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Understanding Italian Translation

When attempting to move between English and Italian, it is important to remember that English is a stress-timed language, while Italian, like all Romance languages, is syllable-timed. And though Italian uses the same 26-letter alphabet as English, letters like j, k, w, x, and y are considered foreign and only utilized in imported words. Also, some words that are capitalized in English such as days, months, and languages are not capitalized in Italian.

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Italian speakers run into problems with vowel differences in minimal pairs. Where English has a tendency to “swallow” weak vowels, in Italian they are all pronounced. They also have trouble with the pronunciation of consonants, as with the sound of the /th/ in words like this, that, etc. They also struggle to aspirate the “h” in words like house and hill, which can sometimes lead to hyper-correcting by adding an aspirated “h” to all words that start with a vowel. This is ironic when you consider the tendency to add a vowel sound at the end of every word, producing the stereotypical Italian accent you hear in cartoons.

In English, the purpose of a clause depends heavily on its word order: Subject - Verb - Object. Italian is more of an inflected language, which allows for a greater variety in word order. Additionally, adjectives in Italian usually come after the noun, not in front of it the way it is done in English. These inconsistencies can result in non-standard syntax for native Italian speakers learning English.

Because Italian is a phonetic language, Italians learning English suffer through the normal issues that native speakers of such languages have with English. First, they lack confidence when spelling any new word that they hear, and second, they have trouble accurately gauging the pronunciation of any new word they have read. Italian speakers also find it problematical to produce the correct intonation when asking a question or making requests.

Whereas English speakers are not used to gender and plurality assignment for any words besides nouns, pronouns and verbs, Italian also utilizes adjectives, adverbs, and articles to assign the quantity and gender to any given noun.

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