Post updated on 28/05/2021 — Enjoy!
“Am I actually speaking English or Chinese!?!”.
This is what I used to think every time some native English speaker asked me to repeat what I had just said.
This happened to me quite often when I first came to England. Despite using the right words, people didn’t understand me.
The truth was this: I was saying the right words BUT…
I was pronouncing them wrongly.
Embarrassing? A bit.
Did I learn from my mistake? You bet!
The problem was that I hadn’t focused much on my pronunciation whilst studying English back in Italy, and it was for the following reason:
- I didn’t know how to do it
- Listening to and repeating the dialogues in my cd tracks in English was quite boring
- I thought I could sort out my pronunciation later. Vocabulary and grammar had the priority for me.
Little did I know that when you don’t learn the right pronunciation from the beginning, it may be even harder to learn it and even correct it later on.
Pronunciation is key to communication. You need to get it right to get your message across.
However you may think that practising pronunciation in a foreign language may feel frustrating, a bit embarrassing, and kinda dull… well, I understand you as I thought the same. However, in my own language learning journey, I’ve then realised that this is not really true.
Today I’d like to share with you some helpful but also fun strategies I use to help my learners (as well as myself) to master their Italian pronunciation, so you can sound more Italian too!
COMINCIAMO! || LET’S GET STARTED!
1. Get comfortable in your body
This may sound silly but here is the truth: when you are learning a new language, you need to accept that you’re going to make some “weird” sounds that you are not used to…making!
You need to get used to producing sounds you’ve never produced before and your body may feel uncomfortable. You may experience some resistance that prevents you from producing the correct sound and pronouncing well a word or a sentence.
Have you ever felt very self conscious when trying to roll your “r” very well because you were thinking,” oh i must sound so silly / unnatural / pretentious or [insert the negative adjective here]” Well, my friend! It’s time you let this feeling of embarrassment go!
Yes, you may feel a bit stupid at the beginning when pronouncing the Italian “R”. You may feel incredibly self conscious, if trying to pronounce a difficult word in front of other people or your teacher. However, when this happens I want you to remember this:
- Every language learner has started there, everyone has faced (and overcome) your same obstacle.
- The feeling of embarrassment is is part of the learning process. You can either allow it to keep you stuck, or push through it to move forward
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Make your pronunciation attempts fun and if it helps, be self deprecating about it.
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable at the beginning, accept this and remind yourself that learning a foreign language requires you to get out of your comfort zone by experimenting and learning to make sounds that are new to you.
We are wired to produce all the sounds of all the languages in the world. It’s just a matter of training until you get the sound you need right. Eventually, it’ll come out of your mouth naturally and effortlessly. Pinky promise! 😉
2.Learn the Italian sounds system
Italian is a phonetic language and have a fairly fixed pronunciation for each group of letters, unlike other languages like… English.😉 So it’ll be easier for you to learn to read and pronounce Italian sounds.
In my Italian Pronunciation mini-course I explain how to pronounce the different Italian sounds and help you practice them using fun tongue twisters and Italian songs. You can find the mini course right here.
3. Find “twin” sounds
Many Italian learners find challenging to pronunce the sound represented by the letters “gl”, as in words like “famiglia” (family), “fogli” (sheets) or “gli” (“the” for some plural masculine words).
The truth is that English has the sound “gl” as well, it is just written differently: take the beginning of the word “year”, for example. Pronounce just the “yeeh” sound at the beginning and you’ll get the sound “yi” which is pronounced like “gli”.
I explain this also in the video right here and this is just one example on how you can find sounds in your native language that recalls the foreign sounds you need to learn.
Finding similarities between the two phonetics system of your native and foreign language helps you learn and pronounce better these foreign sounds, especially when you’re just starting out!
4. Listen and repeat (without reading)!
Some words can be fairly challenging to pronounce and this is because of the way they are written — which can be misleading. For example: the word “idea” in Italian is spelled the same as in English, but its pronunciation is completely different.
When we read the word “idea” in Italian, our brain associates it straightaway to the English word and it is tempted to read it with its English pronunciation. The trick is to eliminate the visual input, and rather just listen to the pronunciation of the word and repeat it. In this way, your brain will memorise the right pronunciation first. Then you can go back to the written word, and read it. You’ll see that you’ll now be able to pronounce it right.
5. Have some karaoke time!
Because singing is a great way to improve your pronunciation and get used to the rhythm and pronunciation patterns of a language. Listen to songs in Italian that are singable (aka they are not too fast and have a clear pronunciation) and have some karaoke time to practice your pronunciation.
I have a list Italian beautiful, singable songs in my Italian pronunciation mini-course and here are two songs to get your started: Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu by Domenico Modugno (there’s also a lovely version by Il Volo), Come Un Pittore by Modá
6. Have fun with tongue twisters!
If you’re up for a challenge, you should try tongue twisters in Italian. I also use this as a warm up to a study session to get into the “Italian mood”.
