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10 Difficult Italian Words and How to Pronounce Them Correctly

Learning a language can be an exciting but challenging experience, and Italian is no exception. The language of this Mediterranean peninsula is a stunningly melodic with its unique sounds and pronunciation, and although it might seem easy to be understood in the first stages, it can be difficult to master. In this article, we will explore some of the most challenging Italian words to pronounce and provide tips on how to get them right!


This article focuses mostly on the difficulties encountered by English speakers when speaking Italian, and the phonetics and pronunciation tips below refer to the sounds of the English language as a comparison. Of course, this article can be helpful for speakers of any language, provided they have a good understanding of English.


Learning Italian pronunciation

1. Sciogliere

This word means "to melt" or "to dissolve" in English. It is challenging to pronounce because of the particular combination of consonants and vowels. The "sc" sound in Italian is pronounced like "sh," and the "gli" sound is pronounced like "lyi." To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "sh" sound followed by "o", and then add the "lyi" sound to it. The stress is on the second syllable: sho-LYEH-reh. One tip to pronounce the "gli" sound: start by pronouncing the word "famiglia" wrongly as "famillia". When you do it, the tip of your tongue should touch the front part of your palate. Now, lean your tongue against your palate, and you will pronounce "famiglia" correctly. We have a video explaining how to pronounce "gli" in more detail here.

2. Svegliarsi


This word means "to wake up" in English. The tricky part about this word is the combination of the "gli" and "rs" sounds. To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "sv" sound, then move on to the "lyi" sound, and finally add the "arsi" sound. The stress is on the second syllable: sve-LYAR-see.


3. Sfogliatella


The sfogliatella is a type of Italian pastry that is flaky and filled with ricotta cheese. The challenge with this word is, again, the combination of consonants and vowels and the fact that the "sf" and "gli" sounds are not common in English. To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "sf" sound followed by "o", then add the "lyi" sound, and finally add the "atella" sound. The stress is on the second syllable: sfo-LYAH-tell-ah.


4. Guancia


This word means "cheek" in English. The challenge with this word is the pronunciation of the "u" and "c" sounds. The "u" sound is pronounced like "oo" in English, and the "c" sound is soft and pronounced like "ch." To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "goo" sound, then add the "an", and finally add the "chee-a" sound. The stress is on the second syllable: goo-AN-chee-a.


Don't forget that in Italian the letter "c" followed by "i" and "e" is always pronounced with a soft "ch"! When followed by any other letter, it is pronounced "k".


5. Serratura


This word is a noun and it means "lock" in English. As with many Italian words, the challenge with this word is the sequence of consonants and vowels. The "rr" sound in Italian is a rolled "r," which can be difficult for non-native speakers to produce, and since the "r" here is double, it should be pronounced longer than a single "r". To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "se" sound, then add the long rolled "rr" sound, and finally add the "ah-tu-rah" sound. The stress is on the second syllable: seh-RRA-tu-rah. Double consonants are very important in Italian, and the meaning of several words depends on their correct pronunciation. Let's consider for example the words "capello" (hair) and "cappello" (hat): the longer "pp" (pronounced by extending the letter's sound before moving to the "e") is the only way to distinguish the former word from the latter.


6. Quattrocentocinquantaquattro

Don't panic here! This word means "four hundred fifty-four" in English, and we chose it as an example of the difficulty with pronouncing long numbers. The challenge with this word is the length and number of syllables, and the repetition of the "c" sound. To pronounce this word correctly, break it down into smaller parts. Start with "quat-tro-cen-to," which means "four hundred," then add "cin-quan-ta," which means "fifty," and finally add "quattro," which means "four." The stress is on the third syllable of "quat-tro-chen-to": quat-tro-chen-to-chin-quan-ta-QUAT-tro.


Don't forget the "c" pronunciation rule mentioned above: when followed by "e" and "i" the "c" is a soft "ch". Moreover, it is important to remember that the letter "i" is pronounced as "ee" in Italian.


7. Gorgonzola


Gorgonzola is a type of tasty Italian blue cheese from the Lombardy region. The challenge with this word is the "nz" sound, which is highly uncommon in English, and is pronounced "ndz". Also, the repetition of the letter "o" can be tricky if you don't keep in mind that in Italian the "o" is not pronounced like "aw" in English but as a single-sound "o". To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "gor" sound, then add the "gon" sound, and finally add the "dzola" sound. The stress is on the third syllable: gor-gon-DZO-la.


