Italian General Knowledge Quiz

Are you ready to test your knowledge of Italian culture and history? Here are 19 tricky questions divided into 4 categories. See how many you can get right. We’ll publish the answers next week

A sculpture by Bruno Banana?

A sculpture by Bruno Banana?


1. Which contemporary Italian sculptor, famous for his bronze spheres, is named after a fruit?

2. What was the nickname of the composer of Le Quattro Stagioni?

3. Who was the pizza Margherita named after and why?

4. Several Italian female first names are taken from flowers. Name at least 5

5. A number of Italian male names end with the letter ‘a’. Name at least 5

6. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines ‘volt’ as “the standard unit used to measure how strongly an electrical current is sent around an electrical system”. Too complicated for me! Where does the name for this unit of measurement come from?


7. Which important treaty was signed in Rome on the 25th of March 1957 by six European countries, and why was it created?

8. Which pre-Roman culture invented the stone arch?

9. In 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi lead a group of volunteers, known as I Mille, to conquer il Regno delle Due Sicilie in the south of Italy. Where did the landing take place?

10. Which victory does the colonna Traiana (Trajan’s column) celebrate?

11. One of Italy’s biggest cities, it was founded by the Greeks in the 8th century BC and takes its modern day name from the Greek for ‘new city’. What is it called?


12. Which is the longest river in Italy?

13. Which is the highest mountain in Italy?

14. What is the name of the mountain range that forms the dorsal spine of Italy?

15. In which geographical area of Italy is most rice cultivated?


16. In which church can you admire Il Cenacolo di Leonardo Da Vinci (Da Vinci’s Last Supper)?

17. Which famous Italian villa, with its impressive array of fountains, nymphs, and grottoes, inspired some of Liszt most famous piano works.

18. Once upon a time it was the capital city of the western Roman Empire. What is its name, and which works of art is it famous for?


19. He was described by the chronicler Giovanni Villani as “the most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature”. Who painted the influential medieval frescoes shown in the photo above?


Poetry in Spanish: Borges and Cortázar

These days we celebrate the anniversary of Jorge Luis Borges’s and Julio Cortázar’s birthdays, in 1899 and 1914, respectively. If you are not familiar with these names, you should run to the closest bookstore and grab any of their books (personally, I recommend El aleph and Historias de cronopios y de famas). They are the most famous Argentine writers of the twentieth century. Borges is one of the main representatives of postmodern literature, albeit with a Baroque twist, while Cortázar is rather difficult to categorize but could also fit under the same label.

They both wrote short stories and have changed the genre in Spanish. Borges wrote as if literature was a branch of philosophy, while Cortázar, as translator of Edgar Alan Poe, respected a classic structure in the realm of the fantastic. Cortázar also wrote novels, which Borges never tried, and both wrote poetry in very different fashions. Both writers worked on purpose on making the Argentine variant of Spanish a literary language.

There has always been a kind of rivalry between readers of Borges and readers of Cortázar. Here you have a couple of poems by them to check out their styles and decide which suits your taste better.

El enamorado / The Lover (The admirer)


Borges went blind as he grew old. This picture is from 1976.

Lunas, marfiles, instrumentos, rosas,
lámparas y la línea de Durero,
las nueve cifras y el cambiante cero,
debo fingir que existen esas cosas.

Debo fingir que en el pasado fueron
Persépolis y Roma y que una arena
sutil midió la suerte de la almena
que los siglos de hierro deshicieron.

Debo fingir las armas y la pira
de la epopeya y los pesados mares
que roen de la tierra los pilares.

Debo fingir que hay otros. Es mentira.
Sólo tú eres. Tú, mi desventura
y mi ventura, inagotable y pura.

Moons, ivories, instruments, roses,
lamps and the line of Dürer,
the nine figures and the variable zero,
I shall pretend that these things exist.

I shall pretend that in the past they were
Persepolis and Rome and that fine
sand measured the fate of the crenel
that the centuries of iron undid.

I shall pretend the arms and the pyre
of the epic and the heavy seas
that gnaw from the pillars of the Earth.

I shall pretend there are others. It’s a lie.
Only you are. You, my misfortune
and my fortune, inexhaustible and pure.


Una carta de amor / A Love Letter

Cortázar could only grow his beard when he was over 50.

Cortázar could only grow his beard when he was over 50.

Todo lo que de vos quisiera
es tan poco en el fondo
porque en el fondo es todo como un perro que pasa, una colina,esas cosas de nada, cotidianas,
espiga y cabellera y dos terrones,

el olor de tu cuerpo,
lo que decís de cualquier cosa,
conmigo o contra mía,

todo eso es tan poco
yo lo quiero de vos porque te quiero.

