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La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language [Paperback]

Dianne Hales
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 20 2010
“Italians say that someone who acquires a new language ‘possesses’ it. In my case, Italian possesses me. With Italian racing like blood through my veins, I do indeed see with different eyes, hear with different ears, and drink in the world with all my senses…”

A celebration of the language and culture of Italy, La Bella Lingua is the story of how a language shaped a nation, told against the backdrop of one woman’s personal quest to speak fluent Italian.

For anyone who has been to Italy, the fantasy of living the Italian life is powerfully seductive. But to truly become Italian, one must learn the language. This is how Dianne Hales began her journey. In La Bella Lingua, she brings the story of her decades-long experience with the “the world’s most loved and lovable language” together with explorations of Italy’s history, literature, art, music, movies, lifestyle, and food in a true opera amorosa—a labor of her love of Italy.

Throughout her first excursion in Italy—with “non parlo Italiano” as her only Italian phrase—Dianne delighted in the beauty of what she saw but craved comprehension of what she heard. And so she chose to inhabit the language. Over more than twenty-five years she has studied Italian in every way possible: through Berlitz, books, CDs, podcasts, private tutorials and conversation groups, and, most importantly, large blocks of time in Italy. In the process she found that Italian became not just a passion and a pleasure, but a passport into Italy’s storia and its very soul. She offers charming insights into what makes Italian the most emotionally expressive of languages, from how the “pronto” (“Ready!”) Italians say when they answer the telephone conveys a sense of something coming alive, to how even ordinary things such as a towel (asciugamano) or handkerchief (fazzoletto) sound better in Italian.

She invites readers to join her as she traces the evolution of Italian in the zesty graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, in Dante’s incandescent cantos, and in Boccaccio’s bawdy Decameron. She portrays how social graces remain woven into the fabric of Italian: even the chipper “ciao,” which does double duty as “hi” and “bye,” reflects centuries of bella figura. And she exalts the glories of Italy’s food and its rich and often uproarious gastronomic language: Italians deftly describe someone uptight as a baccala (dried cod), a busybody who noses into everything as a prezzemolo (parsley), a worthless or banal movie as a polpettone (large meatball).

Like Dianne, readers of La Bella Lingua will find themselves innamorata, enchanted, by Italian, fascinated by its saga, tantalized by its adventures, addicted to its sound, and ever eager to spend more time in its company.

Frequently Bought Together

La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language + Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best + La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind
Price For All Three: CDN$ 41.59

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“A praiseworthy feature of La Bella Lingua is the way Hales peppers her narrative with hundreds of Italian words, idioms, and figures of speech—all chosen with gusto and brio and clearly translated into English—to introduce readers to the sonic and semantic seraglio that is the Italian language. A separate chapter on ‘Irreverent Italian’ highlights la parolaccia, the earthy lexicon of invective and jocular sensuality that contemporary Italians imbibe with their mother’s milk but foreign students of Italian rarely get to savor.” —Peter D’Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish, authors of Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World

“Dianne Hales is just about pitch perfect as she weaves the engaging story of her innamoramento with Italian, hitting the high notes of Italian culture...
a lovely, touching tribute to the many fine civilizing gifts that Italy has shared with the world. Any smart traveler to Italy would want to read La Bella Lingua.
It’s not only readable and engaging but informative about things not easily found in guidebooks and common tourist materials.” —Julia Conaway Bondanella & Peter Bondanella, authors and editors of The Italian Renaissance Reader, Italian Cinema, and the Cassell Dictionary of Italian Literature

“An impassioned student, Dianne Hales takes us along on her delightful pilgrimage to the speaking heart of Italy. The rhythmic beat she comes to feel and love teaches her how to live, in beautiful and idiomatic Italian, ‘a language as rich in flavors and varieties as Italian cooking.’ The reading pilgrim’s reward is this delicious feast of a book, a strong mix of cultural and spoken treasure.” —Susan Cahill, author of Desiring Italy and The Smiles of Rome

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Dianne Hales is a widely published journalist and health writer. She lives with her family in Marin County, California. You can find out more about Dianne at her Web site ( or and on Facebook.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book on a wonderful subject July 23 2010
I have always thought there should be more books about the love of languages and how people come to love them and use them. What "La Bella Lingua" contains in addition to this is bits of information about history and culture - about how Italy and Italians came to be and how they live and lived. Dianne talks about Italian literature - important Italian writers like Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch - in such a way that it made me want to delve into their works too.

Dianne writes about her love for Italian opera and Italian cinema. One of her Italian teachers once told her that there are 2 ways to speed up your Italian learning: 1)Get an Italian lover or 2)Watch Italian movies. She chose the 2nd option, so anyone who doesn't know much about Italian cinema will likely enjoy reading about the movies she's watched and bits about the history of Italian cinema.

I liked that there were Italian words scattered throughout the book (with English translations of course)- there are expressions and slang, including how Italians curse. Even if you don't use the vulgar words, it's still a good idea to know what you might end up hearing in the streets if you decide to go to Italy.