The "z" in Italian is either pronounced as a voiced "dz" or as an unvoiced "ts". There are many complex rules and exceptions regulating the right pronunciation of the "z" in each word, and it would take too long to explain them for the scope of this article. Fortunately, mispronouncing the "z" in Italian does not usually lead to incomprehension.


8. Chiocciola


This word means "snail" in English, but it is also the word used to refer to the "@" symbol in Italian (which does, in fact, look like a snail when you think about it). To be fair, this word is overwhelmingly used mostly to refer to the "@" symbol, since the most common word for "snail" in Italian is "lumaca".


The challenge with this word are the different sounds of the "c", which can be confusing for anyone, not just for English speakers. As we mentioned before, the "c" sound is a soft "ch" when followed by "i" and "e", otherwise it is pronounced as a hard "k". This means that the first "c" is hard, while the second is soft. Don't forget that, since the second "c" is double, you should stress that syllable longer.


To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "kee-oh" sound, then add the "ccho" sound, and finally add the "la" sound. The stress is on the first syllable: kee-OH-ccho-la.


9. Cetriolo


This word means "cucumber" in English. Several sounds in this word can be challenging for an English speaker. Make sure not to pronounce the "tr" sound as "ch", instead diving the "t" and rolling "r" sounds. Also, make sure not to pronounce "io" as you would in English: in Italian it is pronounced "ee-o".


To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "ce" ("che" in English) sound, then add the "tree-o" sound, and finally add the "lo" sound. The stress is on the "o" in the second syllable: che-tree-O-lo.


10. Quindici


This word means "fifteen" in English and can be challenging because of the pronunciation of the "qui" and "c" sounds. As before, don't forget that the letter "c" is pronounced as a soft "ch" here. To pronounce this word correctly, start with the "kween" sound, then add the "dee" sound, and finally the "chee" sound. The stress is on the first syllable: KWEEN-dee-chi.

speaking Italian


Tips for improving your Italian pronunciation


1. Practice, Practice, Practice


The key to pronouncing difficult Italian words is practice. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will become with the sounds and pronunciation of the language. Try to speak Italian every day, even if it's just for a few minutes!


There are many ways to maximize language practice: attending a course with a teacher, finding someone willing to do a language exchange, or even better a friend. Of course, if you live in Italy, make sure to use Italian in your every day life, even if people understand English around you. Maximizing your exposition to the language and your opportunities to speak it is pivotal in ensuring your overall progress, not just of your pronunciation.


2. Listen to Native Speakers


Listening to native Italian speakers is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation. Pay attention to how they pronounce difficult words and try to imitate their accent and intonation. This can seem very difficult at first, of course, but as a person who learned foreign languages myself, I can tell you that you just need to be persistent, and the sounds will start to become familiar before you realize it.


Watching Italian movies or TV shows with subtitles is a good start (better if with Italian subtitles, if your level is good enough to understand them, or even better without subtitles at all), and you can find many Italian bloggers on YouTube talking about your favourite topics.


Listening to Italian music might seem a somewhat less effective method, since words are sometimes pronounced differently when sung, and it's hard to understand the lyrics. However, this is compensated by the fact that songs have a tendency to get stuck in your head, and it is much easier to remember something if associated to music.


So, if you haven't fallen in love with Italian music yet, what are you waiting for? A good place to start is the worldwide famous Sanremo Festival, a singing competition that is arguably the most important Italian cultural event of each year.


3. Break Words Down into Smaller Parts


Breaking down difficult words into smaller parts can make them easier to pronounce, as we've shown above. Try to identify the stressed syllable in the word and then break the word down into smaller parts. Unfortunately, there are no rules to help you determine the stressed syllable in each word (unless when it's the last one), but fortunately a wrong stress won't change the pronunciation of the sounds.


Practice saying each part of the word separately and then put them together.


4. Pay Attention to Consonant and Vowel Combinations


Italian has some unique consonant and vowel combinations that can be challenging to pronounce for an English speaker. Pay attention to how these combinations are pronounced in Italian and practice saying them until you feel comfortable.


5. Learn with a Pronunciation Tutor


Learning with a personal pronunciation tutor is a great way to ensure fast progress and make sure you're not making any involuntary mistakes. Italmente offers online individual Italian courses that can be tailored on your needs, including pronunciation training with our expert tutors. Click here to found more about our individual courses, or contact us to request a free trial lesson.


In conclusion, Italian is a wonderful language that can be challenging to master, especially when it comes to pronunciation. However, with practice and patience, you can learn to pronounce even the most difficult Italian words correctly. We hope we helped you feel more confident with your Italian pronunciation in this article. Make sure to follow us on our social media, where we post many tips to learn Italian, including pronunciation!



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