Foundations of Italian pronunciation


On the first day of Italian 1 this semester at Butte Community College, I asked my students why they were studying Italian because I'm always curious about their primary motivation before we begin. A few of them said they were of Italian heritage, and many of them reported that they would like to travel to Italy one day. Then one student commented, "Because it is such a beautiful language with its unique cadence." I wholeheartedly agreed with him and then began the first lesson on pronunciation.

Venezia

Venezia

Here is an abridged version of what I teach in my first day of Italian 1!

The alphabet

  • A (ah)
  • B (bee)
  • C (chee)
  • D (dee)
  • E (ay)
  • F (effay)
  • G (gee)
  • H (ahkuh)
  • I (ee)
  • L (ellay)
  • M (emmay)
  • N (ennay)
  • O (oh)
  • P (pee)
  • Q (koo)
  • R (erray)
  • S (essay)
  • T (tee)
  • U (oo)
  • V (voo/vee)
  • Z (zaytuh)

The letters j, k, w, x, y are not included in the Italian alphabet.

The vowels

  • A (ah)
  • E (ay) or (eh)
  • I (ee)
  • O (oh)
  • U (oo)

The letters e and o can both have a closed or open sound.

Combining letters

  • C when followed by e ori sounds like ‘ch’ as in the word ‘church’......
  • C when followed by a, o, u or h sounds like ‘k’ as in the word ‘key’......
  • G when followed by e or i sounds like ‘j’ as in the word ‘jelly’......
  • G when followed by a, o, u, or h sounds like ‘g’ as in the word ‘gum’......
  • Sc when followed by e or i sounds like the ‘sh’ as in the word ‘shower’......
  • Sc when followed by a, o, u or h sounds like the ‘sk’ as in the word ‘scuba’......
  • S when beginning a word has a soft ‘s’ sound as in the word ‘salad’......
  • S in the middle of a word in between 2 vowels has a hard ‘z’ sound as in the word ‘zoo’ (unless there is a double ss, as in the word ‘gesso’)......
  • Z when beginning a word has a ‘dz’ sound......
  • Z in the middle of a word has a ‘ts’ sound......
  • Gn sounds like the ‘ny’ in the word canyon......
  • Gl sounds like the double ‘ll’ in million......

When the letter ‘h’ begins a word, it is silent. (The Italian word ‘ho’ is pronounced ‘oh’)......

In Ps, the p is not silent

The ‘ia’ combination has two different sounds. One is a blended sound like ‘ya’ and the other is individually enunciated ‘ee-ah’. Contrast the following words: spiaggia (blended) / farmacia (enunciated)......

The ‘io’ combination also has two different sounds. One is a blended ‘yo’ sound, and the other is individually enunciated ‘ee-oh’. Contrast the following words: gioco (blended) / radiologo (enunciated)......

Other vowel combinations:

  • ae: ah-ay
  • iu: ee-ooh
  • ai: ay-ee
  • ao: ah-oh
  • au: ah-ooh
  • ei: ay-ee

Double consonants

Rest slightly longer on the consonant sound when they are doubled. Contrast the following pairs of words:

  • sette / sete
  • sonno / sono
  • palle / pale

Accents

There are few written accents in Italian, and they will usually fall on the last vowel. The 2 types are called:

  1. accento grave: è (the vowel is pronounced with an open sound)
  2. accento acuto: é (pronounced with a closed sound)

The unwritten Italian accent usually falls on the second to last syllable of a word. There are many exceptions that you will learn as you become more familiar with the language. This placement of the accent and the fact that most words end in a vowel are what gives the Italian language its rhythmic and melodic sound.

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Written by learnitalian4travel
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