We have all ordered pizza at one time or another, and if eating pizza were as easy as speaking Italian, then we would all already have that taken care of. Unfortunately, the Italian language is not as easy or cheesy as that delicious tomato- laden pie that we so often sink our teeth into. On the other hand, Italian is a beautiful, sensual, and intriguing language laced deep with history and romantic sounds. Like any foreign language, Italian can be tough to pick up and master for those who are not regularly exposed to it. So, if you are so inclined, it is now time to whip out your bouquet of roses, and get ready to learn the basics of one of the most popular romance languages spoken in the world. Who knows, this love language might come in handy for you when you least expect it!
Before we get into its language, let’s touch briefly on its background. After all, the premise to knowing and understanding anything foreign is to knowing first where it came from.
Today, there are upwards to 60 million Italian speakers. The language is primarily spoken by people in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, Malta, and Eritrea. Additionally, there are also Italian speakers spread out throughout the United States and the United Kingdom.
- 10th Century: Let’s take a little trip back. This is where you will find the first appearance of Italian. While there is no record that it was used as a spoken word, there are written documents in the form of notes and short texts that are written in Italian.
- 13th Century: By the 13th century, writers were developing their own dialects of Italian, and the language was becoming popular throughout political circles in Italy.
- 15th and 16th Century: Latin was making it into literary, technical, and scientific texts.
- Current: Today, the official language of Italy is Italiano, which is the Tuscan dialect. Every region of Italy has its own specific dialect.
The Italian Alphabet
To know how to speak or use proper pronunciation in a language, you will have to know the letters involved. Here are the letters of the Italian alphabet, along with their English pronunciation.
Aa – a
Bb – bi
Cc – ci
Dd – di
Ee – e
Ff – effe
Gg – gi
Hh – acca
Ii – i
Ll – elle
Mm – emme
Nn – enne
Oo – o
Pp – pi
Qq – cu
Rr – erre
Ss – esse
Tt – ti
Uu – u
Vv – vi/vu
Zz – zeta
Now, let’s take a look at the vowels in Italian. There are five vowels and seven vowel sounds that are used in the Italian language: one for a, i, and u; and two for both e and o. This is a lot less than English, which packs fifteen different vowel sounds. Here they are:
A – ah
E – ay. This can be pronounced as the “ay” in “say”, or as “eh”.
I – ee
O – Pronounced as “oh” or “aw”
U – oo, pronounced as the “oo” in “boot”.
- The “A” vowel sound is a very open vowel that is short sounding, like an “o” or an “a” in English.
- “I” and “U” generally sound like their English counterparts. The “I” will be pronounced as a long “e” or “oo” sound.
- The vowels with two sounds, “e” and “o”, have both open and closed sounds. Although it can get more complicated, the one rule to keep in mind in the beginning is that the Italian unstressed “e” and “o” are always closed.
- Open “e” will sound like the “e” in “net”, and the closed “e” will sound like the “a” in “pray”.
- Open “o” will sound like “awe” and the closed “o” will turn into an English “oo” pronunciation.
There are three different types of consonants that you should watch out for when you are first learning Italian. These will be the double consonants and the hard and soft consonants.
- Naturally, double consonants will take longer to say than the shorter consonants. Do this by holding the position that your mouth forms when saying the consonant, and then release it.
- The hard and soft consonants are “c” and “g”. They will be hard when they are followed by a consonant other than “c” or “g”, or by the vowels “a”, “o”, or “u”. Likewise, “c” and “g” will be soft when followed by an “e” or “I”.
- Hard “c” will sound like the “c” in the English “can”, and hard “g” will sound like the English “g” in “growl” or “good”.
- Soft “c” is similar to the “c” in “chestnut” or “chess”, and the soft “g” will sound like the English “g” in “generic” or “general”.
Here is a general list of consonants to watch out for:
C (+a,o,u) – k
C (+e,i) – pronounced like the English “ch” in “church”.
Ci (+a,o,u) – pronounced like the English “ch” in “church”.
Ch – k
G (+a,o,u) – hard “g” pronounced like the “g” in “go” or “gone”.
G (+e,i) – soft “g”, pronounced like the “j” in “jello”.
Gh – this “g” is always hard.
Gl – sounds like an “l”.
Gn – pronounced like the Spanish ñ. For instance, “bologna” would be pronounced as: “bo-loh-nya”.
Ll – sounds like the regular English “l”.
Qu – pronounced as the English “kw”.
R – “r” is trilled.
S – Pronounced like a “z” when it comes between two vowels (think of pizza!) However, if it comes before a voiced consonant, then it has an “s” sound.
Ss – Sounds like an “s”.
Z – Pronounced with a “ts”, at beginnings of the word.
Time for Some Authentic Italian!
Now that you know the basics about this beautiful language, it is time to whip out your Cappuccinos and get started. Check out the wonderful courses that Udemy has to offer pertaining to all things Italian. Soon enough, you will be booking your flight to the land of La Dolce Vita – the sweet life!