Of course, Italian food and the importance of it to Italians (and well- other parts of the world too) is talked about. The way she describes the kind of food her Italian friends cooked for her in Italy makes me want to go there myself and try "real Italian food" made in Italy. It's easy to see how important it is to Italians to "eat well" and to not eat alone- there are many sayings related to food and eating with company.

It makes sense that there's a chapter about love - Dianne claims that love is indeed "lovelier" in Italy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  94 reviews
67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for Italian language lovers May 12 2009
By Michelle Fabio, Bleeding Espresso - Published on
For anyone who has been enchanted by the always beautiful, often frustrating Italian language and tried to grasp its basics as well as its intricacies, Dianne's tales will not only ring true but also comfort you.

From obscure word etymologies to entertaining anecdotes, La Bella Lingua will keep you turning pages, nodding along in agreement, laughing, and even learning--I picked up quite a few new words myself even though I've been living in Italy for six years now.

And Dianne's writing? A sheer pleasure. Truly.

La Bella Lingua is a *must* for any lover of the Italian language and assolutamente warrants five espresso cups out of five.

~ Michelle Fabio
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Italian Vacation in a book June 29 2009
By V. X. KIRSCH - Published on
When I saw this book, I wanted to read it right away. I did so and as a result, I have fallen even more in love with the italian language.
When I was a student in Firenze years ago, before I knew much of the language, I used to read billboards and ads and think that the italian words were the most beautiful that I had ever seen without knowing what they meant.
This book covers all aspects of the language from historic to artistic to poetic to the not so poetic! I learned so much in every chapter that I hated to see it end. This book will take you on a memorable voyage over the landscape of what is truly the world's most beautiful language.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grazie, Sra Hales! June 21 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on
As a languishing adult student of Italian, I am grateful for Sra Hales' book and envious of her linguistic and cultural accomplishments. Her enjoyment of all things Italian both in Italy and her native San Francisco area are generously shared with the reader.
There are two improvements I would like to see in the next edition: More translations - a fair number of words weren't translated and, if possible, a glossary.
I would also love a well-spoken unabridged audio version.
PS. I've added Mastroianni's I Remember DVD to my Netflix list.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravissima! Sept. 1 2009
By Linda Blondis - Published on
I loved every minute of reading and thinking about this book.I bought an additional copy to lend to friends, because I want to keep my autographed copy. But a caveat: Dianne and I were both members of a fiction writing workshop. Dianne was a wonderful reader and great critic, working to make everyone's writing better. And despite her protestations, she wrote an elegant novel that was inbued with all things Italian and created living, breathing characters. I never told her, but I was always jealous of her felicity with the language. I was thrilled when I learned that she wrote La Bella Lingua.

It has exceeded all my expectations. As a lover of romantic languages and the opera, I would have been happy had the book only been about Dianne's adventures with the language. But it is far more than that. It is a wonderful tapestry woven from well researched history or the Italian peninsula and personal anecdotes, with a charming narrative voice, as though you were having a glass of wine with a good friend who was telling you stories. Dianne creates real, recognizable people, even if they died four hundred years ago. I found myself laughing out loud many times.

Dianne manages a mountain of research and wisely divides the book into areas like the history of Europe; art; music; architecture; cuisine; film. and my personal favorite, what we would call swear words. There is so much material, but she deals with it with humor, while always focusing on the human aspect.
I learned an amazing amount. Who knew that there was an important female Renaissance poet, for example? I can no longer impress my friends by explaining with Viva Verdi meant during and immediately after his lifetime, now that Dianne has explained it.

I loved the tone of the book and the fact that Dianne gently pokes fun of her own linguistic gaffes. I'll Always remember Signor Domani Mattina from Milano. Everyone who has ever dared speak a language other than his native one has made similar mistakes. This stops a lot of people from ever trying. As Dianne illustrates, just keep going; laugh at your own
mistakes, and think of them as material for future stories.

I've studied both French and Italian for years, but have developed nowhere near the mastery which Dianne has with Italian .I even studfied at some of the same schools, but it just didn't take with me. I think this fascinating and eminently readable book should be taught in Italian courses, as well as courses in Western Civilization, and art. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys good storytelling and learning about another cradle of civilization.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "great little stories about fascinating people and places" June 10 2009
By Rhonda Anderson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Don't dismiss La Bella Lingua by thinking it's only for people who are interested in learning Italian. I don't speak Italian and frankly have no interest in learning it but what has been pure pleasure for me is reading about the origins of the language and history of Italian. This book is for readers who consume great little stories about fascinating people and places. It's about the joy of life that Italians have shared with all cultures over the centuries but it's never been written about like this before. Dianne Hales is my BFF so I've had a ton of rollicking fun along the way watching Dianne as she follows her passion. In Mill Valley we enjoy wine, food and laughter but in Italy with her husband, Bob, they roll up the rugs and share the dance floor at 3am. After each trip to Italy she shares the adventures of her "other life" with me. With La Bella Lingua, she shares these adventures with the readers. The book reminds me of the way history used to be passed from generation to generation - story telling and history lesson all in one delicious book that you won't want to put down. This is my 2009 gift book.
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