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Pronunciation

Vowels

Vowels are very straightforward, as there are only 5:  A, E, I, O, U.  They are always AH, EH, EE, OH, OO, nice and clear (yes, technically there is an "open" and "closed" version of E, but even Italians don't make the distinction very much).

Consonants

Consonants (with the exception of "tricky stuff," below) are pretty much the same as in English, with the following differences:
  • H is never pronounced.  So hotel is "OH-tehl".  Sometimes you'll hear Italians overcompensating when they speak English, saying "GHHHoh-tehl"!
  • R is rolled (not quite as much as Spanish or Scottish, but not the same as American/English).
  • Double consonants have a slight pause.  So anno (year) is "ahn-noh" as two distinct syllables while ano (anus) is "ahnoh"...an important distinction when you ask someone Quanti anni ha? (How old are you?).

Tricky Stuff

Pronounce every vowel

In general, Italians pronounce every vowel in a word, so the word Euro (like the currency) is pronounced "eh-OO-roh".  (Note that sometimes the vowels combine into "diphthongs" which sounds naughty, but it's just what naturally happens when you say the vowels really fast: Ciao could sound like "chee-ah-oh" but if you say it fast it comes out as "chow.")

Fun with c/g + i/e

When you combine the consonants C or G with I or E, there are some weird results.  In particular, CI, CHI, CE, and CHE are pronounced the opposite of English:
CHI = "kee"
CI = "chee"
CHE = "kay"
CE = "chay"
...so the Navy base at Capodichino is Cah-poh-dee-KEE-noh.  The Italian drink cappuccino is cah-poo-CHEE-noh.
 
GI, GHI, GE, and GHE are also pronounced differently, but it comes more naturally to English speakers:
GHI = "ghee"
GI = "jee" (think Rudy Giuliani)
GHE = "gheh" (think spaghetti)
GE = "jeh" (like San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples and the first name of 1/2 of Neapolitan men)

Toungue twisting consonant combos

The following consonant combinations also look funny at first but aren't too hard to pronounce:
  • GLI = like "ll" in million...like Gli Stati Uniti (the United States) [note: this is a little bit harder for most people to get; if you can't do it, just pronounce it like a "y" and you'll probably be understood]
  • GN = like "ny" in canyon (or spanish ñ)...like gnocchi (potato dumplings)
  • SCI = shee...so the famous Roman General Scipio is "SHEE-peeoh"
  • SCE = sheh

Stress

In general, the penultimate—the second to last—syllable is stressed.  For example, arrivederci (goodbye) is "ah-ree-veh-DEHR-chee."  However, there are two kinds of exceptions:
  • parole tronche - these are words where the last syllable is emphasized.  Usually they are written with an accent so you know to stress that syllable: città (city/town), caffè (coffee), così (like this/that), più (more)
  • parole sdrucciole - these "slippery" words emphasize a syllable before the second-to-last one.  Unfortunately, you have to memorize which ones these are.  For example, the words facile (easy) and difficile (hard) both stress the ante-penultimate syllable: FAH-chee-leh and dee-FEE-chee-leh.  See Second Language LLC's list of parole sdrucciole.
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