Grasping the finer details of Italian pronunciation can be tricky, but pronouncing it well enough for radio purposes is a piece of cake. Most sounds are very similar to Spanish, with some notable exceptions.
Italian uses accent marks sparingly, of the same varieties that are used in French (acute: é, grave: è, and circumflex: ê), but unlike in French, here they do indicate stress.
|e||ay, as in "say", or sometimes the shorter form eh|
|o||oh, or sometimes the shorter form aw|
|u||oo, as in "root"|
In theory Italian vowels are always meant to be pronounced separately, but in practice, unless one vowel has an accent mark, the rapidity of Italian speech tends to reduce such combinations to diphthongs and glides, similar to those in Spanish.
|ai, ae||iy, like the word "eye"; exception: Aida = ah-ee-dah|
|ei||ay, as in "say"|
|ia, ie, io, iu||ya, yay, yo, yoo (usually; occasionally the i is stressed instead, so that the two sounds are pronounced separately, e.g. Maria = mah-ree-yah. Caution: see the note below about ci and gi!)|
|oa, ua, uo||wah, wah, wo|
Caution: when i follows the letters g or c, it usually does not behave as a vowel, but instead acts to soften the preceding consonant (see ci [+a,o,u] and gi [+a,o,u] below).
The most important rules to take note of are those pertaining to the softening of c and g: this determines much of what is distinctive about the sound of Italian. Also, one often sees doubled consonants, and they are doubled for a reason: if you listen to Italians speaking, you'll find they seem to "dwell" on these consonants a bit more than others (e.g. the word "tutti" takes longer to say than if it were spelled "tuti"). But this is a nuance that's difficult for non-Italians to recreate, and is probably better ignored by the novice.
|c [+e,i]||ch, as in "church"|
|ci [+a,o,u]||ch, as in "church", e.g. Luciano = loo-chah-noh|
|ch, cch||k, always (e.g. scherzo = skehr-tsoh, Gianni Schicchi = jahn-nee skee-kee ); do NOT confuse with German sch|
|ç||ts; used only in Medieval Italian|
|g [+a,o,u]||g, hard as in "go"|
|g [+e,i]||j, as in "jello"|
|gi [+a,o,u]||j, as in "jello", e.g. Giovanni = jo-vahn-nee, Giulini = joo-lee-nee|
|gh||g, always hard, e.g. Respighi = rehs-pee-gee, NOT rehs-pee-jee|
|gl||l, e.g. gli = lee (definite article), Pagliacci = pahl-lyah-chee|
|gn||ny, like Spanish ñ , e.g. Bologna = bo-loh-nya, Mascagni = mah-skahn-yee|
|ll||l, perfectly normal though a bit elongated (NOT like Spanish!)|
|qu||kw, just like English|
|s||z, when it falls between vowels (e.g. Busoni = boo-zoh-nee) or before a voiced consonant (e.g. Quel sguardo sdegnosetto = kwel zgwar-do zden-yo-zet-to ); otherwise s (e.g. Scarlatti = skar-laht-tee)|
|z||ts, at beginnings of words (e.g. ziti = tsee-tee); otherwise usually dz but sometimes ts, pick whichever seems appropriate|
|zz||ts or dz, again, pick whichever seems appropriate|
About 75% of the time, stress falls on the next-to-last syllable. These are exceptions:
There are lots of other exceptions, but no sure way to recognize them.
Contractions are signified by apostrophes, as in English. If you see an apostrophe, pretend it isn't there and pronounce every letter you see accordingly: often this means letters from neighboring words end up in the same syllable, e.g. Ch'io mi scordi di te = kyo mee skor-dee dee tay .
The word adagio is Italian, so in theory it should be pronounced ah-dah-joh. In practice though, it's much more common and accepted for English speakers to say ah-dah-zhee-oh.