Ever noticed how Italians tend to sing a little when they speak?
Mamma mia, Milano, amore….
If you want to have an Italian accent, the fastest and easiest way is to learn how to speak with that same sing-songy quality.
But how? Find out in this post!
The secret is in the vowels.
There’s an enormous difference between the way we pronounce vowels in English and the way Italians pronounce them, that most people don’t know about.
And once you learn the difference, you’ll sound more Italian straight away, even before you’ve finished reading this blog post!
How to have an Italian accent? Open your mouth more
Seriously, it’s that stupidly simple.
In English, we tend to mumble our vowels and smush them all together. Italians on the other hand, move their mouths around a lot, carefully enunciating each sound.
When Matteo first moved to London and was learning English, he was surprised to notice that English people hardly moved their mouths at all when they spoke, compared to when he spoke. This explains the classic Italian accent: think of an Italian speaking English, and you’ll probably imagine a voice that’s really exaggerating each vowel.
So if you’re a native English speaker learning the Italian accent, you probably have the opposite problem: you’re not opening your mouth enough when you speak Italian.
An Italian friend once told me that when he hears foreigners speaking Italian, he wishes he could shout “open your mouth more!”, because it would help them have an Italian accent.
So, if you want to sound more native when you speak, it’s time to open your mouth and carefully enunciate each vowel sound.
Pronti? Let’s practise!
Learn the Italian accent by practising these words
Take for example the Italian word for “break”. Do you know how to say that? Here’s a clue… it sounds a lot like the word “pause”.
In Italian, we say pausa.
Nice and easy to remember, given the resemblance to the English word! But be careful, because the pronunciation of the vowels is actually very different.
To hear how it sounds, let’s pretend you’re admiring something. Say OOH, AAH!
Perfetto. Now switch them around:
And there you have it, now you know how to pronounce the au in pausa!
Next, how would you pronounce this list of words? Remember, open your mouth and enunciate all the vowels really carefully:
If it feels a bit strange at the beginning, that probably means you’re doing it right! You might be moving your mouth muscles in ways you’ve never done before, and that takes a bit of getting used to at first.
That being said, it’s something you can start doing immediatamente, immediately. Now you know the difference between English and Italian vowels, you already know the most important step in having an Italian accent.
So next time you’re speaking italiano, just remember to pronounce those vowels really carefully and you’ll feel instantly more Italian!
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Vocabulary: How to Have an Italian Accent
Pausa = break
Auto = car
Opera = opera
Pizza = pizza
Panini = sandwiches
Responsabile = responsible
Quiz: How to Have an Italian Accent
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Flashcards: How to Have an Italian Accent
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Transcript: How to Have an Italian Accent
Please note, this is not a word for word transcript.
K: Ciao a tutti e benvenuti! Hi everyone and welcome to Learn Italian with Joy of Languages! You might notice things are a little different around here, we’ve been away for a while and given the podcast a makeover.
If you’re missing the old 5 minute Italian episodes, non ti preoccupare, don’t worry, the format is staying the same. We’ll keep focusing on how Italians actually speak, so you can learn the stuff that will be useful to you when you’re out here. And we’ll keep breaking everything down into little chunks so you can learn it one small bite at a time. As we’ve been away for a while, we thought we’d spruce things up a little!
M: Yes, sorry we’ve been away for so long, we’re excited to be back with you after our very long pausa.
K: Speaking of which, do you know the word “pausa”? Listen carefully… can you guess what it means?
K: Sounds a lot like pause, doesn’t it? That’s actually how we say “break” in Italian. So that makes it nice and easy to remember. To say “break” in Italian, we say “pause”. But attenzione, be careful, because the pronunciation is actually quite different. Let’s listen again:
K: Notice anything interesting about the vowels there?
K: Matteo pronounces every single one very carefully. A – U – A. Pausa.
M: A – U – A. Pausa. A – U – A. Pausa.
K: And this is an important lesson about Italian vowels, because the pronunciation is quite different compared to Italian and English. In English, we tend to mumble our vowels and mush them all together.
M: That’s right. That reminds me of my special theory.
K: Ah yeah! [mumbles] Your special “English people don’t move their mouth” theory. Tell us about it.
M: When I lived in England for a year and I was learning English, I noticed how, compared to Italians, English people hardly move their mouth at all when they speak. Wiiiii spiiiiiiiiik laaaaaiiiiik thiiiiiis, we really enunciate our vowels, almost as if we’re singing. In English, [mumbles] you can speak without moving your mouth, like this.
K: This means that when you’re learning Italian, to sound more native it’s important to really open your mouth and sing the vowels. I had a friend once who said that when he heard native English speakers speak a foreign language, he always wanted to tell them to open their mouth more, because it’s an easy way to improve your pronunciation quickly and quite drastically.
Let’s practice with some more examples. We’ll use words that are similar in English and Italian so you can really see the difference. Remember, if you want to see these words written down and get bonus materials and quizzes, you’ll find lots of extra materials for this episode on the blog too.
M: So let’s listen to some words in Italian, I bet you can guess what they mean!
K: So we had:
K: Auto, which is one way of saying “car”. Can you hear how Matteo pronounces all the vowels?
M: A – U – TO. Auto. A – U – TO. Auto
K: Which means “opera”, listen to how carefully Italians say all the vowels:
M: O – PE – RA. Opera. O – PE – RA. Opera.
K: Then we had:
M: PA – NI – NI. Panini. PA – NI – NI. Panini.
K: Interesting fact, “panino” just means “sandwich” in Italian. Panini, ending in the letter i, is the plural, so the way we use it to talk about a long grilled sandwich is something that got lost in translation. Panini actually just means “sandwiches” in Italian. Let’s listen to all the vowels again:
K: Hear all the vowels there? Matteo really opens his mouth to say it. So it’s not [English accent] “mozzarella” how we would pronounce, it, but rather:
M: MOT – TSA – RE – LA. Mozzarella. MOT – TSA – RE – LA. Mozzarella.
K: And the last word:
K: Not “responsible” but rather:
M: RES – PON – SA – BI – LE. Responsabile. RES – PON – SA – BI – LE. Responsabile.
K: Let’s listen to each word again, really slowly three times. Can you repeat them after Matteo? Remember to really open your mouth and enunciate the vowels as much as you can:
- Auto (x3)
- Opera (x3)
- Panini (x3)
- Mozzarella (x3)
- Responsabile (x3)
K: That’s it for today, grazie for joining us, we’re really pleased to be back! Remember, to see everything written down, and get bonus materials, like vocabulary cards and a quiz to help it all sink in, head over to our website by clicking the link in the description.
M: Or you can go to italian.joyoflanguages.com/podcast and search for episode 87.
K: If you enjoyed this episode, you can subscribe to us wherever you listen to podcasts to get notified about new episodes.
M: And we’d love it if you could leave us a review, because it really helps other Italian learners find the podcast. Grazie mille!
K: Looking forward to “hearing” you again in the next episode!
K, M: Ciao!
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