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Is It "Muh-ffin" or "Moo-fin"?

Learning how to pronounce words in your native tongue in another language can be...weird.

At the start of this week, approximately three months into my journey to consider myself fluent in Italian, I reached the language level of C1. Personally, that level of proficiency is difficult to describe, even to other foreigners who speak Italian.

In my definition, it means that I'm...comfortable. It means that I've gotten through nearly every type of verb tense and mode, including such gems as the passato remoto (remote past), imperativo (imperative), congiuntivo (subjunctive), imperfetto (imperfect), condizionale (conditional), and more. It means that my vocabulary is healthy and I generally don't struggle when trying to express myself.

In the actual definition, it means that I "can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. I can express myself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. I can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. I can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices."

Wow. What a mouthful!

So, it is always entertaining when some of my biggest language challenges are actually in my native tongue. I'm never quite sure how to pronounce everyday English words in Italian conversations without sounding too "American."

When it comes to the strangest and most exaggerated pronunciation of English words, the frontrunner (and one that always makes me laugh) is the word "hamburger." It can be easy to miss in that video because it goes quickly, but it's more like "am-boor-ghehr" because Italians 1) don't pronounce the h, and the Italian "u" is always pronounced like "ooh." Think of the famous "puttanesca" sauce, for example -- it's pronounced "pooht-ah-neh-scah."

So, imagine my surprise when I went to the grocery store and my brain short-circuited when I saw the word "muffin." I should just apply the same principles of pronunciation, right? It wouldn't be "muffin," it would be "moo-fin."

How was I to know? In my first few weeks here, I had been eyeing one particular Italian muffin because it had apricot marmalade on the inside, one of my favorite flavors. So, I ordered a muffin a couple of times using the pronunciation I knew, saying "moo-fin" to the lady behind the counter. Fifty-fifty odds, right?

But, a bit of panic ensued. It seemed like every time I walked away, I felt like I was doing something wrong. So, instead of being consumed by my anxiety, one day I decided to ask. Except, the counter was so full of people that I lost my nerve and shopped for other things. No sweet carbs for me!

When I went back on another, less busy day, I asked the man behind the counter. I just had to know. I apologized for the strange question, explained that I was still learning Italian, and that I wanted to know how they pronounce that word. He complimented me for my ability to speak, as did the girl behind him who was simultaneously preparing a pizza to put in the oven while eavesdropping, and said "muh-ffin."

OK. Thank goodness. Now I just have to check on the other thousands of English words that Italians use and I'll be able to say I am confidently a C1. In that context, I'd truly be using my wealth of vocabulary...from both languages. It's always entertaining to notice the areas where I get tripped up, but it was an important lesson nonetheless.

My life phrase that I apply to everything goes "sbagliando s'impara" (one learns by making mistakes). It's applicable to so many things, but I'm glad I made mistakes through this important topic.

Speaking of making mistakes, for any of my readers who plan to visit Italy in the near future, brush up on some of these Italian words we use in English that most speakers mispronounce.

Just know that when you order muffins, or ask for ketchup, you'll be fine pronouncing as-is. Hamburgers...are another story.


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