10 common mistakes German speakers make in Italian

August 6, 2022

As a Romance language, Italian feels melodic because of its abundance of vowels. Almost every word, indeed, ends with a vowel, except for foreign expressions like “il kit”, “il goal” and “i jeans”. And the language's diversity is heightened by regional influences and dialects, posing challenges for learners used to a different sound system.

Pronunciation thus becomes particularly intricate for German speakers, demanding practice, focus on acoustics, and activation of specific facial muscles. Let’s take a look at the most common mistakes they make in Italian!

1. Pronunciation: the sounds “gl” and “gn”

The digrams “gl” and “gn” present unique challenges for German speakers.

“Gl”, as in “famiglia”, “scoglio”, or “figlio” is often mispronounced as a simple “l” sound (eg. “familia” instead of “famiglia”). However, the sound corresponds to a mouillated "l," a fusion of [l] and [j], similarly to the Spanish “ll” sound. Similarly, the sound “gn”, as in “gnocchi”, “ragno”, or “segno”, corresponds to a mouillated "n," blending [n] and [j], just like the “ñ” sound in Spanish.

Paying attention to pronunciation is beneficial and not merely about being understood; it is to all intents and purposes a gateway to effective communication. If you’re contemplating working with Italians or engaging with Italian customers, clear pronunciation proves invaluable. You’ll avoid repeating yourself three times every time!

2. Presentation confusion: "Sono di Austria" or "Sono austriaco"?

In translations from German, errors often surface. Responding to "Di dove sei?" (meaning “Where are you from?”) with "Sono di Austria" (“I am from Austria") is a common misstep. The correct responses include expressions like "Sono+nationality" (eg. Sono austriaco) or “Vengo da+country” (es. Vengo dall’Austria). Understanding the nuances avoids linguistic pitfalls.

3. Tongue-twisting words: bruschetta, stracciatella, espresso

Correct pronunciation adds finesse to your Italian. While "bruschetta" should be pronounced as "brusketta," "stracciatella" is closer to "stratschatella," and "espresso" should never be mistaken for "expresso!

4. Disappearing letters: “Un momento, per favore”

The indeterminate masculine article before nouns beginning with a consonant is typically “un”. Therefore you should say “un momento” and not “uno momento”. But remember to pay attention to the exceptions. Words beginning with “y”, “gn”, “z”, “s” + consonant are preceded by the article “uno”, like in “uno zaino”, “uno yogurt” and “uno specchio”.

5. Pronunciation: the sound “qu”

Like the sounds “gl” and “gn”, also “qu” presents some difficulties to German speakers who tend to pronounce it as “kw”. However, the digram is pronounces “ku”. So you’d say “kuando” and not “kwando”!

6. Age Matters: "Io sono 15 anni" or “Io ho 15 anni”?

Italian people possess their age and this is why you say “Io ho 15 anni” (I have 15 years” instead of “Io sono 15 anni” (I am 15 years old). The verb “avere” (to have) expresses age, showcasing an important linguistic nuance. 

7. Expressing oneself: "Io mi chiamo Sabine" or "Mi chiamo Sabine"?

In Italian, personal pronouns at the beginning of sentences are unnecessary. The subject, indeed, can be recognized by the verb conjugation. Instead of saying “Io mi chiamo Sabine”, simply state “Mi chiamo Sabine”.

Students introducing themselves

8. Navigating the subjunctive terrain: "Se io andrei" 

Mastering the subjunctive in Italian can be challenging, even for Italian speakers. Understanding its usage in hypothetical conditions, replacing conditional II, adds complexity to language learning. In German, these forms do not differ while in Italian, “potrei” is the conditional and “potessi” is the subjunctive form.

9. Lost in translation: “Excited” in the sense of anticipation

The world “excited” might be difficult to translate. “Eccitato/a” is more wrong than wrong. It means something completely different. If you don’t want to get into a bind we recommend you use one of the following expressions: “Sono entusiasta”, “Non vedo l’ora di…” and “Sono emozionato/a”.

10. False friends: when words mean something totally different

Navigating linguistic traps involves recognizing false friends, those words that are similar to German but have a completely different meaning. Here’s a list of the most common ones!

  • “Duck”: it’s not a waterfowl, but an office/institution
  • “Regalo”: it’s not a piece of furniture, but a gift
  • “Canna”: it’s not a jug, but a joint
  • “Po”: it’s actually the name of the longest river in Italy
  • “Affare”: it’s not an affair, but a good deal
  • “Autista”: it doesn’t mean autistic, it’s a driver
  • “Cozze”: it’s a delicious dish, mussels

Have you ever fallen into these linguistic traps? Join Italianforawhile for an authentic Italian language journey with native-speaking teachers!‍

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