I pity Italians who are struggling to learn English, I really do. Unfortunately, Italian discovered English quite a long time ago and the language is now littered with words which look, on first sight, English. But when English speakers hear these borrowed words, they might not always recognise them.
Let’s start with my own son’s christian name, Martin. The pronunciation should be something like the “mar” from “Mars” plus that type of metal used to make cans: “tin”. Put the two words together and you get “Martin”. Well, you would do if you were English. Italians, on the other hand, pronounce “Martin” with a rolling “r”, and the metal becomes “teen” . Then, just for good measure, and in order to ensure that the word sounds Italian, after the final consonant “n”, a soft, little “uh” is added The result is “Marrrrteenuh”. It does not sound too much like the English name, I can tell you! At times, “Martin” sounds a little like “Martina”.
The Italian Raid
On the market here, and quite a seasonal subject too, I might add, seeing as the dreaded little biters are starting to awaken and buzz around nipping everyone, is an anti-mozzy spray called “Raid”. In English, “raid” is pronounced “rayd”, however, its Italian mutation is “rrrhye-d”, and comes out closer to the English word “ride”- but with the good old rolled “r”. Oh, and I almost forgot, “spray” is an Italian word now too. Except you might not recognise it when it is said by an Italian, as “spray” transmogrifies, nimbly, into “spry”.
Want more? No problem. Contemporary Italian is teeming with words which were once English but have now been absorbed into Italian, and brands are some of the worst culprits. After “Raid”, there is “Colgate”. Do not bother attempting to ask for this brand of toothpaste using its English pronunciation here in Italy. You will be greeted by a bemused look. For “Colgate” is pronounced “col-gahta” – with the final “a” pronounced like a short version of “ay”.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
“Fruit” is another English word which is used as part of a brand name in Italy. It becomes “froooh-eat”.
The English Guzzi
At the end of the day, this contortion of English words is probably quite normal. After all, the UK pronunciation of “Moto Guzzi” can cause confusion for Italians, who will do a double-take, smile, and then say “Ah, you mean Motoh Goooh-tzy”. There is however, a problem.
When English teachers like myself attempt to teach Italians the correct way to pronounce words in English, we often have to overcome the hackneyed Italian pronunciation of the very same word. On occasion, Italians are dumbfounded to hear that the way they had been saying “raid” or “spray” for a good few years, is not too close to the way these words should be said. Indeed, they may even question the “correct” pronunciation! Why? Quite simple – because the pronunciation they are used to using often comes from television advertising. And everything we hear on TV is right, is it not?
It is no wonder some Italians find English quite a problematic language to get to grips with!
What’s your favourite contorted English word, my expat friends? Answers on a comment, if you have a spare moment.
My favourite is “jets”, which has nothing to do with aircraft, but is actually the Italian pronunciation of “jazz”!