I have several friends and colleagues who are currently learning Italian or who have already reached a good level and often want to have a conversation with me. When I ask them why they chose my bellissima mother tongue, they all give the same response. They are fascinated by Italian’s musicality and joyful flow, they want to understand the concept of la dolce vita through the language, and they are in love with Italian culture: the charming landscapes and beautiful cities, and the way we Italians enjoy the simple pleasures of life, such as a glass of wine while watching the sunset or a gelato on a hot summer day.
Sigh. This article is slowly becoming nostalgic. Anyway, my friends learning Italian always complain about the same thing: Apparently, some Italian sounds are very difficult to pronounce. But how? It’s so easy, you just read what you see! Looking at the results of the video above, maybe I was taking this for granted.
Here’s a list of some very difficult words and tips on how to nail their Italian pronunciation. Siete pronti? (Are you ready?)
7. Ghiaccio (ice)
First tip: Forget everything you learned in English, French or German.
The Italian H behaves in a weird way. It’s the ghost letter that never wants to be pronounced, unless it makes a special appearance following a G or C, in which case the H changes the sound. Chi and ci, as a matter of fact, are completely different: the first one sounds like “key” in English, the second is very “smooth” and is pronounced like the “ch” in “chill.” Same story with ghi (the G sound like in Guinea) and gi (smoother, as in genius).
The trick also works for ghe, ge, che, ce, but if C and G are followed by A, O or U the sound is always “hard.” On the other hand, if there’s an I between the G or C and the following vowel, the consonant will make a soft sound.
Now try with ghiaccio:
6. Chiacchiericcio (chitchat)
OK, guys, I’m sorry: I probably chose the worst words for you to practice. But I promise that once you nail this, you will be able to pronounce literally everything in Italian. Remember the rules that I explained before and try with chiacchiericcio:
5. Cinquecentocinquantacinque (555)
I chose this word as revenge for the time I was forced to pronounce the number 555 in German (fünfhundertfünfundfünfzig). Oh yeah? Now try it in Italian! And don’t forget that qu is pronounced like a “kw” sound.
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
4. Sciogliere (melt)
So do you feel confident with the rules that I just explained to you? Great. Now forget them for a minute! When ci and ce are preceded by an S, the sound becomes even smoother, much like sh.
What about the gli? Non-Italian speakers tend to divide the two consonants — making both of them very audible — but no, this is wrong. To correctly pronounce gli, pronounce the name Lee and try to touch your palate with the central part of your tongue instead of the tip.
If you are able to pronounce this word, I will take you to my nonna’s house to eat a delicious dish of gnocchi. It’s easy: the gn- is pronounced like the Spanish Ñ, and you already know the rule for the chi. Hungry?
2. Scherzo (prank, joke)
It seems like I had a lot of fun choosing these words. In this case, the sound sc is different once again, because it’s changed by the H that follows it (remember that spoiled little ghost?). Anyway, here’s the trick: pronounce the hard sound of ch (as in key), but with a regular S before.
1. Chiglia (keel)
I won’t specifically teach you how to pronounce this one: I already explained all the necessary rules. Now, come on, it’s your turn!