Que mires más allá de mí,
que me ames con violenta prescindencia
del mañana, que el grito
de tu entrega se estrelle
en la cara de un jefe de oficina,

y que el placer que juntos inventamos
sea otro signo de la libertad.

Everything I’d want from you
is finally so little
because finally it’s everything like a dog going by,
or a hill,
those meaningless things, mundane,
wheat ear and long hair and two lumps of sugar,
the smell of your body,
whatever you say about anything
with or against me,all that which is so little
I want from you because I love you

May you look beyond me,
may you love me with violent disregard
for tomorrow, let the cry
of your coming explode
in the boss’s face in some office,

and let the pleasure we invent together
be one more sign of freedom.


Understanding vague expression of Japanese

One of the main characteristics of Japanese~



photo from gullevek on


Japanese can be such a vague language, where in our grammar, verb is always at the end. Compared to English, this can be something frustrating if you are new to speaking or reading Japanese. I often listen to my friends explain something and in my mind, thinking, “what do you really want to say?”…

The thing is, in Japanese, we often do not make ourselves too clear, because that is way too straight forward and might offend the person you are talking to. This is especially true, if you are speaking to a customer or someone who might be in higher status.

So, with this said, let me tell you some of the expressions that might sound way too straight forward. (you might want to try avoiding these expressions in Japanese…)

1.Dakara ittayone?(だから言ったよね? だから いったよね。)==> I told you so, didn’t I?

This sounds really mean, actually. “Dakara(だから)” in general is not a nice word to say at any times.

Instead use==> Sou itteoita to omouno desuga (そう 言っておいたと 思うのですが。そう いっておいたと おもうのですが。)



2.Mou yamete moraema senka? (もう やめて もらえませんか?)==> Could you just stop it?

Although this might sound not too rude, it is pretty straight forward, telling the person not to do it again.

Instead use==> Mou, yamete itadaki tai nodesuga.(もう やめて いただきたい のですが。)

The use of the expression, ~desuga (~ですが)is such a great way of making things unclear=not to sound too straight forward. This is pretty handy where you can apply in many places.



3.Asu itte kudasai.(明日、行ってください。あす いって ください。)==> Please go there tomorrow.

This does not sound too bad, depending on the way you say it, if you were to say this softly, it will be ok, but if you want to soften this, try

Asu itte kudasai mase (明日、行ってくださいませ。あす いって くださいませ。)

By adding “mase(ませ)” right at the end, you can definitely soften the expression..


So, you might get frustrated occasionally due to the way Japanese sounds, but this is one of the characteristics of Japanese language, which I don’t think it’s too bad… What do you think?


Gotta Catch ’em All! Pokémon Names in French

While current articles are stating that Pokémon Go usage has been decreasing, it’s no secret that this active game has been on everyone’s phones since July. Walk down the street at 2 in the morning and you’ll find Pokémon trainers. See a large group of people walking around together with their noses buried in their phones? Probably catching some Pokémon. I’ve managed to avoid the addiction, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been talked into doing it for my friends while they were driving (safety first).

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

When the game was first released, 90s kids rejoiced in celebration. A new Independence Day movie, a Clinton running for office, and Pokémon was highly relevant again – it’s a return to childhood for my generation! (I’ve also heard Surge soda has been rerelased, but I have yet to see this elixir of the gods in stores around me). One of my favorite things about learning French was (and still is, I should say) rediscovering things I grew up with. While I was reading the Harry Potter series and learning all about muggles and Hogwarts, kids in France were having the same experience, but with des Moldus and Poulard.

In addition to Potter, I’ve also relearned Disney songs in French. Tap into the knowledge you already have – it really does help with your foreign language skills. Despite that, I realized I’d never learned Pokémon terms in French. Some of the terms and names are certainly the same, but do you know who Chétiflor is? Read on to find out!

Ah, Pokémon – those pocket monster animals that live in harmony with humans but that possess special abilities normal animals don’t have. I love my pets, but they can’t spit fire or produce electricity. Pour attraper les Pokémon (To catch Pokémon – note that there is no S on the plural, just like if you’re pluralizing last names in French), you need to have une Poké Ball to keep them in. Once you have a few of them, you can organiser des combats entre les monstres (organize fights with the monsters). Chaque dresseur Pokémon (Each Pokémon trainer – feminine form is une dresseuse) voyage à travers le monde (travels throughout the world) to catch the highest amount of monsters possible.  The ultimate goal is to become un Maître Pokémon (Pokémon Master). Ok, enough with the gross oversimplifications, let’s get on to the characters!

