How to pronounce Italian correctly when there is no one around to help you

Dont give up with your Italian youve got it easy

Ever wondered if you are pronouncing an Italian word correctly? Do you think it is possible to actually practice sounds when there is no Italian person around helping you out?

Enter the phonetic alphabet!

A bit daunting at first, this tool has made a whole difference when I was learning French and English at university, in Italy. English songs were always available for practice as there are plenty of those in the Italian pop music charts.

However, there were very limited opportunities to hear someone speaking French.

So, I decided to make the phonetic alphabet my best friend. And this friend will help you EVERY TIME you ask.

What is the phonetic alphabet?

It's a chart of sounds that belong to a language.

Each language has their own phonetic alphabet because each language presents different sounds.

To help you get your head around what a phonetic alphabet is, here is the English phonetic alphabet:


Image courtesy of talk turkey to me


Yes, it looks weird, but check out one or two words and say them. Then, look at how that sound is represented by the phonetic symbol. Pretty cool, hey?!

I particularly like the ʃ symbol (as in short) as the sound /shhhh/ reminds me of skiing. The phonetic letter ʃ looks like the marks left when skiing.

Or take æ and tell me if this is not clearly describing the sound between an /a/ and an /e/. I think it’s pretty clever.

It all sounds geeky, I know, but it’s a powerful tool if you want to sound Italian and … if I’m not around that day to pronounce things for you.

Let’s explore the Italian phonetic alphabet now and I promise you it has less variables than English, especially when it comes to vowels.

While English has many variations that make it impossible for anyone to learn them all perfectly, the Italian language keeps thing a little simpler.

Who said Italian was hard to learn?

Here is the Italian phonetic alphabet:


Image courtesy of Il Cirotano


Remember: not all Italian sounds will have a counterpart in English, as we are dealing with two languages that are phonetically very different.

Back to how simple Italian is.

Take the Italian a for example. There is only one way of pronouncing the letter a. No matter where your a is located - beginning, middle or end of a word. It remains /a/. Try these:

arancia (orange fruit), mamma, Angela, acquamarina

If you forget a sound or have never heard it before, then this chart with audio will give you the whole suite of sounds for all languages. You just have to pick the ones you find in the Italian phonetic alphabet.

Perfectly pronouncing a language?

It's not impossible, but it could be challenging. And I am the perfect example.

After almost 20 years of living in an English-speaking country, I still struggle distinguishing and producing the sounds ʊ (as in foot) and u: (as in food). It's challenging because in Italian there is only u:.

Boot, dude, foot, food…goodness me, when I say them it's a source of much laughter in my family.

Don’t give up on your Italian - you’ve got it easy!

So, what do you think of this tool? Leave me a comment below.







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