The masculine form, italien, is pronounced [italjɛ̃] where the tilde (~) is supposed to be above the ɛ. It denotes a nasal sound different from the one in the feminine forme, italienne, which is pronounced [italjɛn]. Please note that the n is pronounced in the feminine form but not in the masculine form.
Please take a look at this: http://french.about.com/library/pronunciation/bl-liaisons-r.htm
and also to the related pages on optional and forbidden liaisons.
I agree that this is confusing. The speaker was clearly male, so I doubted myself when hearing "italienne". Now that I read this thread I learn that I should disregard the gender of the speaker, but maybe we should be warned about this somewhere? Or even better, couldn't duolingo use a voice that suits the expression?
From all of my experience, yes, the voice is chosen randomly. And in basic translation exercises, it can in fact switch voices on a second listen (happens to me fairly regularly, actually). I have however also noticed that, for listening exercises, the voice doesn't appear to change. It's randomly selected to start, but sticks with that voice on all repetitions until you submit an answer.
I kind of doubt your sentence (rather than the adjective version) would be commonly spoken in either language, but it should be possible:
Je suis italienne=I [a woman] am Italian [adjective]. Je suis une Italienne=I am an Italian-woman [noun].
Just as in English, if you want to turn the adjective into a noun, you need an article. Also note that the French noun is capitalized, the adjective form is not.
French has nouns to denote a man or woman of a particular nationality. English only has a couple of those, and Italian is not one of them, which is why we can only say "an Italian." (I made up a noun version just for the example.) ie Englishman/Englishwoman. Frenchman is (or used to be) a common word in English, Frenchwoman not so much. No idea why. Another one I can think of, which is no longer PC, is "Chinaman." Again, there is no form of Chinawoman.
English also has Jew/Jewess (the latter no longer used) and Negro/Negress (definitely not used!).
If Duolingo taught the art of translation, you would be right. But it is teaching grammar and vocabulary via sentences that you have to translate back and forth to demonstrate you have understood not only the meaning of the sentence but its syntactical and grammatical structure, so as to better memorize the target language's way of expressing an idea when you need to.
Translating an adjective into a noun, when the adjective is available in the other language is not good enough.
I understand where you are coming from because you would like to render the feminine gender of the French adjective.
Of course "I am an Italian woman" has "Italian" as an adjective, but "an Italian woman" is a noun phrase, with an article.
The French sentence has "italienne" as a single adjective, not "une femme italienne". So, "I am Italian" is the most faithful translation because of our conventions (adjective to adjective whenever possible).
I agree that we lose the gender but we don't know that "je" is a woman (girl?).
Please compare with other adjectives that are used throughout the course:
- Je suis heureuse/forte = I am happy/strong - not I am a happy/strong woman.
- I am happy = Je suis heureux OR Je suis heureuse.
The same is applied here, and the reverse exercise has:
- I am Italian = Je suis italien OR Je suis italienne
That is conveyed through context - knowing whether the speaker is male or female.
It's more like "I [a speaker who happens to be female] am Italian." The gender is implied from context, but can't be translated into English because that would entail a different French version, one which spelled out the gender.
If you don't trust me on this, you can read several comments on this thread from Sitesurf (one of the moderators, who is a native French person) confirming it.