English is not as widely spoken in Italy as it is in some other European nations. Of course, in the main tourist centres you can get by, but in the countryside and south of Rome you'll need to master a few basic phrases, particularly when interacting with older generations. This will improve your experience no end, especially when ordering in restaurants, some of which have no written menu.

Courses

Italian language courses are run by private schools and universities throughout Italy. Rome and Florence are teeming with schools, while most other cities and major towns have at least one. For a list of language schools around the country, see Saena Iulia (www.saenaiulia.it); click on 'Schools in Italy'.

Università per Stranieri di Perugia (www.unistrapg.it) The well-established and reasonably priced programs make this Italy's most famous language school for foreigners. Aside from standard language courses, the school also runs themed, practical courses ranging from art history and ceramics to Italian cuisine and opera.

Università per Stranieri di Siena (www.unistrasi.it) A well-regarded program in one of Italy's most beautiful medieval cities.

Italian Foreign Ministry (www.esteri.it) Publishes a list on its website of the 83 worldwide branches of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (IIC), a government-sponsored organisation promoting Italian culture and language. An excellent resource for studying Italian before you leave or finding out more about language learning opportunities in Italy. Locations include Australia (Melbourne and Sydney), the UK (London and Edinburgh), Ireland (Dublin), Canada (Toronto and Montreal), and the USA (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington, DC). Click on 'Foreign Policy', then 'Culture Diplomacy' and 'The Network of Italian Cultural Institutes'.