Below is one of my favourite an Italian tongue twister to practise the sound “gl” in Italian (see above). You can listen to me reading it for you (slowly and at a normal speed) right here,
Sul tagliere taglia l’aglio, non tagliare la tovaglia, la tovaglia non è aglio, se la tagli fai uno sbaglio..
And you wish to practice more Italian sounds using fun tongue twisters, you can find a collection of 20 tongue twisters (featuring different sounds of the Italian language) in my Italian pronunciation mini course right here .
7. Practise shadowing
Developed by polyglot Alexander Arguelles, the shadowing technique involves talking over an audio track and trying to match your speech as closely as possible to the native speaker voice underneath.
What you need to do is to grab an audiobook, a video in Italian with subtitles or even a listening track with the transcript from your study book (if you like it), listen to it and try reading along. This practice is excellent to improve your Itailan pronunciation skills, intonation and also your listening skills,
8. Read aloud to improve your intonation
Reading an Italian story aloud is another great practice to improve your pronunciation as well as intonation. This is even more successful if there’s a teacher or another ore expert learner that can give you feedback on your reading.
For example, the students in my Italian pronunciation mini-course record themselves reading a story like this and send their recording to me to get feedback and improve their pronunciation further. You can use this technique too with your teacher, a study buddy or even on your own. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn by listening to yourself reading in Italian.
Here is how you can do this:
Choose a story in audio as well as written format. If you don’t have any, you can download three of my Italian short stories (audio + written format) right here
Listen to the story and mark the intonation of the sentences. Ask yourself: when does this intonation goes up? When does it go down? Are there certain words that have more emphasis than others? Which ones are they?
Read the story aloud, interpret what you read and add the right intonation to communicate the right meaning.
Record yourself reading aloud.
Listen to yourself reading (or have your teacher check your recording for feedback) and see what you can improve.
The emotional component of this exercise will also help you remember better what you read, as you’ll “feel” the text –rather than read it passively. Plus, this is a fun exercise to do, especially if you love acting (I do!)
9. Get over your accent…actually, be proud of it!
If you practice pronunciation consistently, you’ll be able to get as close as you can to a native pronunciation. However, your accent sometimes may still come out, and…that’s ok!
You shouldn’t aim to eliminate your accent. As long as what you are saying is clear, your accent is not a problem. Also, everyone speaks with an accent. I’m Italian and I speak Italian with a Neapolitan accent I come from Naples. I have friends who are from Rome and they speak with a Roman accent. I bet you speak with an accent too in your native language.
An accent is not a problem as long as you are not mispronouncing words. Your accent is not your pronunciation. A correct pronunciation (with or without accent) is what makes you sound clear and make you understandable. Your accent is just a tiny feature that makes your pronunciation more personal, more yours.
I believe that achieving a good pronunciation means to achieve clarity in communication rather than to imitate a specific accent. You don’t need to change your accent to speak clearly. Your accent is actually an advantage as it becomes a point of connection, because it tells a story about you that helps you build rapport with someone else.
Do you know that some famous TV personalities in Italy who are not Italian and speak Italian with their own distinctive accent are so noticeable and likeable just because they speak that way? I’m thinking of people like the showgirl Heather Parisi, an American naturalised Italian, or the Spanish actress and dancer Natalia Estrada, who is Spanish, and there are others as well. Imagine: what would have happened, if these people hadn’t decided to chase their dream in Italy because…they spoke Italian with an accent? Well, probably they wouldn’t be as famous as they are today.
If you listen to Heather Paris, for example, you can tell she is speaking Italian clearly, but she has an exotic, foreign accent that hints at where she is from. And I really can’t see the problem with this. Because this is the exact, same thing that happens amongst Italians. Italians can tell if someone is from the South or North of Italy or from a specific region from the way they speak.
So, remember: you should never be ashamed of your accent. Your accent is not wrong as long as it doesn’t impede communication. Instead, having a bit of an accent makes you unique, and people may actually consider it fascinating. So be proud of it!
As long as you are fulfilling the main goal of the language, which is communicating, there is no need to worry about your accent. Speak up and let the words flow. You’re doing a great job!
So, let’s recap:
- A good Italian pronunciation is key to communication. You can speak with a large variety of vocabulary but if you don’t pronounce your words well no one is going to understand you.
- Some Italian sounds are similar to some English sounds. Find these “twin” sounds to facilitate your learning process
- Don’t take yourself too seriously when practicing and get over your initial embarrassment
- You can practice Italian pronunciation in a fun way, using tongue twisters, stories and songs. You can find a list of useful tongue twisters, short stories and Italian songs for beginners in my Italian pronunciation mini-course right here
- There is nothing wrong with having an accent when speaking Italian as long as it doesn’t impede communication.
Any more Italian pronunciation tips?
I’d love to hear from you: which one of this pronunciation tips is your favourite? Do you have any other tip you’d like to share today with us? Post it in the comment below!
Meanwhile I wish you a fun Italian learning,
⭐️ 🇮🇹 ⭐️
Would you like to practice your pronunciation with Italian short stories?
my collection of
Italian Short Stories
(text + audio mp3)