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.
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.
Now let’s begin the lesson! Ready?
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.
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.
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)
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.
/e/ - chiesa (church), vedere (to see)/ɛ/ - ieri (yesterday), stella (star)
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 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)
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?
Let’s move on to the rest of the letters in the alphabet. Next up, consonants!
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!
The b in Italian is exactly the same in English. No surprises here!
/b/ - bolla, burro, bosco
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 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
Another one that sounds the same as in English! Easy-peasy./f/ - ferro, fango, furia
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
This one is super easy to remember because H is silent in Italian!/h/ - hanno, hotel, herpes
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
The m in English and Italian is pronounced the same way, so no worries here!/m/ - mare, mosca, ramo
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
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
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
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
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
You’d be happy to know that t in Italian is pronounced the same way in English!
/t/ - tuono, tiro, prato
V in Italian sounds exactly the same in English, too!/v/ - volo, vista, vaso
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
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 Sound||Examples|
|/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|
|/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|
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’.
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!
A FUN AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO LEARN ITALIAN