How to Do an Italian Accent

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Photo Source: Fabio Lovino/HBO

As indicated by the hodgepodge of attempted dialects in “House of Gucci,” Nicolas Cage’s strangely nasal intonations in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” and Chris Pratt’s misguided voiceover in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” the Italian accent can be hard to master. To achieve a believable Italian accent, you must understand Italian linguistics, grammar, and gesticulations—and spend a lot of time practicing. (No, playing “Super Mario” doesn’t count).


Italian linguistics

Lady Gaga and Adam Driver in 'House of Gucci'“House of Gucci” Courtesy United Artists Releasing 

Before Italy was unified in 1861, the country was divided into multiple states, each with their own unique linguistic practices. When the country unified, Standard Italian became the most commonly spoken dialect—and it remains the most popular dialect used in depictions of Italians in film and TV. Still, Italian has many dialects, including Venetian, Tuscan, Romanesco, Neapolitan, and Sicilian. If you’re asked to do an Italian accent for an audition or performance, make sure to research your character’s specific dialect and adjust your accent accordingly.

Italian accent pronunciation

'The Sopranos' cast “Sopranos” Courtesy HBO

For a standard Italian English accent: 

  • Switch short “a” for “ahh”: Pronounce words with the short “a,” such as “rag” and “bat” with the “ahh” sound found in “tall”: “rahhg” and “bahht.”
  • Switch long “e” for “ehh”: Say the long “e” sound found in “seat” or “leave” with the short “e” of “bet” and “men”: “sehht” and “lehhve.” 
  • Switch long “u” for “oo”: People don’t “unite” for a cause with an Italian accent—they “oonite” for it.
  • Switch “th” for “t” or “d”: You’re not “thinking about this or that,” but rather “tinking about dis or dat.
  • Split double consonants: Instead of pronouncing a word such as “wetter” with a “d” sound (“wedder”), split the consonants and say “wet-ter.” 
  • Drop the beginning “h”: Leave out the “h” sound if it starts a word. “Hot” becomes “‘ot” and “hurry” becomes “‘urry.” 
  • Add vowel sounds to the ends of words: This is perhaps the most notorious sound in portrayals of Italian accents. Most Italian words end in vowels, so native speakers sometimes have difficulty ending words with consonants—particularly if they end in a silent “e.” For words ending in a silent “e,” such as “excite” and “make,” add an “uh” or “eh” sound at the end: “excite-uh” and “make-eh.”

Watch this video of native Italian speaker Monica Bellucci to see how these various pronunciation changes might take place.

Tips for speaking with an Italian accent

'Luca' from Pixar“Luca” Courtesy Disney/Pixar


Italians are renowned for their hand gestures and facial expressions as a form of nonverbal communication. Think of these gesticulations as emotional punctuation that help emphasize what you’re saying. Some of the most common ones are:

  • The “pinched fingers”: To use this gesture-turned-meme, press your thumb against your other four fingers. The gesture is usually used to say “What do you want?” or “You can’t be serious.”
  • The “I don’t know”: If you want to convey that you’re not sure of something, hold both arms in front of you, palms facing up.
  • The “prayer clasp”: Clasp your hands in front of your chest as if praying to communicate that you want something to happen—or not happen. 

Use a melodic tone

With so many of its words ending in vowels, Italian is a particularly melodic language. Aim for prosody in your prose by incorporating a lilting element of musicality.

How to do an Italian accent for an audition

Robert De Niro in 'The Godfather Part II'
“The Godfather Part II” Courtesy Paramount Pictures

1. Study the Italian language

Study Italian phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary to develop a more robust grasp on the language. Watch Italian films, TV shows, and YouTube videos; tune in to Italian radio and podcasts; and hold conversations with native Italian speakers.

2. Study Italian accents

Once you’re accustomed to the tunes and tones of the Italian language, immerse yourself in the Italian accent in English. The International Dialects of English Archive provides multiple examples of Italian dialects that can help you hone your own accent. Watch actors perform the accent: Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub in “Big Night,” Monica Bellucci in “Memory,” and Robert De Niro in “The Godfather Part II” are great places to start (but keep in mind that De Niro’s accent uses the Sicilian dialect, not Standard Italian).

3. Use Italian phrasing

Most people speaking an additional language will still slip in some material from their native tongue. Pepper in few of these common Italian words and phrases for some additional authenticity: 

  • “Boh”: I don’t know
  • “Mah”: There’s nothing left to say
  • “In bocca al lupo”: Good luck
  • “Figurati”: It’s okay
  • “Meno male”: Thank goodness
  • “Mamma mia!”: My goodness!
  • “Bello”: beautiful

4. Practice

As with all things acting, the more you practice, the better. Practice your Italian accent with friends, colleagues, and strangers—just remember to strive for sensitivity to issues of diversity and authenticity. Consider working with a dialect coach until you feel “molto bene” about your accent.

5. Test it out

Wake up speaking with your best Italian accent the morning of your audition. Warming up your lips, tongue, palate, and vocal cords in the Italian accent will make it feel natural during the audition.

6. Continuity over perfection

Performing an Italian accent is more about conveying a holistic idea than hitting every pronunciation nuance. If you accidentally pronounce a “th” or don’t add an “eh” at the end of “because,” don’t let it drag you down. Instead of tripping up over little details, let the bigger-picture musicality and gesticulations of the Italian accent guide your way. “In bocca al lupo”!

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