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Italian pronunciation

Today’s mission is to improve your Italian pronunciation and to help you learn the Italian alphabet. This will get you up and running and ready for perfecting your pronunciation of Italian words.

Are you ready to get started? Here we go!

Italian is such an easy language to speak. It is phonetic, which means that as long as you memorize the sounds of each letter, you can read ANY word!

You can form almost every sound in Italian using English sounds that you already know. Look at the Italian alphabet below.

a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z

As you can see, it looks exactly like the English one! However, the letters J, K, W, X and Y are rare in Italian. You’ll find them most commonly used for loanwords - that is, words borrowed from other languages.

You can find a list providing the pronunciation of each letter of the alphabet individually at the end of this lesson. This can be handy to practice with in case you ever need to spell out your name!

For now, let's move on to talking about some very important letters: the ones that sound the most different from English.

Letters With Different Sounds

The following letters are ones you should keep an eye out for as you're starting to learn Italian because they won't necessarily sound the way you expect them to!

C and G

The letters C and G normally have a soft sound in Italian whenever they are followed by the letters E or I.

Try these sounds out now:

Practice Your Pronunciation With Rocket Record

Rocket Record lets you perfect your Italian pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!

ciao

hello

gentile

kind

When the letters C and G are followed by A, O or U, the sound becomes hard instead.

Try it out for yourself:

casa

home

cultura

culture

negozio

shop

lingua

tongue / language

SC

When the letter combination SC is followed by the letters A, O or U, the sound is hard, as in the rule above.

scarpa

shoe

Be careful however when SC is followed by the letters E or I. Here, the SC changes to sound like the letters SH in English.

sciare

to ski

CH and GH

The letter H is silent in Italian, but when it comes after a C or G, it gives these letters a hard sound.

CH sounds like a “K” in English:

occhio

eye

GH sounds like the “G” in “game”:

traghetto

ferry

R

The Italian R is a rolling R - you make it by vibrating the tip of your tongue against the top of your mouth. It can take a bit of practice to master - trying to purr like a cat helps! - but once you've got it, you've got it for life.

Listen to the examples and try to repeat them out loud.

rana

frog

amare

to love

If you're having trouble making your rolling R sound, it might help to imagine that your tongue is a flag rippling in a strong breeze. But don't be discouraged if you can't get your Italian Rs down right away! The more Italian you hear and the more you practice, the better you will become.

GLI and GN

Italian has two sounds that are unique and can take some practice to master: GLI and GN.

The GLI sounds a little bit like the “LLI” in the English word “million,” but you can also get away with pronouncing it like a “YEE” sound.

figlio

son

aglio

garlic

There are a few exceptions to this, but they are quite rare. In these cases, the GLI sound is pronounced as it is spelled.

glicerina

glycerine

negligente

negligent

The GN sound in Italian sounds a little like a “NY” sound in English.

gnocchi

gnocchi

lasagne

lasagne

legno

wood

Double Consonants

In Italian, when consonants are doubled, it creates a different sound and can change the meaning of the word entirely.

In general, the sound that double consonants make can be either more forceful or longer, depending on the word.

Here are some examples of sounds that become more FORCEFUL with double consonants.

ragazzo

boy

gatto

cat

Here are some examples of sounds that become LONGER with double consonants.

penne

pens

anno

year

Pronunciation Practice

Now that we've been through the hardest letters and letter combinations, it's time to see if you can pronounce the following words:

A

amore

love

B

bambino

baby

C

cane

dog

D

dito

finger

E

estate

summer

F

fame

hunger

G

gufo

owl

H

hotel

hotel

I

idea

idea

J

jeans

jeans

K

koala

koala

L

latte

milk

M

madre

mother

N

naso

nose

O

odore

odor / smell

P

piede

foot

Q

qualità

quality

R

rosso

red

S

sole

sun

T

terra

land / earth

U

uscita

exit

V

venerdì

Friday

W

wurstel

frankfurter

X

xenofobico

xenophobic

Y

yogurt

yogurt

Z

zio

uncle

Accent Marks

The next thing you need to learn about pronouncing words in Italian has to do with accents. Italian uses two kinds of accents:

  • the grave accent `

  • the acute accent ´

They change the way that a word is pronounced.

The grave accent can go on any vowel letter, and it has to go on vowels when they appear as the last letter in a word. The grave accent makes the vowel sound more closed, or end a little more abruptly than if the accent were not present.

libertà

liberty / freedom

caffè

coffee

sì

yes

però

however

virtù

virtue

The acute accent only goes on the letter E and makes the vowel sound more open, like “ay” in the English word “okay.”

perché

why / because

Action Replay

  • The letters J, K, W, X and Y are only used in loanwords.
  • The sounds of the letters C and G change if followed by an H.
  • The letter H is silent.
  • The letter R is rolled.
  • Double consonants can make pronunciation harder or longer.
  • The sounds GLI and GN are unique to Italian and require practice.
  • Italian uses two kinds of accents:
    • the grave accent `
    • and the acute accent ´
  • The grave accent can go on any vowel and it has to go on vowels when they appear as the last letter in a word. It makes the vowel sound more closed or shorter.
  • The acute accent only goes on the letter E and makes the vowel sound more open.

Good work! Now you can move on and have a read of this Culture lesson, where we talk about what Italy is famous for.

Culture: What is Italy Famous For?

Italy is among the most well-known countries for its rich culture, history, fashion, arts, food, architecture and more. No matter your tastes, Italy has something to offer all tourists!

History

Italian history dates back thousands of years. The peninsula and islands have been home to mighty civilizations and empires that conquered the known world. Italy is also the home of the Renaissance.

Fashion

Italy hosts some of the world’s most famous fashion shows, including Milan Fashion Week and Pitti Uomo. Italian fashion trends have become famous around the world, and modern Italians tend to dress well on many occasions.

Food

Gastronomical delights await you in Italy! With world-famous dishes such as pizza, pasta, risotto, bruschetta and more, you can’t go wrong with Italian food. Each region also has its own typical dishes which are well worth trying.

Arts

If you have a passion for the arts, whether it’s theater, opera, film or history, Italy will not disappoint! You will find an abundance of towns and cities with arts and culture on full display.

Tourism

Italy is a world-class destination and a popular country for tourists from all over the world, especially because of the importance of Rome and the Catholic Church.

Whether you’re planning your holiday or planning to work, live or study in Italy, there’s an appeal for just about anyone thanks to its superbly rich culture that spans hundreds of years. With so many claims to fame, Italy is a must-see, must-visit country!