French Pronunciation

les mots

Although there are some similarities between French and English, French pronunciation can be quite tricky. It is, after all, what makes the french language exceptionally beautiful.

Techniques for Perfect French

Keep in mind that there are a variety of regional and national accents and dialects that affect pronunciation. In general, students are taught a Parisian style. The following are some techniques that will help:

  • Listen: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and here it is the key to french pronunciation success. There are lots of ways to hear French being spoken from online recordings to waiters in restaurants and teachers in classes.
  • Practice in front of the mirror: Imitate the way native speakers move their mouths.

French Pronunciation Table

In general, in speaking French words one does not emphasize the first syllable as in English. The pronunciation is light, emphatic and expressive, but not loud. Also, the mouth is generally not as wide open. Lips are often gently pursed.

French Vowels

There is quite a bit of difference between French and English vowel sounds. For example, many words like 'non' have a light nasal sound. To practice this, gently squeeze your nose with your thumb and forefinger, and say noh. You will hear the 'n' sound emerge.

French Vowel Sounds
Vowel Usage Sound
a, à, ha chat 'sha'
â,as château 'sha-toh'
e le 'leh'
eu, oeu,heu,oe boeuf,acteur 'buf','ak-tur'
eu,eux heureux 'uruh'
é,éé,hé,er,es,ez,et café 'ca-fay'
ê,è,e,ai,ais,ait,ei,aî,ë tête,frais 'tett','frey'
i,ie,is,î,hi,y,ï Paris 'paree'
o,au,eau,aux,eaux,os,ô,hô beau 'bo' as in 'go'
o,ho,hô comme 'com' as in 'comet'
u,û,hu nue 'new'
an maman 'ma-mah' with nose pinch
on ton 'toh' with nose pinch
in pain 'pah' with nose pinch
un lundi 'l>'leh-dee' with nose pinch
i,y,il,ill ciel 'see-yel'
oi,oî,ou soir 'swar'
ui,hui n'uiit 'nwee'

French Consonants

Consonants in French are pronounced as in English with the following few exceptions.

French Consonant Exceptions
Consonant Usage Sound
h(aspiré) à l'hotel 'ah-lotel', h is not pronounced
r,rr,rh rhum 'rrroom' with a roll from the throat
c,qu,q,cc,k,ck facteur 'fak-tur'
c with e/i, ç cinq 'sank'
g,gu,gg guard 'guard'
g+e/i gen 'zjoh' with noze pinch
v,w wagon 'vag-oh' with nose pinch
w in foreign words web 'web'
ch,sh chateau 'shah-toh'
th theatre 'tay-a-trah'
gn ligne 'leenyeh'

Liaison/Elision

Yet another tricky thing about french pronunciation is dropped ending vowels and carried-over consonents. For example in a sentence like: Je ne vais pas à l'hôtel might become in the words of a fast talking Parisian: J' n' vais pas à l' ôtel or Les amis becomes lezami.

Accents and Pronunciation

Some accents are important in the French language because they can change the pronunciation of the letter. For example:

  • The cédille ¸ is used on the letter c (ç) to illustrate the pronunciation of a soft c sound. This does not occur in a letter c before the letters 'i' or 'e', because in those cases it will always create an 's' sound.
  • The dieresis - indicates a vowel pronunciation as separate from its neighboring vowel.

French Pronunciation Practice on the Web

There are many places to get French lessons on the web. The following sites provide sound clips:

With lots of practice you will receive many complements from native speakers about your mastery of French. While it may be difficult to learn the correct pronunciation for words in the French language, doing so can be rewarding and will provide a solid base for continuing to learn the language.

French Pronunciation