Top 10 Italian Pronunciation Mistakes

How to avoid these common errors in Italian

Young couple at an outdoor cafe studying
Anna Bryukhanova/E+/Getty Images

 

1. Mumbling

It might sound obvious if you want to make yourself heard, but you must open your mouth in order to speak Italian. Native English speakers, accustomed to a language that doesn't have the big, round, vowel sounds common in Italian, should remember to open wide and enunciate.

2. Consonants that Count Twice

Being able to (and hear the difference, too) is imperative. The Italian language doesn't waste letters; as a phonetic language it’s spoken the way it’s written.

So if a word contains double consonants (cassa, nonno, pappa, serra), you can assume both are pronounced—the meaning changes depending on whether a particular consonant is doubled. If you're unsure how to pronounce i consonanti doppie (), try pronouncing it twice or holding it for an extra beat.

3. Third-to-Last Verbs

As with most Italian words, when pronouncing the various conjugated verb forms of the , the stress falls on the next-to-last syllable. The one exception is the third-person plural form, in which the stress falls on the third-to-last syllable (words in which the accent falls on the third-to-last syllable are known as parole sdrucciole).

4. One in a Million

Ask a beginner (or even an intermediate) Italian language learner to pronounce terms such as figlio, pagliacci, garbuglio, glielo, and consigli and often their first reaction is a look of bewilderment: the dreaded "gli" combination!

Even the short-cut explanation that in Italian gli is pronounced like "lli" in the English word "million" often doesn't help (nor do other technical descriptions about how to pronounce gli improve the long odds of mastery). Perhaps the most effective way to learn how to pronounce "gli" is to listen and repeat until it becomes second nature.

Remember, though, even Michelangelo was a beginner once.

5. MonDAY to FriDAY

Except for Saturday and Sunday, the days of the week in Italian are pronounced with the accent on the last syllable. They're even written that way to remind speakers, e.g., lunedì (Monday), how to pronounce them. But too frequently, non-native speakers ignore the accent and persist in placing the accent on the first (or other) syllable. Don't shortchange the giorni feriali (workdays)—the accent marks the stressed vowel of a word in Italian.

6. On a Roll

If you can relate to the following statements, it should be obvious what troubles many who are learning to speak Italian:

Learning how to pronounce the letter r is a struggle for many, but remember: rrrrruffles have rrrrridges!

7. Italian Surnames

Everyone knows how to pronounce their last name, right? In fact, posts on the About.com Italian Language forums such as "how do I pronounce my last name Cangialosi?" are common.

Since surnames are obviously a point of pride, it's not hard to understand why families would insist on pronouncing them a certain way. But second- and third-generation Italian Americans who have little or no knowledge of Italian are often unaware of how to correctly pronounce their last names, resulting in anglicized versions that bear little resemblance to the original form. When in doubt, ask a native Italian.

8. It's brus-KET-ta

Don't correct me when I order . Too often, wait staff at Italian-American restaurants in the U.S. (and diners as well) don't know how to pronounce the word. In Italian, there is only one way to pronounce the letter c when followed by an h— like the English k.

9. The Morning Espresso

Down that small cup of very strong coffee and jump on board the fast train to make an early morning meeting.

But be sure to order an espresso from the barista, since an express(o) is a train. It's a common mistake heard everywhere, even on printed signs and menus.

10. Media Misinformation

Advertising is pervasive nowadays, and because of its influence it’s a common source of difficulty in pronouncing Italian. Jingles and taglines frequently mangle Italian words and Italian pronunciation beyond recognition, and brand-naming consultants invent pseudo-Italian names for products. Imitate at your own risk.