For the non–native speaker…
All Italians can read French, a very similar romance language, but are confounded by its pronunciation. They claim that what you see is what you get in Italian, while much of French is ‘unpronounced.’ In fact, an Italian friend once told me that because the French cannot cook very well, they have to eat half their words. I (Just kidding!!! ?)
How to Improve Italian Pronunciation
Knowing key italian words and sentences can help in improving pronunciation
Italians have a reputation of having strong, guttural accents. That is not because their native language is hard to pronounce but simply because they don’t always pronounce vowels. Pronouncing the vowels in spoken Italian gets rid of the difficult-to-understand accent.
Indeed, Italian is essentially a phonetic language, as long as you understand a handful of rules. Here are some keys:
- The Vowels – The pronunciation of vowels never changes – no long or short, just one way – A-E-I-O-U has pronounced AH as in baa AY as in hay EE as in bee OH as in go OO as in boo
- Double Letters – Italians are very democratic about letters in a word – every letter gets pronounced whether it needs it! To a trained Italian ear, “Lucca” and “Luca” are very different sounding. If you see two consonants, try to hang on each for a nano-second. The same goes for vowels, so that the while the words “Zoo” and “coop,” for example, in English, both consist of one syllable, in Italian, they each have two – sounds like “oh-oh” and “coh-ohp.”
- The Missing Consonants – There is no ‘k,’ ‘j’ or ‘y’ in Italian, but they are recognized (otherwise, how would they get KY Jelly?) from foreign words, which Italians love to embrace and called, respectively, “kappa” (directly from the Greek), “I lunga” (the long j) and “Ypsilon” (also directly from the Greek) or more directly “I greca” (the Greek i).
- The Golden Rule of the Cs and Gs – This is where so much of the key to Italian pronunciation pivots. The pronunciation of these two letters changes according to what they are in front of:
– When they precede a consonant or the vowels o and you, they are demanding – the C is pronounced like a K and the G is pronounced like the Gin Girl. – When in front of the vowels i or e, they become soft – C is pronounced as in Cherry and G is pronounced as in Gina, Gelato, etc. – Think of Collina, Castello, Gallo and Goal as examples of the complex sound, Ciao, Cella, Gina, Gemma as examples of the soft sounds.
The game-changer is the letter H when it intercedes between a c/g and an i/e. Consider H a consonant, or remember that ‘H’ stands for complex, so when an h comes between c/g and i/e, it makes the c/g hard. The key here is to get the Spanish pronunciation of CH as in cherry out of your mind – in Italian, CH is a K sound. So that is why in the producer’s name, Cecchi, for a great all-in-one example, the first C is soft and the second hard, but in the case (of chickpea), they are both quiet. Ghemme, the wine, is pronounced with the hard ‘G’ because of the ‘h’ between the ‘g’ and the ‘e’, while Gemme, for gems, is pronounced with the soft “G” like its English counterpart.
So remember – Bruschetta is pronounced BRUH-SKE-TAH, not bruschetta!!!