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Pronunciation Tips for Beginners: the letter A

For English speakers, Italian can be difficult to pronounce, especially when reading. Watching, listening, and doing the exercises Yabla provides can all help reinforce correct pronunciation, but let’s zoom in on one of the basic sounds.


We’re not looking for the nuances here, of which there are plenty, but just the very basics.


In Italian, the vowels, in particular, sound so different from what they look like to an English speaker, so let’s start there.


Let’s have a look at pronouncing the letter "A."


To hear the Italian “A” click on the audio icon here, and you can hear the correct pronunciation and repeat it. Maybe you can find a word in English that you pronounce with this sound. The Italian "A" sound has no diphthong in it and never sounds like a long "A," as in April.


Let’s take the word naso (nose). If you pronounce the "A" as you do in "ah!," you will come pretty close! And here is a tip. Go to the Dictionary tab and type in the word naso. Apart from information about the word, you will see an audio icon you can click on to hear the word pronounced. At the bottom of the page, you will be able to click on some bite-sized video clips containing the word in context. 



Quindi ho bisogno di soffiare il naso tantissime volte.

So I have to blow my nose many times.

Caption 13, Marika spiega - Il raffreddore

 Play Caption


What are some other words with this sound?


How about casa (house)? There are 2 A's. 

È Sara che è tornata a casa.

It's Sara who just got home.

Caption 26, Acqua in bocca Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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Maybe you noticed there are plenty of words with the A sound in the previous example. Try repeating the caption after hearing it. 


How about pasta?


La pasta alla Norma è una pasta semplicissima da cucinare.

Pasta alla Norma is a very simple pasta dish to make.

Caption 5, L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma - Part 1

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In fact, if we listen look carefully,  there are plenty of words containing the letter "A" in this one sentence. Listen to the video, and you will hear that they are all pronounced the same way. 


Try pronouncing the title. Italia a tavola (Italy at the Table).


In a segment of La Ladra (try pronouncing the title), there’s a very similar word to its English counterpart (the one in parentheses), but the "A" sounds a bit different.



Murderer (assassin)!

Caption 9, La Ladra Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 13

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For more on the alphabet, see Marika's videos about the alphabet and about pronunciation.


Let us know if this was helpful, and we’ll talk about another vowel, soon. 

Expressing Need with Servire

In a recent lesson, Daniela talks about using the noun il bisogno (the need) to express need.


Ho bisogno di fare ginnastica.

I need to do some gym (literally, “I have need of doing some gym”).

Caption 31, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Concetto di "bisogno"

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Per cominciare, abbiamo bisogno di due melanzane lunghe,

To start with, we need two long eggplants,

Caption 10, L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma

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Hai bisogno di qualcosa?
Do you need something?


Of course, bisogno looks like the first person singular of the verb bisognare, but it’s not. It’s a noun.


But, since we have already discussed bisogno in another online lesson, let's look at a different way to express need, this time with a verb.


We might agree that there’s sometimes a fine line between something that's necessary and something that is useful. Italian has an interesting verb that covers both bases much of the time. In Italian, we can express need with the verb servire (to serve). It’s used with an indirect object, as if it were “it serves to me.” Remember that ci in the following example means noi (to us).


Allora, mamma, quali sono gli ingredienti che

So, Mom, what are the ingredients

ci servono per preparare una granita al limone?

we need to make the lemon ice?

Caption 13, Adriano - La granita al limone

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The verb servire is conjugated according to what is needed, what is necessary, or what is useful. In the above example, the noun that determines the conjugation is ingredienti (ingredients) so we use the third person plural of servireservono.


Servire works similarly to the verb piacere. Remember mi piace (I like it)? Here’s a lesson on it to refresh your memory.


If you are helping someone in the kitchen you might ask:


Cosa ti serve (what do you need/what is necessary for you)?


You could also ask, as Daniela explains in this week's lesson:


Di che cosa hai bisogno (what do you need/what do you have need of)?


However, when followed by the preposition (to), servire can also mean “is used.”


C'è una corda che è almeno il doppio di questa qui,

There's a rope that's at least twice as long as this one,

che serve a far muovere il cavallo prima di montarci sopra.

that is used to warm up the horse before mounting him.

Captions 35-36, Francesca - Cavalli - Part 2

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So a dialogue in the kitchen could go something like this:


Cosa ti serve (what do you need)?
Mi serve un mestolo (I need a ladle).
che cosa serve un mestolo (what is a ladle used for)?
Serve a servire il brodo (it’s used to serve the soup).


And now you have seen that servire also means “to serve.” It’s a true cognate in this case.
There’s also a reflexive version of this verb, but we’ll talk about that in another lesson.


Conoscere il verbo servire serve (knowing the verb servire is useful)!