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Easy Italian Pronunciation Guide: How to Sound Italian for Beginners

Want to sound legit when speaking Italian? This Italian pronunciation guide is here to help. Though you may not immediately sound like a native speaker after going through this simple guide, but with enough practice in speaking and listening, you will in due time!

Before we proceed, let me start off with some good and bad news.

The good news!

  • Italian is a phonetic language. That means, words are often pronounced the way they are spelled!
  • Italian pronunciation rules are constant. They won’t trick you into thinking you got the rules down pat only to stab you at the back with exceptions to the rules.
  • There are no silent letters in Italian (except H, that is)! But in general, each letter is always spoken with its corresponding sound.

The bad news

There’s no bad news actually. The Italian sounds you hear might be intimidating at first, but with constant listening and speaking practice, you can easily (okay, not that easily but you can learn them quickly enough) learn to speak Italian words the way native Italians do.

Some tips before we proceed

  • When speaking Italian, feel free to exaggerate the sounds! Never mind if you feel silly. That’s simply the Italian way to do it, and practice is key.
  • The Italian intonation patterns follow simple rules: The stress is usually in the second to the last syllable. For example: bub-BON-e, bam-BI-ni. The exception is with words that have accent marks in the last letter. This puts the stress in the last syllable.
  • Always find time to listen! As with any other languages, always practice listening. This will give you the correct tools to navigate any pronunciation issues. It will also make producing the sounds so much easier!

Now let’s begin the lesson! Ready?

1. The Italian Alphabet

Let’s start by getting familiar with the Italian alphabet. As you can notice, it’s exactly the same as the English alphabet, but fewer letters. So--YAY!

In the table below, you can see in the first line the name of the alphabet as you know it, followed by what the letter is called in Italian. Then in the third line, you can check out some Italian example words that make use of these letters/sounds prominently.  

Take note that the letters j, k, w, x, and y rarely appear in Italian words. When they do, it’s mostly with words that are borrowed from other languages.

Aa

A

Abbazia, ala

Bb

Bi

Bambini, bubbone

Cc

Ci

Ciuffo, cecio

Dd

Di

Dado, addio

Ee

E

Aereo, bere

Ff

Effe

Zuffa, Fifa

Gg

Gi

Bigio, gengiva

Hh

Acca

Hotel, Herpes

Ii

I

Idillio, igienico

Ll

Elle

Livello, cellula

Mm

Emme

Mamma, melodramma

Nn

Enne

Nonna, insonnia

Oo

O

Comodo, goloso

Pp

Pi

Pappa, appropriato

Qq

Cu

Qualunque, quadro

Rr

Erre

Orrore, ramarro

Ss

Esse

Sasso, gassoso

Tt

Ti

Intatto, trattenuta

Uu

U

Usufruire, multiculturale

Vv

Vu

Ravvivare, evviva

Zz

Zeta

Zozzo, zizzania

2. Italian Vowel Sounds

Now that we have gone through the different letters in the Italian alphabet and their corresponding example words, we’ll take a look at the different vowel sounds you’ll encounter in Italian.

A Sound in Italian

In Italian, the a sound is always the same. You say it like ‘ah’ as in car in English but with a slightly exaggerated open sound.

/a/ -  cane (dog),  mare (sea)

E Sounds in Italian

There are two e sounds in Italian: the closed one  [e] which is nearer in sound to hey, say, or day in English. Then there’s the open e [ɛ]  like met or bet.

Some examples:

/e/ - chiesa (church), vedere (to see)

/ɛ/ - ieri (yesterday), stella (star)

I Sound in Italian

There’s only one way to pronounce the i sound in Italian--like how you would say the ee sound in knee or see. But keep the ee sound shorter than you would in English!

/i/ -  vino (wine), vivo (alive)

O Sounds in Italian

O in Italian is either of the two: an open O sound like doe or store and a second one like hog or bot. Just remember that in Italian, unlike in English, the o sound is made without rounding your lips too much towards the end of the o.

