There are some common pronunciation mistakes native English speakers make when they are speaking Italian, so it can be helpful to be aware of them and try to avoid them. Hopefully you will have come across how to pronounce the letters ‘c’ and ‘g’ in Italian, depending on what follows them – think cappuccino and the hard and soft ‘c’ sounds in this word. Here are four more top pronunciation tips to help you speak more like a local:
1) Double consonants
If a word has a double consonant in it, the vowel before it is short. You also need to emphasise the consonants, pronouncing both of them. This can take some practice but it’s important to try as some words have a totally different meaning without the double consonant in the middle. For example, la penna (pen) is pronounced differently to la pena (pain). La penna has a short vowel sound like ‘pen’, and la pena has a longer vowel sound similar to vowel sound in the word ‘pain’.
Some additional examples of how double or single consonants can change the meaning of a word can be found here: i capelli (hair) vs. i cappelli (hats), il papa (the pope) vs. la pappa (baby food), la casa (house) vs. la cassa (till), la sera (evening) vs. la serra (greenhouse).
2) Words ending in accents
If a word ends with an accent on the last letter, the main emphasis of the word goes on that last syllable. English speakers tend to put the stress at the beginning of the word, but we should make a concerted effort to put the stress at the end of the word, on the accented syllable. For example, la città - city (stress on the à), però – but (stress on the ò) and il caffè – coffee (stress on the è).
This is also the case for the days of the week. In Italian Monday to Friday all have accents on the last letter so this is where you need to place the accent: lunedì, martedì, mercoledì, giovedì and venerdì.
3) Where to put the stress in verbs
Most words and verb forms have the stress on the penultimate syllable e.g. mangio (stress on the ‘man’), preferisco stress on the ‘isc’. However, the third person plural forms have the stress on the third-to-last syllable e.g. mangiano (stress on the ‘man’), preferiscono (stress on the ‘isc’).
4) Gli spaghetti e gli gnocchi
‘Gl’ and ‘gn’ sounds are typically very difficult for native English speakers to pronounce but if you listen and repeat, in time you can master it. You do not pronounce the ‘g’ as a separate sound in ‘gl’ or ‘gn’.
The ‘gl’ sound is similar to a ‘ly’ sound, you can try this with words like la maglietta (t-shirt), gli studenti (the students) and la figlia (daughter)
The ‘gn’ sound is similar to a ‘ny’ sound and can be found in words like il bagno (bathroom), l’agnello (lamb) and the all-important lasagne!