This blog post was updated on March 25, 2021.
Almost everyone who’s ever traveled to Italy will come back with a story of either witnessing or experiencing for themselves the humiliation of an Italian correcting their pronunciation. Many a hotel desk clerk has scolded “No, it’s grazi-EEE!” to countless tourists that were simply trying to say “thank you” for some directions or help. It seems that the people of Italy can only take so much of non-Italian speakers butchering their language — even those that work in hospitality.
So if you’re planning on taking a trip to Italy and want to avoid being admonished for your pronunciation, here are a few Italian words that are commonly mispronounced with advice on how to pronounce them properly.
You wouldn’t think anyone would give you a sour look after thanking them, but sadly many non-Italian speakers get a slap on the hand for mispronouncing the word thank you. It’s not graz-i. There is an E on the end of grazie that you pronounce almost like an A sound. You can sound out the pronunciation as grazi-ay.
You might want to order an espresso at that Italian café, only to have the barista laugh at you for adding an X to your pronunciation by saying, “Expresso.” Espresso is pronounced, as it is spelled, hence no X sound because there isn’t one.
Just as you wouldn’t shoo away a plate of bruschetta, you also shouldn’t use the shoo sound when you order it. Che in Italian is pronounced with a K sound. A simple pronunciation can sound out bru-sk-etta.
Italians will roll their eyes at you if you decide to switch to Spanish when you are requesting something. Per favore translates into please in Italian. However it is commonly mispronounced por favor. Each and every E in there should be annunciated.
If you are noticing a pattern here, a number of mispronounced Italian words are actually food items. Calzone is one of those frequent offenders. In order to not mix up your meanings, be sure to pronounce the E at the end of the word. Just like with grazie, the E has more of an A sound like ay.
Once you get off your cheap international flights to Italy, you may need to greet someone with a more formal hello or a good day while you are in Italy. Don’t be tempted to say bon-giorno in this case. Again, there is a U in buongiorno, giving the word more of a drawn out sound, pronounced almost like boo-on-giorno.
This isn’t so much of a mispronunciation in Italian as it is confused with a Spanish word, siesta. Italians don’t take a siesta. They take a riposo.