If you're excited to place yourself inside a very different culture for a while (and you consider this a prime part of "vacationing") you'll want to learn a few words of Italian before you embark on your Italian adventure.
"So, Mr. Smartypants, what benefits will derive from this imposition on my life of leisure?" I hear you mumble.
Ok, lots of people consider learning the equivalent of hard labor, like turning big rocks into gravel with a little hammer. I hope you're not one of these. It's easy, really.
Learning to say, "Buon Giorno" when you enter a shop before lunch will make you seem like a very cultured American to the shopkeeper. You see, in America we're used to dealing with minimum wage workers who don't have a stake in the store's reputation or its merchandise. You could say, "get outta my face, you dingbat" to one and you'd still get a good deal on 12 dozen rolls of toilet paper.
Many of the stores in Italy are privately owned. The store is like an extension of the owner's house. The storekeeper or the offspring of the storekeeper is the one who greets you. They can like you and offer you extensive help--and even a discount--because there's no fat cat in Rome who runs 1300 stores who is proud to take the "no discounts!" stand with his underlings.
Or you can ignore the Italian shopkeeper and snake your way through the shop.
Your choice. But it only takes a few words. Buon Giorno in the morning. Buona Sera after lunch. They're reusable words. You can use them with waiters and ticket takers, too.
Learn some polite words and the world opens up to you.
I also learn some food words. Yes, you can choose restaurants in Italy that offer pictures of food so you can choose without a smidgen of language skill. But the fact that you, the tourist, are being targeted should be clue enough that you're in a place made for people who don't know or care about the quality of food.
A basic one-semester course will get you started. It will teach you the pronunciation rules. the basic verbs, and the polite words at least. You can expand this on your own when you get to Italy. For example, you can go to an open air market and look at how the food is tagged. If you want lamb you can learn all the words for the cuts of it just by gawking. Then you can use those words in a restaurant that doesn't have pictures of the food.
Incorporating Your Language Learning into Your Vacation
But here's a thought. Why not do what we did, and take a language class in Italy? Why not immerse yourself into several cultures at once?
We studied at the University per Stranieri in Perugia. No, it's not the University for Strange people, but the University for Foreigners. Classes were held in a historic palazzo just outside the Etruscan walls. A few blocks away was a restaurant serving very traditional food from the past. The owner would come around with a big loaf of bread just out of the oven and implore his customers to smell it. Then he'd break you off a piece. In just a few weeks we found ourselves deep inside the living museum that is Italy. You can't beat that.
Folks came from all over to take classes. One guy cam all the way from China on the train. So our common language had to be Italian. So we spoke it all the time. And we learned from it even when we weren't in class.
We signed up well in advance of our class, and they found us a great apartment in Perugia. For one month we lived like Italians. We had classmates over for dinner parties. We made use of the enormous stack of comic books other students had left in the apartment. Comic books are great when you're starting to learn a language.
If learning makes you happy, then a learning vacation like this might make you absolutely giddy with joy.