Speaking a language with a good accent isn’t just a matter of sounding good and impressing people.

  • It changes the way you listen to the language, and it changes the way people speak to you.

  • It helps you learn faster, since hard-to-pronounce words are substantially harder to memorise.

  • It brings that vocabulary to your tongue with more ease, and it makes native speakers continue to speak to you in the language.

  • Learning accurate pronunciation in the beginning also means that you won’t spend years building bad pronunciation habits.

What do I need to know?

Italian spelling is largely phonetic; that is, with only a few exceptions a single letter or cluster of letters represents the same sound, and each sound occurring in the language has only a single written representation.

  • Italian vowels
  • the sounds /k/, /ʧ/
  • the sounds /g/, /dʒ/
  • the sounds /r/, /l/
  • certain double consonants (/kk/, /gg/, /rr/, /ll/, //pp/, /bb/
  • the sounds /l/ and /ʎ/ (filo/figlio)
  • the sounds /n/ and /ɲ/ (nano/bagno)
  • the sounds /t/ and /d/
  • the sounds /sk/ and / ʃ/ (schiacciare/sciare)
  • the sounds /v/ and /b/
  • the sounds /f/ and /v/
  • accent within words: tonic stress and graphic accents in writing
  • intonation in questions, statements and exclamations

At a bare minimum, your goal is to be able to easily hear and say the difference between double consonants and single consonants (caro vs carro and sete vs sette, for example), the difference between the alveolar /n/ (in “cane”) nasal consonant and the palatal /ɲ/ consonant (in “bagno”), and the difference between the palatal and alveolar lateral consonants (“aglio” vs “allo”, for example). Once you get those, you’re pretty-much ready.

How can the Language Centre help you?

To help you overcome this challenge the Language Centre advisors recommend to use its:

  • on site resources (manuals of Italian Phonetics)
  • self-learning language lab
  • online external resources

On site resources

Students can learn a language in different environments and through different ways. For example, grammar and vocabulary may be learnt outside the boundary of textbooks, through a vast array of learning materials and experiences.

But when it comes to phonetics things get more complicated and a textbook becomes fundamental for practising the sounds correctly.

Here’s a list of useful manuals you can ask the Language Centre advisors to study Phonetics:

  • Suoni, accento e intonazione
  • Giocare con la fonetica
  • The Phonetic Guide to Italian

Self-study language lab

The Language Centre has a classroom with a self-study language lab, where every workstation has a PC and a microphone headset for listening and pronunciation. The multimedia technologies provided allow you to perform an audio-active-comparative exercise (repeat multiple pronunciation patterns and record your voice in succession to compare it with the master track).

It's a good idea to take advantage of this powerful device when approaching phonetics: the language lab has a built-in TTS module (Text-To-Speech), an assistive technology that reads digital text aloud. You just have to copy-paste sentences in the programme and a voice will read the text for you.

Online external resources

Check out these links:
Centro Studi Italiani
Italian Phonetics

Ear training

Beginning language learners can benefit from conversational shadowing.
Basically this means repeating a conversation word-for-word, even if you don’t know the meaning of the sentence.
This helps you get used to the rhythm and pattern of the language, as well as helping you to distinguish single words and phrases from longer chunks of spoken language.

For example, you can listen to an audio clip once and then shadow the conversation in short sections of 30 seconds, focusing on reproducing the words as accurately as possible. You’ll have to pay attention to rhythm, intonation and pacing.