How do you say tongue in Italian

When you start speaking Italian, you’ll notice that your mouth won’t exactly function properly with all of the sounds…and even if it does, it may take way longer than it does in English.

Totally normal.

The mouth is a muscle and needs to be conditioned to do the right moves just like the rest of the body.

That in mind, we’re looking at how to pronounce the rolling “R,” the “GLI” sound, and the “GN” sound.

I am by no means a pronunciation master, but I have learned  a thing or two about pronunciation from an academic/linguistics perspective, and I’ve combined that with the typical advice and then some.

 The “R” Sound

Words you already say in English that have built your muscle to roll your “R”

— Stutter

— Flutter

— Butter

— Ladder

You’ll feel what a rolled “R” would feel like on the double t’s or d’s.

You can also try saying “t + d” in a row.

Use either to “t + d” or a word like “stutter” over and over again to practice.

CPF: If you’re feeling theatric, you can also imitate a machine gun for practice. Just sayin’.

What to do with your mouth to roll your “R”

Place the tip of your tongue at the roof of your mouth right behind either:

— Your two front teeth

— the ridge behind your two front teeth {to find this, put the tip of your tongue right behind your two front teeth and move your tongue back in the direction of your throat. You’ll feel a ridge reminiscent of a snowboarding bunny hill.}

— Your tongue should be curled up with the top of your tongue facing your throat.

— Relax your tongue and your mouth.

— Say “Urrà” and blow out air.

— Use as much air as you need to.

Here are some Italian words to practice with:

buona giornata – good morning/afternoon

principe azzurro – prince charming

erratico – erratic

irregolare – irregular

marrone – brown

urrà – hooray!

Still can’t do it? You’re not alone.

It could be a number of things that are preventing you from rolling your “R”, and you’re not the only one.

In fact, some Italians have this problem, too.

They call it “erre moscia.”

{Uh. Who else thinks it’s cruel that they can’t even correctly pronounce what they have?}

In doing some research for this article, I even stumbled upon some complaints from Italians about getting rid of their “erre moscia.”

E’ da 29 anni che “soffro” di una fastidiosa erre moscia (che più che moscia è molto accentuata, rotante) che mi crea problemi di socializzazione.

Vorrei tanto risolverla.. ma non so a chi rivolgermi. 

Conoscete qualcuno che ha risolto lo stesso problema? Oppure un bravo logoterapista in zona Milano?

English translation:  It’s been 29 years that I have suffered from this annoying erre moscia (that more than limp is very accentuated, rotating) that has created many socialization problems for me. I would like very much to resolve it…but I don’t know who to turn to. Do you know all someone with the same problem? Or a good speech therapist near Milan?

CPF: The phonetic name for the problem is “rotacismo.”

It could also just be the way you were made, which isn’t a bad thing.

They say that if you can’t fold your tongue, you won’t be able to roll your “R.”

There are two other more technical ways your mouth might be holding you back, which Chad Runyon details beautifully at the end of this article.

ALSO – This baby rolling his “R’s.”


Can’t see the video player? Watch it on YouTube.

The “GLI” sound

You’ll find the GLI sound with words/phrases like

Ti voglio bene – I like you/love you {to anyone except your significant other}

gli – article for him

figlio – son

maglietta – sweater

dagli – from the


The LLI is one of the closest sounds in English to GLI.

You can also cheat and say “YEE.”

Here’s what to do with your mouth to make the “GLI” sound

— Put the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth


— Move your tongue backwards toward your throat


— Stop the middle of your tongue right after it goes down that ridge in your mouth – similar to a slope or a slide.


— Say “figlio.”

When “GLI” sounds like the G + L + I in English

There are some cases where you don’t pronounce “GLI” like “LLI.”

Typically, it’s at the beginning of a word, but there are only four that I know of:

glicerina – glycerine

glissare – to skate over

glicine – wisteria

glicemia – glycemia

Other execeptions are:

negligente – negligent

negligenza – negligence

The “GN” Sound

You’ll find the GN sound with words like

gnocchi – type of pasta

gnocco – one piece of gnocchi/idiot

agnello – lamb

pugna – punch

bagno – shower

What to do with your mouth to make the “GN” sound 

— Put the middle of your tongue behind your front teeth

— Move your tongue backwards toward your throat

— Stop at the middle of your tongue right after it goes down that ridge in your mouth – similar to a slope or a slide.

— Say “gnocchi.”

— Your tongue should press against the roof your mouth.

— Your vocal cords should vibrate. Place your hand on your throat to check for vibration if you’re unsure.

— For words like “gnocchi,” “gnocco,” and “pugna,” your mouth should resemble you about making a kissing face with your lips slightly parted.

Lucrezia Oddeon, from Learn Italian with Lucrezia, also made a great video for the sounds GL, R, and GH.

 Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube.

Resources you might like:

How to Roll Your “R” – The Tried & Tested Way  – Video on YouTube from a guy who teaches Spanish


6 Easy Ways to Roll Your “R”


How to Roll Your “R’s” – on wikiHOW with pictures!

*The sound bites are a mix of audio done for me by native Italian voice talent and from

Filed Under: Beginner Italian, Intermediate Italian, ItalianTagged With: italian, Italian pronunciation, italian speech