This week’s How to Learn Italian tip will help you to develop your ability to pronounce Italian words. Getting pronunciation right has several benefits: It helps others understand you, and, it helps you understand others.
In other words, good pronunciation helps you communicate more effectively in Italian. This is something I have learnt from my own learning Italian experiences.
Knowing how a word in Italian is pronounced means you will be able to recognise the same word more easily when it is used in a conversation by an Italian speaker.
While this anecdote relates to teaching English to Italian (I teach English to Italians), the same applies to others learning Italian:
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said words in English to my Italian students and they have not been able to understand the word until it is written. “Ah, you mean…” – cue the English word in question inevitably being repeated using a semi-Italian style of pronunciation.
Well, the same applies to those learning Italian. You may well be able to say the word. Take, for example the Italian name ‘Stefano‘. English speakers tend to pronounce this ‘Stef-aah-no’, not as it should be in Italian ‘Stef-un-o’. Why? Quite simple: they mix Italian and English pronunciation and emphasize the wrong piece of the word.
Italians, I have found, can be remarkably tolerant of the clumsy attempts of non-Italians to say Italian words, and, generally, can work out which word you are trying to use. However, as I’ve mentioned before, when you hear the same word said by an Italian to you, you may not recognize it because you are listening for the Anglicized version.
How can you overcome this problem?
How to Learn Italian Tip Number 5
5. Learn the Italian Alphabet
While this may sound obvious, I’m not convinced everyone bothers. Yet knowing how to say the alphabet in Italian can make it a lot easier to say Italian words. However, before showing you a couple of videos from YouTube which will help, you should know a few things.
Technically, the Italian alphabet only has 21 letters:
a b c d e f g h i l m n o p q r s t u v z
As you will hopefully already be aware, the English alphabet possesses 26.
It’s a very good idea to learn how to say all of the letters in the English alphabet in Italian – as the five ‘missing’ letters – j, k, w, x, and y – do exist in Italian, and knowing them can help you spell some of the ever increasing number of words Italian has borrowed from other languages – more often than not – from English. Some examples: jazz, hotel, lights, jolly, cash, club, and plenty more, as you will discover if you see this old chestnut: Italglish or Italglese or Engliano or Ingliano?!?!
The smokers amongst you who have tried to ask for a packet of Marlboro Lights somewhere off the beaten track in Italy will know that they may well end up with a blank stare from the other side of the counter – unless they transform Marlboro Lights into Italian!
Anyway, the real purpose of learning how to say the Italian alphabet is that it can really help you get to grips with Italian pronunciation, especially when you bear in mind that Italian is a much more phonetic language than English.
Stop reading, start speaking
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As a rule, all the letters in a pure Italian word are pronounced – even double consonants like the double ‘p’ and the double ‘L’ in ‘cappello’ (hat) – said like this kap-pel-lo – not kapel-lo – capello – which means ‘a hair’ in Italian.
Similarly to English, the letters in the Italian alphabet often have two pronunciations, and the second video here will help you understand how to say both.
First of all, watch this video two or three times and then once more trying to repeat each of the letters at the same time as the video’s presenter, pausing each section. Then keep repeating the letters until you have committed the alphabet to memory. This will in itself help you to say Italian words correctly.
Italian Alphabet Video 1 – Beginner
Basic pronunciation of all the letters in the Italian alphabet plus the extra letters which Italian has taken from the English alphabet.
Italian Alphabet Video 1 – Intermediate (and ambitious beginner!)
The same as the video above, but with more comprehensive coverage of the different pronunciations of each letter in the Italian alphabet – learn everything in this video and your pronunciation of Italian words should come on by leaps and bounds!
Other little traps are combinations like ‘c’ and ‘i’ with ‘h’ – ‘ci’ is ‘ch-ee’, but ‘chi’ is more like ‘key’, with the ‘y’ shorter than in the word ‘key’.
The letter ‘z’ is ‘zeta’, and as you will have heard, ‘ds’ or ‘ts’ in Italian.
Happy learning! And remember – patience is a virtue when learning a language, while frustration can actually be a sign of progress.
When I wandered up to a bar and ordered a coffee in Italian a few years back, I would often end up being faced by a grimace, as the person serving tried to work out what the heck I was trying to say.
Nowadays, that grimace is a relatively infrequent occurrence, thankfully – and this means my pronunciation is passable! And yes, in case you were wondering, I do speak Italian.
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Italian Level 2, Second Edition: Compehensive Compact Discs
Italian Level 3, Comprehensive: Learn to Speak and Understand Italian with Pimsleur Language Programs