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Slightly Geeky Guide to

Pronouncing Italian

Without Knowing Any Italian

(Generally More Than You Actually Need To Know)

Overview

The Absolute Minimum to Remember:
CH is pronounced like our K.
C before I or E is pronounced like our CH.
The G before L or N is silent, merely softening the L or N.

Italian probably ties with Spanish as the foreign language that is easiest for Americans to pronounce recognizably.

Consonants

Italian has long and short consonants. Basically, the long ones are written double and held longer when speaking. For a digraph like CH (pronounced K), only the first letter is doubled (CCH, still pronounced K). Don't worry about it.

Most consonants are similar to English. Here are a few to pay attention to:

LetterSoundExample
C before E or ICHGucci
CH Kchianti
C elsewhereKcasa
GNNY (like Spanish Ñ)Romagna (ro-MA-nya)
GLLYModigliani (mo-di-LYA-ni)
G before E or Isoft Ggelato (djeh-LA-to)
G elsewhere (including before H)like KGucci (GU-chi)
S between vowels or before an unvoiced consonantlike English Zrosa, museo (RO-zah, moo-ZAY-oh)
SC before I or Elike English SHscienza (shee-EN-tsa = science)
ZTSpizza, piazza( (PEET-tsa, PYAT-sa)

Vowels

Italian's five written vowels are like ours, but their pronunciation is easier. There are differences between long and short vowels, but they are unlikely to bother you. In general, the following will work fine:

LetterLong Sound Short Sound
A A as in father A as in father
E A as in mate E as in met
I I as in machine I as in mint
O O as in glow O as in glow
U OO as in cool OO as in cool

When two vowels come together, they tend to glide into each other. Don't be surprised, and don't worry about it.

Stress

Stress follows rules in Italian, but they are rarely obvious from the spelling. Follow your instincts and you will be right lots of the time. If you hear somebody else do something different, go with that till you have reason to think it is wrong.

Now you know.


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