sabato 14 dicembre 2013

Italiano in Pillole!

Have you ever thought: I wish i could speak Italian! It sounds such a beautiful language!

Or "Italians speak English so bad.. I wish I could talk with them... I guess I have no other choice but to learn Italian..."

If you had at least once in your life these thoughts crossing your brain then you are in the right place! Once every two weeks I will try to post a short, easy to follow lesson for you to start learning this song-sounding language!
Welcome to the session: ITALIANO IN PILLOLE! (Pills of Italian)

Small introduction on how to approach Italian.
First of all, face learning this new language with really low pressure: the grammar is difficult, true, but Italians themselves have a high percentage of mistakes when they talk. In any case you can always learn how to use the gestures to communicate without actually talking!
The everyday speech is really... colorful: when we talk with friends we might end up using a lot of "dirty Italian words", we screw and we use a lot of words connected to sexuality and sexual parts to do that.Sometimes this screwing is offensive towards others sometimes it is just said when something is not going as expected (similar to the "oh shit!" "OMG" or "Scheisse" in German).

Italian has a really interesting sound to not native speakers, and it has many words that exist just in few regions or cities of the country. When a word you do not know is said don't be afraid to inquire about the meaning... even Italians are not aware of all the regional differences, thus they won't be offended! Actually the more you prevent them to speak a foreign language the bigger a favor you do to him/her and yourself!
As for the intonation this is one of the most difficult things to learn: first of all it is not always possible to hear a native speaker talking and secondarily if you don't change the intonation people might not understand if its an offense, a joke, a question or a command. Yeah. It's pretty tricky!

Ok guys let's start with the alphabet and pronunciation!
Italian has no "weird letters", no J K X W Y, with one only exception I could think of: Jacopo is a popular Italian name which can be compared to the English Jacob. No not the one from Twilight... ok granted... here you are the pic for the fans of this series:

Ahahaha!! you were expecting the human form, weren't you?
Small digression:
The name Jacopo was originally Latin and broadly used in medieval age to be later changed during linguistic evolution in the today's more common name Giacomo (Jack). It exists in two versions, with J or with I. Pronunciation does not change [] and probably the J remained to give more stress on the closed "i" and the accent on the a.

Ok where were we? Ah... Alphabet!
Composed by 21 letters which can be found in many combinations.
Please look at the tables below with letters, pronunciations, common combinations and examples of English words with a similar sound. 

A [a] Blood E [e, ɛ] phrases/pet I [i, j]Reek /peak O [o, ɔ]phone/hall U [u, w]
Special Vowels (accents)
à [a]
è/é [ɛ, e]
ì [i]
ò [ɔ]
ù [u]
Special combinations (Diphthong)
ai [ai] ei [ei, ɛi] ia [ja] oi [oi] ua [wa]
au [au] eu [eu, ɛu] ie [je, jɛ]
ue [we, wɛ]

io [jo, jɔ]
ui [wi]

iu [ju]
uo [wo, wɔ]
Special combinations (Hiatus)
aa [aa] ea [ea, ɛa] ia [ia] oa [oa, ɔa] ua [ua]
ae [ae] ee [ɛe] ie [ie] oe [oe, ɔe] ue [ue]
ao [ao] eo [eo, ɛo] ii [ii] oo [oo, ɔo] ui [ui]

io [io]
uo [uo]
As can be seen from the table when two vowels are one after the other the pronunciation, does not really change. Both the letters must be said as in the squared brackets. What really changes is the strength with which they should be said. In diphthongs they must be said rather quickly and delicately. In the hiatus on the other hand, both letters are important, requiring to be distinctively said.
Simply put, the lips do not move all the way in diphthongs but they do that for hiatus.

to say AE of AEroplano (=airplane) you have to make the movement of A and subsequently the movement for E.
To say AI in avrAI (=you will have) the lips are just slightly apart in order to be able to say A and I quickly one after the other.

From the table you can also see that the only combinations of vowels which are NOT used in the Italian language are OU and UU. All the others can also compose combination in which the first or the second letter can be accented. In this case the accented letter must be pronounced slightly longer than the not accented one.


Zio (uncle) -> Zīo
Mie (my, feminine plural) -> Mīe
Cliente (customer) -> Cliènte or Cliēnte
Friuli (Italian region) -> Friūli

Ok, now: Consonants

In the table you can find all the consonants and special combinations with different pronunciation. I also prepared a drawing to explain the position of tongue and lips for the the pronunciation of the R in the Spanish way. This is probably the most difficult letter to learn!

B [b] Baloon C [ʧ, k] key China D [d] demon F [f] effort
G [ʤ, g] google, jack H [ø] honor L [l] light M [m] man
N [n] nothing P [p] passion Q [k] quarter R [r] *look notes
S [s] staircase T [t] tom V [v] vault Z [ts:, dz:] pats *look notes
Special combinations
CC [ʧ:, k:] CH [k] as in Key CI [ʧ] as in Chai, China GG [ʤ:, g:]
GH [g] as in google GI [ʤ] as in jack GL[gl, ʎ:] GLI [ʎ:]
GN [ɲ] QU [k] as in scooby doo SC [sk] as in Skate SCI [ʃ] as in Shock

Notes: the R is pronounced with the tongue quickly vibrating behind the front teeth. The sound is rough and almost like the piRate "ARRRRRR". :P

Here I tried to draw how:

On the left you can see where the tongue stays and on the right how the lips look while saying the R. Try to say the French or the German R (guttural) and meanwhile changing the lips position: you can, but it's not that easy with the "lingual" R.
The Z instead is always pronounced as in -TS of pets, rats, let's...
Azione and Amazzone are said in the same way with the z even more strongly pronounced in amazzone than the former word.
When are C and G pronounced differently?
If C and G are followed by H A O U they are said as in Key and Google. Same if they are doubled. When they are followed by E and I the pronunciation resembles China and Jack.


Aggeggio (=tool) -> ad'ʤedʤo. The G is always as in Jack.
Ghiaccio (=ice) -> 'gjatʧo The G as in google and C as in China.
Cavolo (=cabbage) -> 'kavolo C as in key.

And for GL?
same: GL followed by I is pronounced ʎ, I am sorry but I don't think there is a sound like that in English.
[Do you know niño in Spanish, pronounced with ɲ? the ʎ sound is similar just with L instead if N]
If followed by any other vowels is instead pronounced as in Glee.


Agglomerato (=conglomerated) -> agglomerāto
Aglio (=garlic) -> aʎ:io

Next time I will speak about salutations and ceremonies and a short introduction on the grammar!
I know that maybe you were expecting already to be able to say some romantic Italian sentences to your SO (Special One), I just believe a small indication on pronunciation might help when audio files are not possible.

Hope this post was useful!

Ciao ciao,