Mastering Italian pronunciation is often the hardest thing about learning Italian. Don’t get discouraged if you’re having a hard time pronouncing words and phrases as it takes time and a lot of practice to get it right. Below, Italian teacher Delilah B. provides some tips on how to speak like a native Italian…
A lot of students ask me what is the best and easiest way to pronounce Italian words. While Italian pronunciation can be difficult for beginners, it’s actually quite easy to pick up once the rules are understood. All it takes is some practice and perseverance!
Italian is a phonetic language, which means it’s spoken the way it’s written. Luckily, Italian and English share the Latin alphabet; however, the sounds represented by the letters often differ. As a native Italian speaker, I would like to share a few tips with students who want to improve not only their grammar, but also their Italian pronunciation.
In Italian, the consonants B, F, M, N, L, T, and V are pronounced the same as there are in English. The following consonants, however, are pronounced slightly different. Read the examples below and practice saying the consonants out loud, making sure to concentrate on the pronunciation of each letter.
- C before a, o, u and consonants is pronounced like the k in “kite,” whereas c before e and i is pronounced like the ch in “chin.”
- G before a, o, and u and consonants is pronounced like the g in “good,” whereas g before e and i is pronounced like the g in “generous.”
- Gli is pronounced like the y in “yes,” and Gn is pronounced like the ny in word “canyon.”
- H is silent.
- P is pronounced almost the same as it is in English, but without the aspiration.
- Qu is always pronounced like the qu in “question.”
- R is pronounced with a roll of the tongue similar to Spanish.
- Initial S before vowels and unvoiced consonants (c, f, p, q, s, t) is pronounced like the s in “sunburn.”
- S between vowels is pronounced like the s in “rose.”
- Z can be pronounced like the ds in “pads,” or like the ts in “bets.”
Italian has seven vowel sounds (one each for a, i and u; two each for e and o). When two or more vowels occur in a row, they’re always pronounced separately. Also, vowels (a,e,i,o,u) always retain their value in diphthongs. Below is how you would pronounce the Italian vowels. Review the list and practice saying the vowels out loud, again making sure to concentrate on the pronunciation of each vowel.
- U: sounds like the u in “rude” or the oo in “food.”
- A: sounds like the long a in “father.”
- I: sounds like the ee in “meet.”
- E: has two sounds: e (open) sounds like the e in “set,” while e (closed) sounds like the a in “say.”
- O: has two sounds: o (open) sounds like the o in “pot,” while the o (closed) sounds like the o in “post.”
Acute (á, é, í, ó, ú) and grave (à, è, ì, ò, ù) accents are used in Italian to indicate where the voice should stress when pronouncing a word. The grave accent mark is used to mark stress on open vowels, while the acute accent mark is used to stress on closed vowels. It’s important to note that there are many cases in which a grave accent is used on closed vowels. See examples below:
Grave accents on closed vowels:
Hopefully, these tips will help you to better understand how to properly pronounce Italian words. In addition to taking Italian lessons, one of the best ways to learn Italian pronunciation is to have a conversation with a native speaker and listen to his or her pronunciation. Watching movies in Italian is also a great way to learn. You can find a large selection of great Italian movies with English subtitles on YouTube or you can ask your Italian teacher to provide you with some suggestions.
Delilah B. graduated from the University Federico II Napoli with an associate degree in Italian Literature. She is an Italian and violin instructor living in Culver City, CA. Learn more about Delilah here!
Photo by Ed Yourdon