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French pronunciation

By Anouche K 10-10-2019



French pronunciation

To speak and understand French correctly, it is necessary to know more than just grammar rules and vocabulary, you also need to know how words sound when spoken. French pronunciation can be difficult for beginners because the way words are written often differs greatly from the way they are pronounced. There are silent letters, different ways to pronounce a letter and many exceptions to every rule. For example, did you know that poêle should be pronounced as poil or that em is sometimes pronounced as am, as in différemment, which sounds like différ-amant. Here are five tips to help you improve your French pronunciation and explain why it is that some words are pronounced in the way that they are.

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Learn The Basics

  • Most of the time, the final d, t, s or x in a word is not pronounced: un rebond, un chat, Anglais, heureux are all pronounced as if they end with a vowel.
  • Vowel sounds in French are pure, unlike those in American English which tend to be pronounced as a diphthong.
  • English has variable stress patterns, but in French the stress always falls on the final pronounced syllable.
  • Final consonants, except l, f and c are not usually pronounced.
  • Final e is not pronounced, but the preceding consonant is.
  • ç is pronounced as s
  • h is not pronounced.
  • Liaison: if a French word ends with a consonant or if the following word begins with a vowel or a silent h, the preceding consonant forms a new syllable with the following vowel. For example, je adore becomes j’adore. In liaison, consonant sounds change. F sounds like v and s and x sounds like z, as in les enfants.
  • Elision: in words such as lelajesemetu the vowel disappears when the following word begins with a vowel or silent h.
  • Some masculine adjectives change their form when they precede a word beginning with a silent h or a vowel: beau becomes bel as in un bel hommece becomes cet,fou becomes folnouveau/nouvel and vieux/vieil. Three feminine adjectives also change their form; ma becomes mon, eg mon écoleta becomes ton (ton éducation) and sa changes to son (son amie)

Listen To French Being Spoken by Native Speakers

One of the best ways to learn good pronunciation is to listen to native French speakers.

  • Listen to French radio stations to hear songs in French as well as news broadcasts.

  • Download podcasts to play when it is convenient.

  • Play a favourite DVD and choose the French language option to hear familiar dialogue spoken in French.

Begin slowly

Once you have mastered some basic vocabulary and grammar, speaking the language will help to improve your fluency. However, do not try to run before you can walk. Speak slowly and clearly at first, pronouncing the syllables as well as you can. You will gradually be able to increase the speed of your conversation.

Speak with native speakers

The fastest way to learn any language is to immerse yourself in it, and a language exchange is a good way to achieve this. By living with a French-speaking family, you will continually be exposed to conversation and will soon pick up the words and phrases essential for daily life.

Practice with tongue-twisters

A fun way to test your pronunciation skills is to practice repeating tongue twisters. This will help you to speed up when speaking ad ensure that you are pronouncing vowels correctly. Try some traditional rhymes such as:

Tas de riz, tas de rats.

Tas de riz tentant, tas de rats tentés.

Tas de riz tentant tenta tas de rats tentés.

Tas de rats tentés tâta tas de riz tentant.

or:

Fruits frais, fruits frits, fruits cuits, fruits crus.

and:

Bonjour madame la saucissière,

combien vendez vous ces six saucisses la?

Je les vends six sous,

six sous ci,

six sous ça,

six sous ces six saucisses la.

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Practice makes perfect

Unless you begin learning French as a young child you are unlikely ever to be mistaken for a native French speaker. However, there is no reason why you should not learn to speak it very well and a slight foreign accent is often seen by the French as rather charming. Although it can seem like a difficult challenge, learning a new language is exciting and hugely rewarding, so keep practicing and do not give up. Take every opportunity to speak the language and listen to spoken French. Remember, practice makes perfect!