How To Get Used To Italian Pronunciation

Wow! We've just gotten started, but already we have found personal tutors (on YouTube) who are willing to teach us Italian right in our homes. We don't even have to get dressed... this is great!

Now that we've got our alphabets learned, let's take a deeper look at the sounds of letters and letter combinations, and learn a little bit about spelling. [Note: I'm going to be talking about Italian here, but this is an example of what you should be learning in any language you study.]

Here are the details I find notable about Italian pronunciation:

  • c and g - make strong sounds (/k/ and /g/ respectively) before the letters a, o, and u:
cosa is pronounced "ko-za"
gatto is pronounced "gat-to"

but have softened sounds (/cʃ/ and /dʒ/) before e, and i:

ci is pronounced "chee"
gelato is pronounced "jel-a-to"

To get the hard sounds back when using an e or an i an h has to be added:

che is pronounced "kay"
ghetto is pronounced "get-to"

This is completely backward from the an English-speaker's logic. But now that I know this rule, I'll be ready to pronounce words correctly.

  • gl and gn - when the letter g precedes the letter l, a special case exists where the g is silenced and the l or n becomes palatized.
foglio is pronounced "fo-lyo"
gniocchi is pronounced "nyo-kee"

These palatized consonants are similar to the Spanish ll and ñ, the Portuguese lh and nh, or the Russian ль and нь. These are sounds that seem to appear in most languages, but which seem to lack unique representation in alphabets.

  • z - makes the typical European /ts/ sound, rather than the /z/ sound we're accustomed to in English
pizza is pronounced "peet-tsa"
  • double consonants are elongated, with a tiny stop in the middle:
leggere is pronounced "leg-ger-reh"
caffè is pronounced "kaf-feh"
attività is pronounced "at-tiv-it-ah"
  • stress falls on the second-to-last syllable (just as in Spanish and Polish) in most cases. Most exceptions will involved an accent mark, but there are some that don't.

More or less, that's all there is to it. You should take the time to perform a similar exercise with the alphabet for whatever language you've chosen, and make note of the sounds that are new, or letters which sound different than their English equivalents.

And then... armed with your knowledge of Italian pronunciation, go find some Italian words and pronounce them! You can find them anywhere. Check out Google in your foreign language. Sound out the instructions that were included with your DVD player.

You will also be surprised when you realize that you've been saying many of these words wrong your whole life! For me, one example is pistachio - which I must now learn to say as "pees-tak-io".

What words did you find in the language you are studying that you've been saying wrong? Leave some comments and let me know!


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Author: Yearlyglot
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  • I might be writing this late and I know I am not the one making decisions but I am really kind of disappointed with your choice of going with Italian. I mean, Italian is a fine language and I intend to get better at it myself some time too but really... what hard it is to learn it when you know Spanish already?
    To me that feels too much like cheating. Sort of like as if I told that I was going to say I was going to learn skating and then I revealed that I knew roller skating already. It takes the excitement away.
    Learning a language that you do not have a good idea of already such as Greek, Chinese or Basque - now that would be a real challenge. Even with Polish/Italian I would go with Polish.
    That's why I would suggest you reconsider the decision. Or perhaps you could do a voting on this site to make you readers choose which language they want to see you learn (that would be the most fair, I guess)?
    It's, of course, your choice. I'm just saying... I will still keep subscribed to this blog whatever you decide concerning this question.
    Now as for words that I have been saying wrong: well, there are lots. I especially find a lot of those in English! Subtle things like *better* being pronounced *bedder* instead, words like possible having a pronunciation like possibəl and the plural having a [z] sounds as in *thingz*... These are things I have been finding out gradually and still do.

  • I appreciate the fact that you think it could be more of a challenge, but the reality is that most people in the United States never become fluent in *ANY* language other than English. Learning fluent Italian is still an accomplishment regardless of any insight my knowledge of Spanish may already give me... and doing it in one year will be even more of an accomplishment.
    I really can't agree, however, that it's "cheating". I'm not getting paid to do this, and I'm committing to learn a language fluently not once, but every year! And I'm trying to help others learn by doing so. If you think that's cheating, you're welcome to your opinion.
    I really wanted to choose Polish, but Italian made more sense for me this year. So I'll probably choose Polish next year. Maybe I should expect a similar comment next January, telling me that Polish is a cop-out too, since I already speak Russian. :)
    Anyhow, I'm happy that you'll be following along anyway, in spite of your disagreement. And I hope that you'll find my site useful! Thanks for commenting.

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