Good day, students!

Below I have tried to gather briefly some concerns, cultural and linguistic, on Italy and the Italian language. I hope it will help clarify the many doubts that you have when you learn a foreign language. Happy reading!

1. Use the mouth!

It might seem a truism, but if you want people to listen to you, you have to open your mouth, right?

This is especially true if you speak Italian, as we are known for our very lively manner of speaking. Usually, native English speakers are accustomed to a language that doesn't have the same great sound and pronunciation as Italian. This means you have to enunciate clearly and keep your mouth open when you're speaking it.

2. Double consonants

It is important to learn from the very beginning how to correctly pronounce Italian double consonants. Have a look at this video for an example. We Italians do not throw anything away, let alone our letters! If the word contains double consonants (e.g.: nonno, fatto, stesso, penna), you can assume that they are both pronounced. There is a huge difference between casa (house) and cassa (trunk), for example. If you're not sure how to pronounce double consonants, read this article.

3. Gli

Just ask a beginner (or even an intermediate student) to utter words like famiglia, agliaccio, cianfrusaglia, and coniglio to him and his face seems to have seen a ghost: “Noooo, I do not want to know the words that contain "gli"! Although you can use English "ll" as in the English word "million" or the Spanish "ll" as in "paella" as a comparison, I think that leaves many still stunned. Surely, the most effective way to learn how to pronounce this cursed syllable is to repeat it until it becomes natural.

4. The days of the week

The days of the week, except Saturday and Sunday, place the accent on the last syllable. Just look at the end of the word. Take lunedi, for example. You see? Very often, the students fail, moving it to where it suits them most. This is wrong! You have to pronounce the emphasis where it is in the word, not where you want it to be.

5. R

Rolling the letter r is another nightmare for my students--for all students.

In this case, there is also an explanation on how to deal with the language technically, but repetition is the only practical alternative. Try to repeat this like a mantra: “Un ramarro marrone correva su un muro colorato” (a brown lizard ran on a colored wall). Am I enjoying giving you a tongue-twister? You know it!

Please send a video to me here showing you trying to roll your r. I will try to help you fix your errors.

6. C

Let's clarify this blunder: I eat the bruschetta and not a brushetta. Okay?

Often, the waiters in Italian restaurants abroad have a vague idea of how to pronounce the dishes they serve. And, the peculiarity of the letter c does not help at all. If after the c there is an i or e, it is pronounced like the famous Indian tea, chai. Conversely, if c is followed by an h, then it is pronounced k, for example, chiaro. Clear?

7. G

g follows the same pattern, more or less, as for the letter c. If after g there is a h, then it is pronounced as in the word ghetto or spaghetti. Instead, if the g is followed by i or e it is read like a j.

8. The sound SC ...

If you follow the rules laid out in section 6, you should not have any major problems. Just remember that after sc, if there is the vowel e or i, it is pronounced as the English sh sound. At this link, you can find a video where I explain the odd couple "shoe/scarf--scarpa/sciarpa".

9. Words with different meanings

Espresso is a coffee, not a train. And, try not to drink cappuccino after lunch or dinner. I will not say anything more!

10. Culinary Misunderstandings

I'm sorry to tell you this, but spaghetti bolognese and fettuccine Alfredo are not traditional Italian dishes. In Italy, the former is replaced by tagliatelle and the latter was created in Lo Stivale (nicknamed “the Boot of Italy”) by Alfredo Di Lelio, owner of a restaurant in Rome, but it has since spread abroad. In Italy, no one knows it!

Of course, this list could be much longer, but, as the famous saying goes: Chi va piano, va sano e lontano (who goes slowly, goes safely and far). And, remember that in the words of the beloved actor Totò, so ironically crippled, nessuno nasce maestro (no-one was born a teacher).

Matteo Teaches Italian


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