December 7, 2009 | Italian

Stress Over Syllable Stress

How the hell do you know where the stress goes in all those Italian verbs?

I am grumpy today because none of the books I own help much with syllable stress in Italian verb conjugations, so I am constantly getting hung up trying to figure out how to pronounce them. It’s as though the authors had a secret meeting and decided, “That’s too hard to explain. Let’s just all leave it out.”

Kind of like the grammatical equivalent of price-fixing.

I can’t help comparing this aspect of the Italian-learning experience with my Russian experience. As I’ve mentioned previously, in the Russian grammar book I used, words were consistently marked for stress, a very user-friendly approach that really helped me get the pronunciation right and significantly sped up the learning process.

By contrast, the lack of information on syllable stress in Italian grammars, especially for the more challenging subcategories of verbs, makes life quite difficult for me and I would guess other language learners as well. Especially those who are studying on their own.

And besides, it’s super irritating!

In fact, it is the number one frustration in my Italian studies to date. My dictionary gives stress information for the infinitives, but my grammar books and flashcards don’t, so I keep having to look those up. I am often surprised by what I find when I do look things up, so guessing and hoping for the best just doesn’t work. In addition, as I’ve also mentioned before, my dictionary doesn’t help at all with stress in individual verb conjugations—only infinitives.

In spite of its silence on this critical issue, I still love my recently purchased book Italian Verb Drills, by Paola Nanni-Tate. I did a bunch of grammar exercises today, in that book and others. I also finished my Italian Now! book, all 400-plus pages of it.

While doing errands, I redid some Pimsleur lessons. They were pretty easy for me, and I found I’d retained most of the content, though there were idioms I’d forgotten. I’m frustrated not to have something more advanced to try out.

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