In Italian elementary school children learn the following spelling rules, usually via a set of vertically stacked syllables inside tables written on large cartelloni (posters) with the sequences of letters shown below handwritten on them in a large font (without the IPA symbols which I have attached for convenience's sake for new learners). The teacher typically reads out these letter sequences aloud in sets of five, first alone, then several times with the children who thus learn how to read them. Here is the complete list (the sounds of the IPA letters in square brackets ease the sound drift from the letter that precedes them and the letter following them and can be pronounced softly or omitted from pronunciation altogether without affecting word identity and meaning):

| ca  (IPA: /ka/)  |  ga  (IPA: /ga/)  |  cia  (IPA: /tʃ[i]a/)  |  gia (IPA: /dʒ[i]a/)  |
| cu  (IPA: /ku/)  |  gu  (IPA: /gu/)  |  ciu  (IPA: /tʃ[i]u/)  |  giu (IPA: /dʒ[i]u/)  |
| co  (IPA: /kɔ/)  |  go  (IPA: /gɔ/)  |  cio  (IPA: /tʃ[i]ɔ/)  |  gio (IPA: /dʒ[i]ɔ/)  |
| che (IPA: /ke/)  |  ghe (IPA: /ge/)  |  ce   (IPA: /tʃe/)     |  ge  (IPA: /dʒe/)     |
| chi (IPA: /ki/)  |  ghi (IPA: /gi/)  |  ci   (IPA: /tʃi/)     |  gi  (IPA: /dʒi/)     |


|  qua  (IPA: /kwa/)  |  scia  (IPA: /ʃia/)  |
|  qu  (IPA: /ku/)    |  sciu  (IPA: /ʃiu/)  |
|  quo  (IPA: /kwɔ/)  |  scio  (IPA: /ʃiɔ/)  |
|  que  (IPA: /kwe/)  |  sce   (IPA: /ʃe/)   |
|  qui  (IPA: /kwi/)  |  sci   (IPA: /ʃi/)   |

When I think about it, it seems to me that the main reason backing the development of these spelling rules is probably the principle that sequences of letters occurring more frequently among Italian words as a whole should be spelled with less letters to make writing Italian faster. Perhaps there are also other reasons, perhaps someone can comment.

The following are typically not listed on classroom walls but children also learn:

The pronunciation of n (IPA: /n/) versus gn (IPA: /ɲ/) and of l (IPA: /l/) versus gl (IPA: /ʎ/).
The writing of the extra c in the word acqua (water) (IPA: /akwa/).
The writing of cuo instead of quo in the word scuola (school) (IPA: /skuɔla/).

Children also learn about the silent h (Italian has no equivalent of the English aspirated h sound):

The writing of a (IPA: /a/, English: at) versus ha (IPA: /a/, English: he/she/it has)/
The writing of o (IPA: /ɔ,, English: or) versus ho (IPA: /ɔ/, English: I have).

I think that's about it. I think this is almost everything kids learn about spelling in elementary.

The above rules can be contrasted with the much more onerous and case-by-case work carried out by children of English-speaking schools who in order to memorize the spellings are often taught to "sound out" words when reading them out or writing them down. By "sounding out" I mean looking at word spelling, identifying various word-by-word similarities and differences on a case-by-case basis, and using these to make sounds which do not correspond to the real English sound of the word, with such sound being a "mock-up" sound used to memorize word spelling. To me, many of these "mock-up" sounds often sound more or less like some Italian sounds, with the different sounds used to differentiate one spelling from the next. I wonder whether all kids are taught spelling in this way, or whether there are other methodologies as well.

So, here is my contribution. If anyone has any other details pertaining to the finer points of learning Italian versus learning English, and how the two can be contrasted to one another, then I'd really like to know of them.


  • 6
    The problem with English is that there are no fixed rules for pronunciation (I'm sure you know "the chaos"). Italians say of italian that "it's read just as it's written" which is not 100% accurate but at least there is a set of consistent rules that, once learned, enable the reader to read any word correctly, even if he's never seen it before (ok, even this isn't 100% true but it goes a long way).
    – persson
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 17:00
  • 2
    I agree with karoshi. It's pretty much as he said. It's extremely rare (or perhaps impossible) to get a pronunciation wrong for a new word if you see how that is written and you do know a small subset of pronunciation rules. You might use a wrong stress but the word would be equally understandable.
    – Marco A.
    Commented Jan 27, 2015 at 8:40
  • 1
    Is this what you're looking for? Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 8:57