After 6 generations, there are more than 700 of these creatures. For this post, though, I’m only going to focus on la première génération (the first generation). Which is your favorite?

Bulbizarre Bulbasaur Rondoudou Jigglypuff
Herbizarre Ivysaur Grodoudou Wigglytuff
Florizarre Venusaur Nosferapti Zubat
Salamèche Charmander Nosferalto Golbat
Reptincel Charmeleon Mystherbe Oddish
Dracaufeu Charizard Ortide Gloom
Carapuce Squirtle Rafflésia Vileplume
Carabaffe Wartortle Paras Paras
Tortank Blastoise Parasect Parasect
Chenipan Caterpie Mimitoss Venonat
Chrysacier Metapod Aéromite Venomoth
Papilusion Butterfree Taupiqueur Diglett
Aspicot Weedle Triopikeur Dugtrio
Coconfort Kakuna Miaouss Meowth
Dardargnan Beedrill Persian Persian
Roucool Pidgey Psykokwak Psyduck
Roucoups Pidgeotto Akwakwak Golduck
Roucarnage Pigeot Férosinge Mankey
Rattata Rattata Colossinge Primeape
Rattatac Raticate Caninos Growlithe
Piafabec Spearow Arcanin Arcanine
Rapasdepic Fearow Ptitard Poliwag
Abo Ekans Têtarte Poliwhirl
Arbok Arbok Tartard Poliwrath
Pikachu Pikachu Abra Abra
Raichu Raichu Kadabra Kadabra
Sabelette Sandshrew Alakazam Alakazam
Sablaireau Sandslash Machoc Machoc
Nidoran Nidoran♀ Machopeur Machoke
Nidorina Nidorina Mackogneur Machamp
Nidoqueen Nidoqueen Chétiflor Bellsprout
Nidoran Nidoran ♂ Boustiflor Weepinbell
Nidorino Nidorino Empiflor Victreebel
Nidoking Nidoking Tentacool Tentacool
Mélofée Clefairy Tentacruel Tentacruel
Mélodelfe Clefable Racaillou Geodude
Goupix Vulpix Gravalanch Graveler
Feunard Ninetales Grolem Golem
Ponyta Ponyta Kangourex Kangaskhan
Galopa Rapidash Hypotrempe Horsea
Ramoloss Slowpoke Hypocéan Seadra
Flagadoss Slowbro Poissirène Goldeen
Magnéti Magnemite Poissoroy Seaking
Magnéton Magneton Stari Staryu
Canarticho Farfetch’d Staross Starmie
Doduo Doduo M. Mime Mr. Mime
Dodrio Dodrio Insécateur Scyther
Otaria Seel Lippoutou Jynx
Lamantine Dewgong Élektek Electabuzz
Tadmorv Grimer Magmar Magmar
Grotadmorv Mulk Scarabrute Pinsir
Kokiyas Shellder Tauros Tauros
Crustabri Cloyster Magicaroe Magikarp
Fantominus Gastly Léviator Gyarados
Spectrum Hunter Lokhlass Lapras
Extoplasma Gengar Métamorph Ditto
Onix Onix Évoli Eevee
Soporifik Steelix Aquali Vaporeon
Hypnomade Hypno Voltali Jolteon
Krabby Krabby Pyroli Flareon
Krabboss Kingler Porygon Porygon
Voltorbe Voltorb Amonita Omanyte
Électrode Electrode Amonistar Omastar
Nœunœuf Exeggcute Kabuto Kabuto
Noadkoko Exeggutor Kabutops Kabutops
Osselait Cubone Ptéra Aerodactyl
Ossatueur Marowak Ronflex Snorlax
Kicklee Hitmonlee Artikodin Articuno
Tygnon Hitmonchan Électhor Zapdos
Excelangue Lickitung Sulfura Moltres
Smogo Koffing Minidraco Dratini
Smogogo Weezing Draco Dragonair
Rhinocorne Rhyhorn Dracolosse Dragonite
Rhinoféros Rhydon Mewtwo Mewtwo
Leveinard Chansey Mew Mew
Saquedeneu Tangela    


Attrapez-les tous ! (Gotta catch ’em all!)


12 Free Online Resources for Beginning Spanish Learners

Earlier this month we released our new Beginner’s Guide to Spanish, a free resource we’ve put together to help beginning Spanish learners take their first steps along the path to Spanish fluency. For beginners who can’t get enough of free stuff, here are a few more free websites and online resources for getting started or brushing up on the basics.