/o/ - amore (love), croce (cross)

/ɔ/ - oro (gold), porta (door)

U Sound in Italian

The u sound in Italian, like the other vowels we’ve discussed so far, is quite simple. You form it with the same sound as oo in hoot or shoe but make it shorter and without rounding your lips too much. Try to remember that there’s no rounded sound in Italian and you’re good!

/u/ - tutto (all), muro (wall)

So, still doing great so far? 

Awesome.

Let’s move on to the rest of the letters in the alphabet. Next up, consonants!

3. Italian Consonant Sounds

In this section, we’ll go through each of the consonants and all of the sounds they’re used for in Italian. It should be a breeze for you actually, as most of the sounds are essentially the same in English, with just a few tricks here and there.

Ready? Let’s go!

B sound in Italian

The b in Italian is exactly the same in English. No surprises here!

/b/ - bolla, burro, bosco

C sound in Italian

There are two c sounds in Italian: the ch sound like chocolate and the k sound like cola. The major rules you have to remember here are:

/tʃ/ - when the c is before i and e, the c sounds like ch. Examples: cipolla, ciliegia, cina

/k/ - when the c is before any consonant or the vowels a, o, and u, the c sounds like k. Examples: casa, cambio, costo

D sound in Italian

D in Italian sounds very much like it does in English. The only difference, however, is that in Italian, the d sound is harder and more pronounced than its English equivalent.

/d/ - dedica, dire, dado

F sound in Italian

Another one that sounds the same as in English! Easy-peasy.

/f/ - ferro, fango, furia

G sound in Italian

Just like the Italian c sound, g in Italian has two different sounds and two rules to follow. The first g sound is a hard sound similar to good, great. The other g sound is the softer one like gem.

Here are the key things to remember:

/g/ - when g is before the vowels a, o, and u. Examples: gara, ruga, godo  

/d͡ʒ/ - when the g is before e or i. Examples: gioia, gelo, gioco

H sound in Italian

This one is super easy to remember because H is silent in Italian!

/h/ - hanno, hotel, herpes

L sound in Italian

Think of the Italian L sound as a more serious L version of its English counterpart. To produce the sound like natives do, you have to dwell longer on the L sound and exaggerate it a bit.

/l/ - palo, luce, perla

There’s also another l sound in Italian--a more difficult one---that can be formed when you have the letters ‘gl’ together. There’s no similar sound in English so you need to practice this one: say lyi!

/ʎ/ - sbadiglio, coniglio, consiglio

M sound in Italian

The m in English and Italian is pronounced the same way, so no worries here!

/m/ - mare, mosca, ramo

N sound in Italian

In Italian, you have three sounds that can be produced by the letter n. The first one is the regular n sound as in noon or never. 

/n/ - nero, nuvola, renna

The second sounds like the ng in swing or singing. But in Italian, it is formed by the letters n and c together.

/ŋ/ - banca, anche

Take note that banca would therefore sound like [bang-ka] while anche sounds like [ang-ke].

The third n sound is a lot harder to process by the non-native tongue. It is formed when you have the two letter g and n side by side and is pronounced as NYA. But you do know how to say lasagna, right? So you’re good to go!

/ɲ/ - gnocchi, cognome, legna, pigna

P sound in Italian

The p sound is basically the same in English and Italian, except for one tiny thing. Try saying the word ‘speak’. Then say the word ‘put’. Do you notice a difference with how you pronounce the p sound?

When you said ‘speak’, you don’t put a puff of air into the p sound. But when the word starts with p such as ‘put’ or ‘ponder’, there is that puff of air. For your reference, the p sound in Italian is the same as the p in ‘speak’. You don’t aspirate the p in Italian.

/p/ - pepe, pane, crepa

Qu sound in Italian

The letter q in Italian could not stand on its own without the letter u. When joined together, q and u make the same sound as in the English words question or quick.

/kw/ - quando, quarta, quarantina

R sound in Italian

The English r sound is different from the Italian r and this often stumps non-native speakers. How, you ask? For starters, the Italian r is called the trilled r or a slightly rolled r. You pronounce it by tapping your tongue against your gums at the back of your upper teeth.

