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, etc., in the cities like Feltre, Belluno and Trento.
People speak Italian in “Italian part of the Dolomites“: in the Veneto region and souther part of Trentino — Alto-Adige/Sudtirol region.
The main Italian word in the mountains to welcome people on the trails is “salve” (very formal “hello”). I don’t know why, but it’s the word everyone says.
There are also dialects of Italian language in Italy and the Dolomites. Sometimes they say that people are difficult to understand each other in the different villages! In Lamon, there is a dialect, too, called lamonese.
Amongst all five languages of the Dolomites, German language is useful if you’re going to the German, not Italian part of the Dolomites — in Bolzano, Corina d’Ampezzo and other cities of northern parts of the same regions.
You don’t need to worry about Ladin and Friulian languages at all. Just a few people speak these languages, comparing to Italian, German or even English. But you will see and hear them in the Dolomites.
- Friulian language is spoken in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in north-eastern Italy.
- Ladin language is the language of the Dolomites’ native people Ladins. It is spoken in the center of the Dolomites, in the world-famous valleys Alta Badia, Val Gardena, Val di Fiemme, as well as in Tre Cime di Lavoredo area.
- Austrian is just a language almost like German.
If you like Dolomites and travel here regularly or want to live here for some parts the year or to move here, I’m very recommend to learn at least basic Italian or Austrian/German languages. Or even both.
In general, Italian is easy to learn compared to French, German or Russian. Italian is spelled almost as it is said. Grammar, of course, is more difficult, but you can master it in six months of hard study.
A little later, I will write a separate article about how I learned Italian myself.
Speaking about communication with the locals, I could say, that the inhabitants of the mountains are as open, friendly and always ready to help as the inhabitants of the plain, but like all the northerners, more restrained in character and less expressive. They are more wary of strangers, especially tourists and expats/emigrants. It takes more time to make friends with locals.
I’m a Russia native, so from my point of view, in Italy and other Western countries, it is not always clear how a person really treats you, because everyone always smiles to you. It’s not customary here to be sad in public and complain about life (and in Russian speaking countries and maybe some other — it is). Meetings and farewells are easier, and daily conversations are shorter and more superficial.
However, that it may seem so only to those who do not come here from the Western countries, because of some difference in mentality, culture of communication, peculiarities of education and so on. If you are from the West, you will probably not even notice the difference in communication. Don’t worry.
For successful communication with people in the Dolomites — no matter what part of the world you come from and what language you speak — you just have to be open, sociable, respect local traditions and culture, be interested in the Dolomites sincerely and be ready not only to “take” what these mountains and its people offer you, but also give away — to share your life experience, too.
Europeans, Italians, Austrians and other inhabitants of the Dolomites are almost always interested in people of other cultures and travelers. I can say this by myself. Get acquainted and communicate first.
Cover photo: Italian cafe in a train station in Padua © Ivan Kuznetsov.