Italian Lessons


Lessons for topic Basics

The Italian Alphabet - Part 2

The Italian Alphabet - Part 1

L’alfabeto telefonico (The telephone alphabet)

Speaking on the phone in a foreign language can be quite a challenge. As Marika spells out in a lesson for beginners about the alphabet, Italians use the names of cities (for the most part) when they need to be crystal clear in spelling a name or a word.

The Italian way is to use the name of a city directly, leaving out the letter itself completely, once it’s clear you’re using this system. Notice how Marika does it, as she makes a phone reservation for a friend. The person taking the call asks her to spell the name, or fare lo spelling (to do the spelling). Spelling is a word taken pari pari (exactly as it is) from the English, except that it’s used as a noun, with its article lo.

Claudia Rossi. -Mi può fare lo spelling?

Sì, certo! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.

Claudia Rossi. -Can you spell that for me?

Yes, of course! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.

Captions 10-11 Marika spiega: Fare lo spelling

The spelling for Yabla would be: ipsilon, Ancona, Bologna, Livorno, Ancona.

Here’s the complete list of the cities generally used for spelling: 

• A: Ancona

• B: Bologna

• C: Como

• D: Domodossola

• E: Empoli

• F: Firenze

• G: Genova

• H: acca, or hotel

• I:  Imola 

• J: i lunga, or Jolly, Jersey

• K: kappa

• L: Livorno

• M: Milano

• N: Napoli

• O: Otranto

• P: Palermo

• Q: Quarto, Quadro

• R: Roma

• S: Savona

• T: Torino

• U: Udine

• V: Varese, Venezia

• W: vu doppia, doppia vu, or Washington

• X:  ics, or di raggi x (x rays)

• Y:  ipsilon, y greca, or di Yacht, di York

• Z:  zeta or Zara

Learning suggestion:

Learn to spell your name and address using the alfabeto telefonico! Some of these cities, such as Udine, Otranto, Imola, Empoli, and Napoli are pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Domodossola is accented on the third syllable. Domodossola happens to be one of the important frontiere (border crossings) on the train line between Italy and Switzerland. Pronunciation aids along with the list (with some alternate city names) can be found here. Knowing what cities to associate with letters is especially handy if you intend to travel in Italy, so memorizing this list can be fun and useful.

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The Italian Alphabet - Part 1

The Italian Alphabet - Part 2

This lesson is aimed at beginners, but even more advanced students might learn something they didn't know before.

English consonants are typically written out as the letters themselves (B, C, D) rather than as words approximating their pronunciation (we don't write "bee" when we mean "B"). Yet Italian consonants do have words that represent them, which you'll learn by following along with Marika.

A, bi, ci, di, e, effe, gi, acca, i, i lunga, cappa,

elle, emme, enne, o, pi, qu,

erre, esse, ti, u, vi, doppia vu, ics, ipsilon, zeta.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J (long I), K,

L, M, N, O, P, Q,

R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

Captions 5-7, Marika spiega - L'alfabeto

Another distinction is that while many English words end in consonants, it's rare that an Italian word does. If you look at Marika’s list of words, those ending in consonants are “loan words” from other languages. Because it’s much more common for an Italian word to end with a vowel than a consonant, Italian consonants themselves (except for X) are all written and pronounced ending in a vowel, and sometimes they begin with a vowel, too. The word for the letter may be more than one syllable in length. Let’s take the letter “S” for example. Listen to how Marika says it: esse: two syllables. As a matter of fact, in the commercial world, Italians sometimes use this way of spelling a letter to come up with clever names of companies, stores, or products. A well-known example in Italy is the supermarket called Esselunga (Long S).

The native Italian alphabet contains 21 letters. With language becoming more and more international, Italian has adopted five new letters to spell the foreign “loan words.” These are:

• J-   i lunga (“long I”)**

• K-  kappa

• W- vu doppia, or doppia vu (“double V”)**

• X-  ics

• Y-  i-greca (Greek “I”) or ipsilon (upsilon)

**These names make more sense if you think that before semi-modern times, I and J were considered variant forms of the same letter, same as U and V.

Learning tip:

Once you've repeated after Marika in the video, and you've done the exercise she suggests, try spelling some Italian words you know out loud, and, of course, try spelling your name.

When spelling out loud, pay careful attention to “A,” “E,” and “I” because in Italian the vowel “E” is pronounced not unlike the English “A,” and in Italian the vowel, “I” is pronounced not unlike the English pronunciation of “E,” so, to avoid confusion, it’s always important to establish what language you're spelling in! And of course when you get to “R” try rolling that “R!” In the Italian spelling of this letter (erre) there are indeed 2 of them, so they need rolling.

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