French Pronunciation

Updated: Apr 18

Learning a new language involves mental activity, cultural awareness and a lot of fun! Starting with French you will discover new sounds and will at times laugh out loud when trying to pronounce typical French sounds. It is not that intuitive to make sounds that do not exist in English and sometimes even your ears can’t discriminate 2 close sounds, making them difficult to reproduce.

New sounds!

Watching the funny Catherine Tate show called “The offensive translator” I couldn’t help laughing at what are the typical French sounds to Anglophones: nasal sounds!

Can you make the ‘an’, ‘on’ and ‘in’ French sounds?

A bit of practice is sometimes necessary to make an accurate distinction and be able to pronounce words properly.

It is also the case for the ‘é’, the ‘u’ and the ‘r’ sounds.

Yes, each language has its challenges and I reckon ‘h’ sound and ‘th’ sounds are difficult for French natives at the beginning. To us ‘h’ is always silent so it is a real challenge to actually get it right at all times. We sometimes forget it or even sometimes feel like adding an ‘h’ when not necessary… leading to funny sentences such as “could you put some (h)air in my tyres?” (oops, I pronounced the ‘h’… ;-)

Learning a few rules...

The opposite exists for Anglophones speaking French. Saying “Champs Elysées” is not that easy for many reasons:

1- the nasal sound ‘an’ and the sound ‘é’

2- we don’t pronounce the plural ‘s’ and most final consonants

3- the existence of a linking sound between the 2 words…

Acknowledging these few rules, you should say ‘chanzélizé’ Ta da!

A bit of practice with this famous song to get ready for the next 'Tour de France'

When visiting Australia, it also took me a little while and a lot of practice to be able to say “how are you going?” the Australian way… sort of a “Hawa ya goin’” said with the back of the mouth. Not a natural thing to do for a French native as we usually create sounds using the front and the middle of the mouth.

Getting the right intonation

Finally, getting the right intonation is important. English is difficult for the French due to distressed syllables. Long syllables and short ones is a foreign concept to French language. You should spend the same amount of time on each syllable in French but if you don’t it will never affect the meaning of the word, which is not the case at all with English.

I remember saying in my class “take a sheet of paper” but my “ee’ sound was too short… and I could see many smiles on my polite students’ faces… Oh my!...

What is important with French pronunciation is to take your time, forget about the distressed syllables and try to make the sounds as best you can.

Don't be shy and give it a go!

Adults very often want to say the words perfectly or fear making mistakes. They may feel a bit uncomfortable not being able to pronounce some words properly. If you are a beginner, just be gentle on yourself, allow some time for your ears and mouth to do what they have never been exposed to nor required to do.

Focus on being understood rather than getting the perfect native sound. Just acknowledge that this will improve with time and practice.

After all, we learn a language to be able to communicate! Whether you have a strong or slight accent doesn’t matter as long as you can be understood.

This little video will certainly give you the giggle but most of all displays the common mistakes French people make when speaking English the French way'. Remember them, they will put you on the right track when speaking French : )

Anyway, for your information, French with an English accent sounds really nice, so be proud of your accent and keep speaking in French, shamelessly! It's the only way you will improve!

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