Italian Pronunciation: Tricks of the Trade
Learning pronunciation in a new language is often intimidating and making sounds you are unfamiliar with isn’t too comfortable. Italian is no different. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it until it becomes second nature. But have no fear, we’ll go over some of the basics of Italian pronunciation in this post to familiarize you with the language.
The Rules of Italian Pronunciation
The good news is that Italian has exactly the same alphabet as English. The bad news, however, is that not all letters are pronounced the same. There are also more phonetic sounds in Italian than there are letters.
Many students feel uninspired when they have to learn rules because with rules come more rules (although there are some exceptions). Thankfully, since Italian is a so-called phonetic language, it’s not too difficult to predict how a word is going to sound when you look at the way in which it’s written.
By learning the basic rules of pronunciation, you’ll also be able to easily read Italian, even if you may not understand every word.
Common Pronunciation Mistakes and Problems in Italian
Many students struggle with double consonants (i consonanti doppie). The concept is unusual and from a linguistic point of view, redundant. Fortunately, the pronunciation of double consonants is really not that difficult as long as you remember that parts of the word are spoken longer. If you express double consonants “too fast”, the listener may misunderstand you.
Another difficulty with Italian is the stress, in terms of pronunciation (not the type of stress you go through when you’ve lost your phone). The majority of Italian words are stressed on the second-to-last syllable. For example, a word with an accent on the last vowel such as città is where the stress falls.
You may find that Italian is actually easier to pronounce than other European languages such as French. Unfortunately, just like French, Italian words may have silent letters, which may make you confused. For example, the letter “h” doesn’t have to be pronounced. If you look at the conjugations of the verb avere, such as ho, hai, ha, and hanno, the “h” isn’t pronounced.
Another letter that doesn’t have to be pronounced is “g”; it can either sound differently throughout different words (depending on the surrounding letters) or remain silent in the cluster of consonants. For example, “gi” is a plural form of the article “lo” and appears on its own in numerous words. It is pronounced like “lli”, as found in“millionaire” for instance.
Last but not least, be careful with the pronunciation of common Italian words, even though you may have heard them numerous times (whether in movies or from famous quotes). The actual pronunciation of Italian food and beverages, for instance, may be completely different to what you’re used to.
My tip is pretty obvious: trust the Italians on how to pronounce their own words. It’s espresso, not expresso and in the word bruschetta “sch” is pronounced as “k” and there’s a double “t”, which should be audible. LingQ’s library has an enormous amount of content, including Italian audio which can help you with your pronunciation.
Sounding Like a Native Speaker
You probably want to sound as close to native fluency as possible, right? It’s a praiseworthy goal, but you should be aware that it’s not easy to achieve. Unless you live in a specific part of Italy for a prolonged period of time and put constant effort into studying, you may never end up sounding like someone who was born and raised there, but that’s OK. As long as you are understood that’s all that counts.
Getting fixated on small pronunciation details may hinder your studying. In the future, a bit of an accent can actually be a useful icebreaker and a conversation starter in social situations.
Some More Tips
Start learning by first pronouncing words and then move on to phrases and sentences. You can record yourself to check whether everything sounds like you’d like it to. The pronunciation of singular sounds is important but so is the stress and intonation, which gives the language its melody. You can try repeating whole dialogues from recordings or movies. A good idea is learning the lyrics of your favourite Italian songs. Singing along is a fun way of practicing pronunciation.
Finally, be aware that learning a language is a long process and mastering pronunciation is just a part of it. Don’t beat yourself up when you think you’ve already covered something but later on, you forget it. Learning a language is tough but with enough diligence, it’s achievable and will give you new opportunities.
Magdalena Osiejewicz-Cooper has lived in Bologna and Palermo. Apart from Italian, she speaks fluent Polish and French. She is currently self-studying Spanish.
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