Have you ever wondered which country boasts the highest number of UNESCO places? Contrary to popular belief, it’s neither England nor the United States. The correct answer is Italy. From Pompei to Verona, this “Bel Paese” features over fifty-five UNESCO sites and some of the most extraordinary places in the world. How can you make the most of a trip to Italy? Simple but not that simple: developing a good mastery of its mother tongue.
Learning Italian can bring about several benefits that go well beyond communicating with locals. It can also become an asset if you are looking for a new job in Italy or locally, in a company that uses Italian.
Now, acquiring a new language can be a terrifying experience for some. But worry not! If you know any Romance language, like French or Spanish, you will have a huge advantage. Since these languages are closely related, they share vocabulary, grammatical features, and even pronunciation. What is more, Italian is such an influential and well-known language that you probably know some words already. Do pizza or volcano ring a bell? These are Italian words!
So, don’t be afraid to look past your mother tongue and start learning Italian today! Meanwhile, we have prepared a comprehensive language guide that will help you begin this language learning journey and embrace a new world.
How Many People Speak Italian and Where Is it Spoken?
Every country has dialects and varieties of its own mother tongue. People in New York do not speak in the same way as in Texas. The same happens with Italian. There are many dialects and varieties, depending on which part of the country people live in. These are divided into three main groups:
- Northern: Lombard, Piedmontese, Ladin, Cimbrian, Veneto.
- Central: Tuscan, Umbrian, Sabino, Castelli Romani.
- Southern: Sardinian, Tabarchino, Sicilian, Salento.
But nobody would expect you to learn all dialects. Instead, a good place to start is by learning the standard accent: Tuscan. If you are a tourist, this will certainly allow you to communicate with locals. However, if you are looking for job opportunities, you’ll have to become savvy in specific varieties. For example, let’s say you want to go to Venice. Instead of learning Sicilian, it would be better to learn Veneto, the dialect of Venice. So, choose wisely, always keeping in mind your objectives.
Learn Italian Pronunciation
Now, let’s talk about pronunciation. In this respect, there are good and bad news for you. The good news is that English and Italian share a fair number of sounds. The bad news is that Italian intonation and rhythm are not very similar to ours. Again, do not worry, with the help of your native tutor (and this guide!), soon you’ll sound just like a native Italian speaker.
Pronunciation of Letter C in Italian
Letter C can have 2 pronunciations:
- One of them is soft (pronounced “ch” as in church) when followed by “e” or “I”. Some examples are in ciao (hello) or ciambella (a type of cake).
- The pronunciation turns hard (pronounced “k” as in cruel) when followed by letters “a”, “o”, or “u”. Some examples are casa (house) and cultura.
Pronunciation of Cluster SC
The combination of letters s and c is quite common in Italian and has two main pronunciations, too:
- Hard (s plus k, as in skirt) when sc is followed by “a”, “o”, or “u” as in scarpa (shoe) or scalzo (barefoot).
- Soft (sh as in she) when followed by “e” or “I”, as in sciare (ski) or abolisce (to abolish)
Pronunciation of R
Italian is a language with the dreaded rolled R, which is very different from the English sound. This “strong” R occurs at the beginning of words such as respiro (breath) or ruscello (stream). To perfect your Italian R, you should put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and make it vibrate quickly! You can check out this video on how to pronounce the Italian R.
Pronunciation of GN
The cluster GN sounds like the Spanish “ñ”, so if you are already familiar with this language, it will be very easy for you. But if you don’t, think about it as the sound you would make to pronounce “ny” in English.
Gnochi Lasagne Montagna
Pronunciation of Double Consonants
English and Italian have double consonants in spelling, like spoon and Nonno (grandfather). However, unlike English, Italian double consonants also affect the sound and meaning of words. In the case of sound, the “n” in nonno is longer and pronounced more forcefully than a single “n”. Plus, nonno means grandfather but nono means ninth. A few examples of double consonants are the next:
Capello (hair) vs cappello (hat) Pala (shovel) vs palla (ball) Nona (ninth) vs nonna (grandmother)Help me perfect my Italian Pronunciation
Italian Accents and Diacritics
Something that every single Italian language learner should know is the importance of accents and diacritics. In Italian, there are two main accents: grave (`) and acute (´). They help to locate the stress in words.
- The grave accent (`) can go on any vowel but only occurs if it’s the last letter of a word. When the term has a grave accent, it sounds closed and abrupt, such as libertà (freedom) or caffè (coffee).
- The acute accent (´) only goes on the letter “e” and makes the syllable sound stronger. Some examples are perché (why) and benché (despite).
So, there you go. Look at all you’ve learned with this short guide! Keep on studying and, with the help of an expert Italian speaker, you’ll sound native-like in a very short time. Buona Fortuna!
How to learn Italian With Music
Italian is well-known for being the language of music, so why not use this resource to learn grammar and vocabulary while improving your listening skills? Opera is one of the most famous Italian music genres, and it can be useful to get familiar with certain expressions while you put your listening abilities to the test. If you’re not sure how to start, you can take a look at our article on how to learn Italian with opera.
And if you’re not familiar with many Italian singers or bands, check out our Spotify playlist, where we have selected the best of contemporary Italian music! You’ll find pop artists like Laura Pausini or Tiziano Ferro or more rock-oriented bands like Nek or Eros Ramazzotti.
Have we convinced you to start learning Italian? Contact us today and learn more about how to get started with one of our personalised courses! We partner with the best tutors who will assess your skills and needs before crafting a syllabus that adapts to your requirements. In this way, you’ll learn the language you need to achieve your objectives! And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram while checking out our blog, where we post language-related content every week!