If you’re learning Italian, you may have noticed that many words look similar to English. In fact, the English alphabet and the Italian alphabet share many letters.
But as far as pronunciation goes, there are lots of differences between the two languages.
In this post, we’ll take on the Italian alphabet and proper Italian pronunciation with the help of audio.
With some patience, a bit of memorizing and this guide, you’ll build a great foundation for your Italian studies. So let’s begin!
First, take a listen to the “Italian Alphabet Song” in this video:
Now, let’s break it down.
You can click on each letter in the chart to hear its Italian name. The middle column shows you its typical sound within words, which you can hear by clicking on the example word in the third column.
| calze (sock) / chilo (kilogram)
| gamba (leg) / ghepardo (cheetah)
gnocchi (a type of pasta)
|hanno (they have)
| sei (six)
| pizza (pizza)
You probably noticed that some letters of the Italian alphabet have unusual or multiple pronunciations.
These have distinct rules, presented in this table with examples:
|A hard /k/ sound when followed by A, O, U or a consonant (including H).
A soft /ch/ sound when followed by I or E.
| camicia (shirt)
|A hard /g/ sound when followed by A, O, U or most consonants (including H).
A soft /j/ sound when followed by I or E.
A /ny/ sound when followed by N.
| gallina (hen)
|A trill, also known as a "rolled R."
|A hard /s/ sound in most instances.
A /z/ sound when between two vowels.
| settimana (week)
|A /ts/ sound within a word.
A /dz/ sound when at the beginning of a word.
| piazza (square/plaza)
In addition to the letters of the alphabet, there are some additional ones that aren’t native to Italian.
So while these consonants aren’t part of the official Italian alphabet, they’re sometimes used in writing and speech for words adopted from other languages.
Oftentimes, they’re pronounced in Italian the same way they’re normally pronounced in their loanwords from other languages—the meanings of which are also typically clear.
Take a look:
The Italian vowels are the same as English: A, E, I, O and U. The main difference is that, in Italian, the pronunciation you just learned never changes.
Yep—Italian vowel sounds are invariable. For example, let’s take the word “May” in English. If this word were to exist in Italian, you wouldn’t hear “ay” pronounced as “ey,” as it is in English. The vowels would retain their sounds and this word would be pronounced as “m-a-i.” A similar example in Italian is the word mais (corn).
When two vowels are placed next to each other in English, they often combine their pronunciation, such as in “bread” or “boat.” Not so in Italian.
Even when two vowels are next to each other, both retain their sounds. For example, in mischiare (to mix), you can distinctly hear both the second I and the A.
English speakers also have a tendency to add another vowel sound at the end of individual vowels, especially at the ends of words—like pronouncing “hello” as “he-llou.”
In Italian, vowels have very crisp sounds (it’s “mis-kee-ahr-e” and not “mis-kee-ahr-ey”).
As we went over above, Italian lacks several of the English consonants and only uses them in loanwords adopted from other languages. However, it can still make those sounds by combining the letters that it does have.
The Italian alphabet also has a few of its own special sounds, made by placing two consonants or a combination of consonants and vowels together.
Here are the main Italian consonant and consonant-vowel combinations, along with some examples:
chuh (when followed by I or E)
| occhi (eyes)
juh (when followed by I or E)
| aggrottare (knit)
|gli (the [masculine plural])
Now, have you noticed anything about Italian consonants when two of the same appear next to each other?
You got it—if Italian consonants are doubled, so is the length of the pronunciation.
Take a listen:
Italian accent marks do not change a letter’s pronunciation. Instead, accents denote irregular stress patterns in a word.
First, there’s the acute accent. You will only find this mark on the letter E. The acute accent gives the letter E a long sound, as in perché (why).
Second, there’s the grave accent. This mark can appear on any Italian vowel.
The normal Italian stress pattern puts emphasis on the second-to-last syllable of a word. You’ll often see a grave accent on the final syllable in a word to indicate where the stress should go instead.
You can think of the grave accent as giving the letters A and E a short sound, while I, O and U get a long sound. Here are some examples:
While the Italian alphabet is pretty straightforward, you’re still going to want some pronunciation practice!
You can start with this unique, interactive alphabet tool from Cyber Italian. Play around with each Italian letter and practice its name and pronunciation alongside the sample audio.
I also recommend Italy Made Easy’s video guide, where you can listen to a native Italian speaker talk you through it all. Part one tackles all the letters of Italian, part two covers letters in Italian names and part three dissects letter combinations.
In fact, native Italian media is your best resource for learning and practicing Italian pronunciation!
You can tune your ears to the sound of proper pronunciation by watching Italian videos on immersive language learning programs like FluentU, for instance.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Italian pronunciation can look pretty challenging on the surface, but it’s just a matter of putting the pieces (or rather, letters) together.
Figuring out the vowels, consonants and accent marks is the best way to start mastering the basics of speaking accurately.
Be sure to practice!
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