Do you want to speak like an Italian native? Below, Italian teacher Giulio G. shares the five most common Italian pronunciation mistakes and how to avoid them…
Italian is a relatively phonetic language, which means that almost each grapheme corresponds to a singular phoneme. In other words, the Italian language is spoken as it is written.
Thanks to this characteristic of the language, it is easy to learn proper Italian pronunciation just by knowing the alphabet. However, there are still some letters and combinations that may be difficult to pronounce, especially for students who are just beginning to learn Italian.
Below we explore the five most common Italian pronunciation mistakes and how you can avoid them.
1. The Letter C
The first common mistake that many beginner students make is related to the letter C, as this tricky consonant can have a hard or soft sound.
Proper Pronunciation of Hard C
The sound of a hard C, which precedes the vowels A, O and U, is pronounced as a /k/, as in the English word “car.” Common Italian words with this type of sound are:
- cane (dog)
- cosa (thing)
- cultura (culture)
Proper Pronunciation of Soft C
The sound of a soft C, which precedes the vowels E and I, is pronounced as a /Ch/, as in the English word “chair.” Common Italian words that have this particular sound are:
- cena (dinner)
- cibo (food)
Exception: If the C is followed by an ‘he’ or an ‘hi,’ it has a hard sound, meaning that the /Ch/ has to be pronounced as a /K/.
2. The Letter G
The letter G is another problematic consonant. Its pronunciation essentially follows the exact same rules of the letter C, in that it has both a hard and soft sound.
Proper Pronunciation of Hard G
G has a hard sound if it is followed by the vowels A, O and U. The sound of the Italian hard G is the same of the G in the English word “game.” Examples of Italian words that contain a hard G sound are:
- gatto (cat)
- gola (throat)
- gusto (taste)
Proper Pronunciation of Soft G
G has a soft sound if it is followed by the vowels E or I. This sound is the same as the J in the English word “journey.” Some examples of common Italian words containing the soft G are:
- giraffa (giraffe)
- gelato (ice cream)
Exception: If the G is followed by ‘he’ or ‘hi,’ it has a hard sound.
3. The Letter Combination ‘Gli’
The letter combination ‘gli’ is one of the most difficult sounds to pronounce. Beginner students, who are not familiar with the Italian language, mistakenly pronounce it as the English word “glee.”
However, ‘gli’ has a soft sound, not a hard one. The best way to perfect your pronunciation of ‘gli’ is to say the English name “Lee,” but, instead of touching your teeth with the tip of your tongue, you have to position the central part of your tongue on your palate.
4. The Letter Combination ‘Gn’
The fourth common Italian pronunciation mistake is related to the sound ‘gn.’ This letter combination is present also in the English language; however, in Italian, it is pronounced in a totally different way. Essentially, the ‘gn’ sound in Italian is pronounced as ‘ny’ in the English word “canyon.”
5. Double Consonants
Last but not least, the final Italian pronunciation mistake that beginner students make is not pronouncing double consonants. Unlike in English, you must pronounce a double consonant in Italian, utilizing more energy and giving more length to the sound.
For example, the words capelli (hair) and cappelli (hats) are pronounced in two different ways. To pronounce the word cappelli, it’s necessary to put more energy into saying the consonant P.
If this proves to be difficult for you, another possible solution is to pronounce the consonants separately without pausing too much. For example, try pronouncing cappelli as “kap-pel-lee.”
Let’s face it: The proper pronunciation of Italian words can be difficult. However, you now have the tools to help you, so you can continue to practice and eventually perfect your speaking skills!
Photo by Michael Foley