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Correct pronunciation of the Italian language
The Italian language, like any other language, has its own characteristics and difficulties.
The Italian grammar, compared to other languages, has a medium difficulty, while the pronunciation is less complicated. Most vowels and consonants always have the same pronunciation.
Making a comparison with English, the most spoken language in the world and the easiest one due to its simple grammatical construction, the 5 vowels have about twenty phonemes, while Italian has only seven. Furthermore, unlike English, if the accent of the two additional Italian phonemes (E and O closed or open) are pronounced wrong, the meaning of the word can be understood anyway.
For this reason, speaking Italian is easy. Easier than many other languages.
The fact that many Italian words are known all over the world is surely a further help. Think of these words.
Greetings: ciao, buongiorno, arrivederci
Foods: pizza, pasta, spaghetti, cappuccino, espresso, tiramisù
Food brands: Nutella, Barilla, Lavazza, Campari, Martini
Luxury cars: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati
Famous Italians: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo
Famous designers: Armani, Prada, Gucci,
Famous wines: Chianti, Prosecco, Brunello
The alphabet of the Italian language is composed of 21 letters (5 vowels and 16 consonants).
Compared to the most spoken language in the world, English, there are no letters J, K, W, X, Y.
The only Italian words where these consonants can be founded are of foreign origin, mostly from English (examples: Jazz, kit, web, pixel, yacht), and to a minimum part deriving from the Latin (for example extra). Some very few exceptions concern the common names of persons (for example Jacopo), surnames (for example Bixio), and some cities (for example Jesolo).
The 21 letters correspond to 21 graphemes (writing) and 28 phonemes (pronunciation).
The 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are expressed with 7 phonemes.
While the vowels a, o, u, always have the same open sound, the vowels e and o can have an open or closed accent.
Examples of the letter «e» with a grave and acute accent:
the conjugation to the third person singular of the verb to be «è» or the third person singular feminine «lei» has a grave accent so an open pronunciation, while the conjunction «e» and the interrogative adverb «perché» have an acute accent so a closed pronunciation.
Examples of the letter «o» with a grave and acute accent:
the color “rosa” or the number “otto” has an acute accent and therefore an open pronunciation, while the color “rosso” or the “sole” has an acute accent then a closed pronunciation.
The accent is written only if it falls into the last vowel (città, caffè, così, però, virtù).
Like in the other languages, also in Italian there are some homographic and homophonic words.
Homographic words are written in the same way but with a grave and acute accent in a vowel, they have two different meanings.
Example: la legge (a legal matter), lui legge (conjugation of the verb to read in the present of the third person singular). The number venti, the noun venti (atmospheric movement).
The homophone words are written and pronounced in the same way but can have two different meanings.
Example: il fatto (an occurrence), io ho fatto (past participle of the verb to do), una parte (a section), lui parte (third-person singular of the verb to leave
The 16 consonants are expressed with 21 phonemes.
The letters C and G can have a hard or soft sound.
Hard sound: CA-GA, CO-GO, CU-GU
If they are followed by the vowels A, O, U, they sound hard.
Examples of hard sound: CA casa, GA gatto, CO corso, GO gomma, CU cultura, GU guida
Hard sound: CHI-GHI, CHE-GHE
If the letters C and G are followed by the letter H and then by the vowels E, I, the sound is hard.
Examples of sound hard: CHI chimica, GHI ghisa, CHE chela, GHE ghetto
Soft sound: CE-GE, CI-GI
If they are followed by vowels E, I, they have a soft sound.
Examples of soft sound: CE cena, GE gelo, CI cibo, GI giro,
Note: there are no Italian words with CHA, GHA, CHO, GHO, CHU, GHU.
The soft sound is always expressed with CI, GI, CE, GE.
Examples: CIA ciao, GIA giardino, CIO cioccolato, GIO giovane, CIU ciuffo, GIU giusto
The letter C preceded by the letter S can have a hard or soft sound.
Hard sound: SCA-SGA, SCO-SGO, SCU-SGU
If they are followed by the vowels A, O, U, they have a hard sound.
Examples of hard sound: SCA scarpa, SCO scopa, SCU scuola
Hard sound: SCHE-SCHE
If the letters C and G are followed by the letter H and then by the vowels E, I, the sound is hard.
Examples: SCHE schema, SCHI schifo
Soft sound: SCI-SCE
If they are followed by vowels E, I, the sound is soft.
Examples of soft sound: SCE scena, SCI scienza
Hard sound: GLA-GLE-GLO-GLU
The letter G followed by the letter L can have a hard or soft sound.
When GL is followed by vowels A, E, O, U it always has a hard sound.
Examples: Gladiatore, inglese, gloria, glucosio.
Hard sound: GLI
Usually when GL is followed by the vowel I, it has a soft sound.
Examples: Aglio, famiglia, foglia, foglia, bottiglia.
There are exceptions with a hard GLI sound.
Examples: Glicerina, glicine, anglicano, negligente.
Soft sound: GN
The letter G followed by the letter N always has a soft sound.
Examples: sognare, ingegnere, dignitoso, cognome, ognuno.
The letter H has no pronunciation, it is useful to diversify some words with the same pronunciation but with a different meaning (“a” preposition, “ha” verb to have). In other cases, the presence of the letter H changes both the meaning and the pronunciation (“ci” pronome personale, “chi” pronome relativo).
The letters Q and K always have the same hard pronunciation as the letter C.
When the consonants are double, the pronunciation of the double consonant is lengthened.
It is appropriate to give the correct pronunciation and strengthen the double consonant to avoid misunderstandings and complicated situations.
Let’s make some examples of words that totally change meaning if the consonant is double: ano – anno, cane – canne, capelli – cappelli, caro – carro, casa – cassa, fata – fatta, nono – nonno, note – notte, pala – palla, pena – penna, peli – pelli, sete – sette, sono – sonno.
The interrogative sentence differs from the affirmative sentence by lengthening and raising the last vowel tone.
The negative sentence differs from the affirmative only with the addition of the denial “non”.
A tip: the simple division of the word into syllables facilitates the correct pronunciation.
Examples: ca-sa, la-vo-ro, stu-di-o, pen-na, al-fa-be-to, let-to, scrit-to, sor-pre-sa, fa-cil-men-te.
Istituto Il David – Italian language school – Florence