5 Tips for Native Italian Speakers

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For all Italian speakers Asia explains the tips in Italian in the following video:

Italians learning German tend to struggle with certain sounds of the German pronunciation. So if you are an Italian speaker, don’t worry. Here are five tips for native Italian speakers to improve your German pronunciation.

by Asia Mugliari & Pauline Reiß

Italian is perceived by German speakers as more melodic or musical than German. The Italian accent in German is therefore often perceived as appealing. But it also brings challenges when Italian speakers want to learn German.

Tip #1: Where to put stress

In Italian, stress is usually placed on the second last syllable, so Italian speakers tend to do the same with German words. In German, the stress is often on the first syllable. As a result, Italian speakers also tend to stress German words on the second last syllable. As an exercise, you can try to clap along with the stress on difficult words so that you are more aware of it. Try this with Wissenschaften ‘science’, clapping on the first syllable Wiss.

Tip #2: Words ending in consonants

This can also lead to the addition of an e-like sound at the end of a word that ends in consonants. Thus, Wissenschaften tends to become Wissenschaftene [vɪsənʃaftənə].* As an exercise, you can try to hold the last consonant, the n-sound, as long as possible until you run out of breath: Wissenschaftennnnnnn… If you repeat the exercise several times, speaking the n-sound a little shorter each time, the e-like sound will eventually disappear. By the way, linguists call this e-like sound [ə] schwa, to which we will dedicate soon a whole article.

Tip #3: Vowel length

By stressing on another syllable, Italian speakers often also exchange long vowels by short ones when they want to stress the syllable. For example, in the word Wissenschaft, the a-sound is short. But if the stress is placed on the penultimate syllable, the –schaft, and then the a-sound is also pronounced long. It sounds more like Schaf ‘sheep’. And instead of Wissenschaft, Germans could then understand Wissen-Schaf, meaning a sheep that knows a lot (maybe it’s a prejudice to think sheep do usually not to know so much?).

It can be difficult at first to pick out the difference between long and short vowels. Because the length of vowels makes no difference in meaning in Italian, unlike in German. To practice this, you can use sylby to listen to words with long and short vowels many times and say them out loud. Practice makes perfect!

Tip #4: Umlauts!

Vowel length is joined by other challenges such as umlauts, which in German are written with the following letters: ü [ʏ] as in Stück ‘piece’ or [y] as in Brühe ‘broth’, ö [œ] as in Töchter ‘daughters’ or [ø] as in Söhne ‘sons’, and finally ä [ɛ] as in Hände ‘hands’. They are often replaced by u, o, a, or even iu, which can lead to differences in meaning. Thus, instead of üben ‘to practice’, native Italians might say something like iuben [iubən]. A word, which does not exist in german and does not sound very German neither. If one would like to have several apples, one unfortunately gets only one apple without the umlaut.

Tip #5: The h-sound

Another hurdle Italian speakers have in German is the h-sound. The consonant is aspirated. That is, air comes out of the lungs without a voice. If you accidentally call Anna instead of Hanna, this will make the wrong person come. As an exercise, you can imagine the sound you make when you laugh (hahah) and try to speak it.

As you can see, the path is not without hurdles, but sylby is designed to help you do just that! Some things can be learned very fast, others take time, and no master has fallen from the sky yet. So feel encouraged, because you can do it! We hope these tips for Italian native speakers help you on your way to becoming a pronunciation pro.

* In this article we use IPA-symbols. These are the symbols you also find in a dictionary that indicate how a word is pronounced. If you want to know more about it please read our article here or visit the International Phonetic Association.

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