Italian is a close relative of the English language. Hence, it’s not that difficult for English speakers to get a good grasp of it. Like any new language, though, you’ll encounter some struggle in parts, even if you use the best Italian language software you can find. Here are some of the common mistakes beginners make when learning Italian.
1. Word gender
Remembering word gender just doesn’t come naturally to most English speakers. They’re not trained to look for it all the damn time, after all. While not quite as strict as French on word genders, Italian does integrate its share of gender usage, so make sure you memorize the rules and understand them. Getting word genders wrong can make statements confusing.
Unlike in English and Spanish, you can’t just append an “s” at the end of an Italian noun to make it plural. That makes Italian plurals a particularly tough challenge for many native English speakers and, we’re guessing, Spanish speakers, too. In Italian, singular nouns that end in “-o” change to “-i” in plural form; those that end in “-a” change to “-e”; those that end in “-ca” change to “-che”; and those that end in “-e” change to “-i.” Singular nouns that end in accents and consonants, on the other hand, don’t change form when they become plural. Memorize those rules and practice applying them so you can recall them quickly the next time you use plurals in Italian.
3. Verb conjugation
Conjugation in English is limited to a very few instances. As such, English speakers are often taken by surprise with the amount of conjugation in the Italian language. More likely than not, you’ll start your first few months of Italian messing up conjugations very often. The only way to remedy that is to practice forming conjugations a lot. The more you practice conjugating a verb depending on usage, the easier it will be to recall the rules when they come up during interactions.
4. Subject pronouns
The use of subject pronouns (io, tu, lui, noi, voi, loro) with the conjugated verb forms is considered redundant in Italian. It’s not necessary, since the conjugated form of the verb will identify all the qualities any of those pronouns will convey. You won’t cause confusion in your listener, but it’s still a bad habit to develop down the line, so it’s best to avoid it before the mistake is ingrained.
5. Double consonants
Double consonants occur frequently in Italian words. They always occur somewhere in the middle of a word — never in the beginning or end.
When speaking Italian, double consonants need to be stressed; if you don’t, then you’re uttering an entirely different word altogether. Because of the frequency of double consonants in Italian, mispronouncing them can result in a lot of confusion during conversations. In some cases, it can even be embarrassing, like when you mispronounce “anni” (year) as “ani” (anuses) — not exactly the most flattering thing to say when you ask someone their age, for instance.
As a rule, shorten the sound of the vowel preceding the double consonant to help improve your pronunciatin. That will cause you to stress the repeated consonants as if they were from two different words strung together, rather than just a single utterance.
6. False cognates
A lot of Italian words sound like English words and some of them do mean the same thing. That doesn’t automatically mean every instance of parallel spelling and pronunciation refer to the same thing, though. Camera, for instance, means “bedroom” in Italian, not those boxes of gadgetry you take photographs with. Same with pepperoni, which refers to pepper, rather than that round piece of meat you top a pizza with.
There’s really no rule to recognizing false cognates. For the most part, you’ll have to learn what the actual words mean, so you can differentiate them during use. If you’re not sure, though, listen to the context in which the word is used and make your best guess from there.
7. Italian articles
Learn how and when to use Italian articles. While native speakers will probably understand you even when you skip them, it sounds especially awkward. Think of how second-language English speakers will remove or add English articles (“a,” “an,” “the”) — you sound just as ridiculous (and possibly hilarious) to native Italian speakers.
8. Letter sounds
Learn how each letter sounds in Italian in detail. Too often, language learners assume that letters sound the same in Italian as they do in English. That’s not actually true. While some will sound similar, it’s not always the case. To ensure you don’t fossilize mistakes, learn the correct sounds for every letter early on in your language training.
9. Word sounds
Make sure to enunciate the actual sound of every letter in every word. In English, we tend to allow multiple letters to represent the same vocalization and it’s ingrained in most of us. When speaking Italian, that habit will bite you in the ass. Each letter in a word has an individual sound in Italian almost all of the time, so it’s best to always enunciate everything to stay on the safe side.
Just like in English, certain words and phrases in Italian that mean the same thing can have totally different connotations. As such, using a word out of context can offend or insult. Chances are, you won’t be able to get a good grasp of this early on in your language learning, so learn how to make apologies, in case you actually end up raising someone’s ire. As you go along, though, try to learn the different connotations of phrases that have similar dictionary meanings — they can be vastly different.