You have the right idea. This link should clear things up: http://italian.about.com/library/fare/blfare153a.htm
In Italy "ragazzi" and "bambini" are different. A "bambino" is not a "ragazzo". Indeed we use this difference to make children happy when they are growing (ohh, you're becoming a ragazzo !!!). Now, I don't know whether in English there is an overlapping between the two categories. I believed in English it was as in my native language, then I began studying German and I see that in german you have Kinder and Jungen overlapping. Having english and german the same root, all is possible. A native english speaker is needed.
I am a native English speaker. Here, we have the words baby, infant, toddler and child to refer to young people at various stages of life. But they are gender neutral. So my confusion comes from calling a group of male and female children "ragazzi." I'm very early in my Italian study, so it might make more sense to me later.
It's the same in other gendered languages - if there is even one male person in a group the male word for the group is used. (But all female will have their own word.) So 'ragazzi' is used as a gender neutral word in that you can't tell if it's used for a mixed group or just boys. I'm early in italian study too but I find it useful to see it that way. I hope an Italian speaker will correct me if I'm wrong.
It's the same in other gendered languages - if there is even one male person in a group the male word for the group is used.
Specifically, in languages that gender along masculine and feminine. The Romance (Latin-based) languages tend to do this, but I don't know what the rules are in other m-f languages.
I learned Spanish in school (many years ago....) so I'm used to using the same word for both all male and mixed groups, and then having a separate word for groups that comprise only females. But I'm also puzzling over translating these back into English: I always use "boys" when I see "ragazzi" in duolingo but am also always conscious that the sentence could mean either that he reads to the boys or that he reads to the mixed group of children (or teenagers, or whatever age group "ragazzi" most commonly refers to), so translating "ragazzi" as boys seems, well, unwarranted. But duolingo takes it, so that's what I do.
1.I've seen ragazzi being used for a mixed group of people aged in their early 20s and my understanding of it before I came here from my previous Italian lessons was that it meant teenagers rather than children per se. Duo doesn't like that translation though.
- My problem is differentiating hearing between hai and ai. Any tips people?
I read the comments hear about the ambiguity between "ragazzi" meaning either "children" or "boys", but I still would like to know what if you need to indicate definitely that it's a group of only boys (all male)? As in, "don't send the girl to the boy scouts because they are all boys". I know that's a bit of a stretch as a sample sentence but hopefully it gets the point across.
Or do Italians just flat out say (in Italian) "it was a group of children, all male" every time they want to indicate that fact?
ragazzo - boy
ragazzi - boys
ragazza - girl
ragazze - girls
98% of Italian nouns follow this pattern for masculine/feminine/singular/plural:
singular ends in -o
plural ends in -i
singular ends in -a
plural ends in -e
This does not mean, though, that most nouns can have different grammatical genders. It just means that you can tell which gender a noun is by looking at the last letter. Very few words have gendered pairs like that. I'm only aware of three: ragazzo/ragazza (boy/girl), gatto/gatta (male cat, female cat), mela/melo (apple, apple tree).
ai is a + i
agli is a + gli
When to use which article: http://italian.about.com/od/grammar/a/italian-definite-article-forms.htm