How to Practice Your French Pronunciation
You've spent a dixaine of years studying French academically. You understood the whole of Amélie by the third time you had watch it, can conjugate avoir in 12 tenses of more and can probably write an essay about France's immigration policy in your sleep, but is your spoken language up to scatch? Academic learning can be pretty thin when it comes to pronunciation and spoken French, and it certainly didn't help that your a-level teacher came from the north of England. French pronunciation is a perilous cul de sac of silent letters, obscure accents and don't even mention that gutteral R.
To save you inevitable embarassment and the state of your poor throat, we've put together a list of common mistakes and some tips on how to improve your pronunciation.
No matter how long you've been learning french, your first forays into conversing with french speakers are likely to be littered with errors, whether grammatical or in pronunciation. It's important to make mistakes to help your langauge develop and as a foreigner you'll get away with most of them. However, the occaisional mistep in pronunciation can be awkward for everyone involved and usually have a sexual connotation. We'll let you look them up but suffice to say that these are pronunciation mistakes to be avoided at all costs.
The French U sound
The French OU sound is pronounced more or less like the OU in 'soup'. Unfortunately, the U sound doesn't exist in english and French learners often have difficulty in differentiating between the two. Simply put, the U sound is created further forward in the mouth. Can you tell the difference in pronunciation between 'le but' (the goal) and 'la boue' (the mud)? There is a simple method for practicing the U sound :
1. Open your mouth.
2. Say O.
3. Draw out the O until your lips are where they would be to make a W sound.
4. Purse your lips as tightly as you can.
5. Keeping your lips pursed, say E.
6. Voilà, the French U.
The Gutteral R
It can take French learners years of study and practice to master the French gutteral R sound. Without getting too much into physics and uvula fricatives, the French R sound essentially comes from the back of the throat and if pronounced incorrectly can sound anywhere from an almost non-existant 'uhh' to a violent, hacking cough. It takes a lot of practice to get right and even after many years of practice the odd R can turn up in the middle of a word and throw you off balance. The good news is that it is possible for anglophones to pick up the sound and there are several exercises you can do to achieve that .
- Using another letter as a spring board can lead to a more natural sounding R : First say, a-ab. Repeat that several times. A--AB ... A-AB... A-AB. Then a-hab. A--HAB, A-HAB, A-HAB. When your throat is warmed up and newly phlegm-free, you take the plunge. You cough out, a-hrab. A--HRAB... A-HRAB... A-HRAB. In theory, with time, the R should be forthcoming.
- There are also tongue twisters that you can try to practice that unfamiliar sound. A good list of French tongue twisters can be found here.
A petit guide to French accents
French makes good use of accent marks, most of which primarily influence pronunciation. The following list comprises the most common accents used in French.
é The accute accent sounds like 'ay' in play e.g. été
è The grave accent sounds like 'ai' in fair e.g. père
ç The cedilla accent sounds like 'ss' in set e.g. Français
ë The umlaut accent is used to indicate that the second vowel is pronounced separately from the first e.g. Noël.
Other French sounds
You will probably have noticed that the French language sounds as if every word flows into the next. To achieve this melodious intonation, here is a very simple rule to follow: If a word that begins with a vowel or a silent H and follows a word which ends in a consonant, the consonant is linked to the beginning of the second word. For example :
- Un petit_enfant
Here is a guide to some of the less obvious connected sounds :
As previously mentioned, the French language is scattered with silent letters which can usually be found at the end of a word. The basic rule is that the final consonant is never pronounced, but there are many exceptions to this. The letters B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R are usually pronounced at the end of a word.
- un truc - un chef - un hôtel
The other consonants are almost always pronounced as silent and this only really differs where a word comes from or is borrowed from another language.
- le tennis - index - le concept
Here is a guide to some of the more complicated endings and sounds :
A comprehensive guide to all things French pronunciation can be found here.
French pronunciation can be quite overwhelming and its important to put it in to practice as soon as possible but fear not as there are loads of easy ways to do this.
- Sing! Whether you can harmonise with the best of them or you just like to belt out your favourites in the car, singing along to French songs can do wonders for your pronunciation. As well as learning useful phrases and everyday language, imitating French chanteuses can improve your intonation and sentence rhythm. Check out Franglish's playlist of great French songs.
- Record yourself! Listening back to a recording of youself can help you to identify mistakes you might not realise you're making. Record yourself singing along to your favourite songs so you can compare your pronunciation to the real French version.
- Listen carefully to French speakers on TV or on the radio and repeat words and phrases over again to familiarise yourself with the sound.
- Speak to a Native! This one could be hard if you don't live abroad but conversing with a French native will do wonders for your pronunciation. Listen carefully to the way they speak and be open to corrections.
talkinfrench.com source hugoin3months