Improve your Italian accent
Many Italian learners think it’s impossible to grasp the Italian pronunciation. Let’s simplify a thing or two. You might not know that in Italian vowels are actually more important than consonants.
This is actually good news. You can now focus only on these 5 sounds and forget consonants for a while.
Let's see how vowels have gained this supremacy.
Firstly, you need to know that, in Italian, every single thing, object or concept has a gender: masculine or feminine.
How does a word pick its gender?
For many words there is so much history behind their gender allocation. Ancient Latins and Greeks are the creators of those intricacies and reasoning. For other words it's simply a random allocation.
Information about a word’s gender is stored in that last vowel.
But how does this work?
If the word ends in –o, as in vino (wine), we are told that this word is masculine.
If the word ends in –a, as in pizza (pizza), well the word is feminine.
Getting that last vowel wrong can cause some confusion. In fact, you might say something completely inappropriate or say a word that doesn't exist at all. For instance, if you were to say vina instead of vino, I would not understand what you talking about. If you said pizzo instead of pizza, I might think you ate 'lace' for dinner (pizzo=lace).
Now we are starting to get why the vowels have some kind of power.
But there's more.
Vowels are also important for making things plural. Information about quantity (singular and plural) is once again stored in that last vowel.
Back to our vino, if you want to try several wines, you will need to ask for vini /vee-nee/.
If you are not dining alone and want to order three pizzas then you will ask for tre pizze /treh pitz-zeh/.
And for the visuals among us, it goes like this:
This is not to confuse you or freak you out (or maybe I just did that), but simply to show you that the last vowel contains a lot of information.
As a result, Italians are trained to pay attention to that last letter: they really need to know if you want one pizza or three pizze and there is no s to indicate that it's plural.
Here are a couple of examples of words and verbs whose ending sometimes gets left off, often leaving me and my fellow Italians with the urge to tidy things up:
- Grazie (thank you): if you say /grah-tsee/, the word is not complete. The –e in the end must be pronounced too. Try instead /grah-tsee-eh/ with ye in the end as in “Ye! I won the lottery!”
- Come sta? (how are you? the formal way). If you are addressing someone you don’t know, you must say come sta? and end the question with the -a.
- If you are greeting a friend, then use the casual come stai?, making sure you pronounce the last -i (like ee in feet), sounding like this: /ko-meh stah-ee/. In fact, if you say come sta? to your friend, guaranteed they’ll laugh at your Shakespearean ways.
The moral of the story is to pay attention to the last vowel if you do not want to leave your Italian recipient wondering.
Ah! Il potere delle vocali (vowel power)