/r/ - raro, ruba, caro

But the r’s don’t end there. In Italian, you will notice that some words have double consonants. When you see this, it means you have to prolong the consonant sound and exaggerate it further. Now in the case of r:

/rr/ - carro, ramarro, porro

S sound in Italian

With the letter s, it’s not as straightforward in Italian as it is in English. You basically have two types of s sounds in Italian: the regular s sound like sweet or the z sound like zebra.

Here are the rules to know which s sound to use:

/z/ - use the z sound when the s is sandwiched between two vowels or when it comes before the letters b, d, g, l, m, n, r, and v. Examples: raso, posa, sgabello, svelto.

/s/ - use the regular s sound in all other cases aside from the ones mentioned above. Examples: sei, sito, siepe.

S also figures in one more difficult Italian sound: the ‘sc’ sound. When s and c go hand in hand, it produces a sound similar to sh in English.

/ʃ/ - sciarpa, riuscire, scena

T sound in Italian

You’d be happy to know that t in Italian is pronounced the same way in English!

/t/ -  tuono, tiro, prato

V sound in Italian

V in Italian sounds exactly the same in English, too!

/v/ - volo, vista, vaso

Z sound in Italian

There are two sounds you make in Italian when it comes to the letter z. It could be either ts as in ‘bats’ or ds as in ‘heads’.

/tz/ - pizza

/dz/ - pranzo, zona, zio, zolla

Other consonant sounds not covered above

There may not be letters w and y in the Italian alphabet, but there are sounds for those, produced by different letters. Here they are:

/w/ produced by the letters uo- cuoco, cuoio, vacuo

/j/ produced by the letter i- piatto, siepe, pioggia

Now let’s do a recap of the different Italian consonant sounds and their examples:

Italian Consonant SoundExamples
/b/Bolla, burro, bosco
/d/dedica, dire, dado
/f/ferro, fango, furia
/g/gara, ruga, godo
/h/hanno, hotel, herpes
/k/casa, cambio, costo
/l/palo, luce, perla
/ʎ/sbadiglio, coniglio, consiglio
/m/mare, mosca, ramo
/n/nero, nuvola, renna
/ŋ/anfora, angolo
/ɲ/cognome, legna, pigna
/p/pepe, pane, crepa
/ɾ/raro, ruba, caro
/ɾɾ/carro, ramarro, porro
/s/sei, sito, siepe
/ʃ/sciarpa, riuscire, scena
/tʃ/cipolla, ciliegia, cina
/ts/marzo, ospizio, zappa
/d͡ʒ/gioia, gelo, gioco
/t/tuono, tiro, prato
/v/volo, vista, vaso
/w/cuoco, cuoio, vacuo
/j/piatto, siepe, pioggia
/dz/zona, zio, zolla
/z/raso, posa, sgabello

Difficult Italian Sounds

Of course, we won’t end this guide without dwelling further on the sounds most non-native speakers find difficult to pull off. These are: ‘gn’, ‘gli’, and ‘sci/sce’.

  • /gn/ - this one sounds like NY + vowel (nya, nye, or nyo). Try to practice it with these Italian words: gnomo (gnome), pegno (pledge), guadagno (gain)
  • /gli/ - think of the words million and billion in English. That’s how you pronounce this sound. Say ‘lyi’ as in moglie (wife), scegliere (to choose), and figlio (son).
  • /sci/ or /sce/ - though this sound isn’t hard to produce for non-natives, the problem lies with habit. It takes time for most non-native speakers to immediately pronounce sc as sh. Try to practice this sound with the following words: pesce (fish), scivolare (to slide), sciare (to ski).

Conclusion

So what do you think of this Italian pronunciation guide? Simple enough, no? We’ve covered all the basics here so all you need to do now is practice, practice, and practice some more.

Keep listening to Italian being spoken such as in the e-book below with short stories for beginners. It comes with free audio narrated by a native Italian speaker. Perfect for listening practice!

 FUN AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO LEARN ITALIAN

  • 10 entertaining short stories about everyday themes
  • Practice reading and listening with 90+ minutes of audio 
  • Learn 1,000+ new Italian vocabulary effortlessly!

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