Isn’t free stuff great? You won’t find many comprehensive guides like ours lying around the web without a pricetag, but thankfully, cyberspace is full of language learning nuggets and niche resources you can use to start learning Spanish without paying a peso.

free spanish resources

Photo by Frank Hebbert via Flickr under CC BY 2.0.

Even advanced learners can use a tune-up on the basics now and then, and on many of the sites listed below, you’ll find Spanish learning material appropriate not just for beginners but for learners of all levels. For beginners especially, combining a few of these resources to focus on different areas like listening comprehension, pronunciation, and grammar can make for not only a cost-efficient but also an effective and time-efficient way of getting started with Spanish.

Here are 12 of our favorite online resources for beginning Spanish learners who love learning Spanish gratis:

  1. BBC Languages

    With everything from statistical and cultural information and basic vocabulary to online TV stations and even links to help you find online or in-person courses, BBC Languages is a must-have resource for Spanish learners. Get started with the interactive video series Mi Vida Loca and expand your knowledge and vocabulary as you explore the rest of the site.

  2. 123 Teach Me

    123 Teach Me is an all-in-one resource with a verb conjugator, translator, and even a handy Spanish sentence generator to help you see words and phrases in context. Check out their free self-study courses for a slightly more structured approach to getting your feet wet.


    Learning with games is one of the most effective, engaging, and natural ways to learn a language. Start by picking a beginner topic like animals or clothes, and follow the games through until your final quiz.

  4. Youtube

    Youtube is not only home to countless channels devoted to learning Spanish and other languages, but also things like clips of children’s shows and video tutorials for perfecting your pronunciation. Don’t forget to check out the Transparent Spanish YouTube channel, where we share instructional videos geared towards learners of all levels!


    As we’ve pointed out before, you should definitely be watching TV for language learning. is there for Spanish learners to do just that, with clips and videos for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners to get a feel for the language spoken naturally at near-real life speed.

  6. Streema

    There are plenty of places to find shows in your target language online, but Streema is one of the best. With TV and radio from over one hundred countries worldwide, just click on the name of a Spanish-speaking country, kick back, and tune in to what’s on local TV. One of Streema’s added benefits is that if you’re learning a particular regional dialect of Spanish, you can easily choose to watch TV from countries in that region.

  7. News in Slow Spanish

    Watching the news in Spanish is a great way to fine-tune your listening comprehension and stay abreast of current events, but getting through an evening update can be challenging for beginners. The people at News in Slow Spanish know this too, which is why they’ve recorded sound clips of newscasts in slower, more carefully articulated European and Latin American Spanish intended for beginners, alongside handy transcriptions for you to read along with.

  8. Sounds of Speech

    It’s important to learn early how to pronounce unfamiliar speech sounds in your target language. The International Phonetic Alphabet (or IPA) is one of the best ways to crack Spanish consonants and get your mouth around Spanish vowels, and the University of Iowa’s Sounds of Speech website is the perfect tool for doing so. Click on sounds and experiment with the interactive diagram that demonstrates exactly how the various parts of your mouth move to produce different sounds in Spanish, and incidentally learn a bit of Spanish phonetics vocabulary along with it!


    There’s no substitute for actually speaking and using a language you’re learning. Sites like are replete with Spanish speakers hoping to exchange their mother tongue with native speakers of English or other world languages–if you sign up today, you’ll likely have a Skype date with your new language exchange partner before the week’s over!

  10. Wikitravel Phrasebooks

    Traveling to learn a language is a time-tested language learning strategy, and probably the most exciting one as well. Check Wikitravel’s Spanish phrasebook for an extensive guide to the phrases you’ll need handy for your Latin American backpacking trip or walking the Camino de Santiago.

  11. Couchsurfing

    Even if you don’t plan on hitting the road, social travel networks like Couchsurfing are bursting with speakers of nearly any language you can imagine, but especially big world langauges like Spanish. Sign into Couchsurfing and check for language exchange events in your area, or do a quick search for Spanish-speaking users in your city.

  12. Workaway

    One of the many ways to immerse yourself in Spanish for free, Workaway is a work exchange website where you can search odd volunteer jobs of all kinds in exchange for a room or bed and often a meal or two daily. If you thought you couldn’t afford a language immersion trip, explore sites like Workaway, HelpX, and other work exchanges, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to spend a few months earning your bed and practicing your language skills in a Spanish-speaking country.

Whether you’re just starting your language learning journey, or just a more advanced learner looking for a refresher on the basics, don’t let money become an excuse to go another year without starting on or improving your Spanish. Choose your favorites of the resources listed here, and be sure to download our free Beginner’s Guide to Spanish to use alongside them as your go-to resource for all things beginning Spanish!