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.
- Watch: Rent films like À bout de souffle(Breathless) or the recent thriller Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One). Look closely at how people move their mouths to form words as you listen.
- 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.
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.
|a, à, ha||chat||'sha'|
|o,au,eau,aux,eaux,os,ô,hô||beau||'bo' as in 'go'|
|o,ho,hô||comme||'com' as in 'comet'|
|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|
Consonants in French are pronounced as in English with the following few exceptions.
|h(aspiré)||à l'hotel||'ah-lotel', h is not pronounced|
|r,rr,rh||rhum||'rrroom' with a roll from the throat|
|c with e/i, ç||cinq||'sank'|
|g+e/i||gen||'zjoh' with noze pinch|
|v,w||wagon||'vag-oh' with nose pinch|
|w in foreign words||web||'web'|
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:
- BBC French
- Language Guide.org French Grammar Guide: Includes sound files and charts for vowels, consonants, accents, and liaison.
- Indo-European Languages French I Tutorial: Spells out phonetic pronunciation along with audio clips for many basic French words and phrases.
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.