How to Pronounce French Words

Valorie Delp
Pronounce French words

Learning how to pronounce French words properly may take you a little bit of time. However, if you keep practicing and listening to native speakers, you will acquire the basics of French pronunciation when you speak. In order to study French pronunciation, you need to be familiar with the various phonetic rules that govern pronunciation.

Learning How to Pronounce French Words

There are several ways to practice your French pronunciation. The best way is to spend time listening to native speakers. Your pronunciation will improve substantially if you have the opportunity to speak with native speakers on a regular basis. This is why the study abroad experience is so important for French students. If you cannot make a trip to France, you can also spend time listening to French television shows or radio programming.

With that said, most Anglophone students need to spend time both reading and writing French in conjunction with listening to French words. For example, if you can see the word avoir, then hear it spoken, you are that much more likely to remember that the "oi" is equivalent to "wah" in English.

Serious students of French should also spend time learning the phonetic rules that govern French pronunciation.

Pronouncing Consonants in French

Most of the consonants are pronounced similarly in French and in English; while many are not exactly the same, they are usually recognizable between the two languages. Other letters are different, but can be easily memorized, especially as you encounter them repeatedly:

  • g is hard like in "go" when it comes before an a, o, or u; is soft like the g in sabotage when it comes before an e or an i
  • h is typically silent
  • j sounds like the g in sabotage
  • qu makes a k sound as in kill
  • ch sounds like the sh sound in short
  • th sounds like t, not th

Special Consonants

There are two noteworthy consonants in French that are completely different than anything in English: the ç and the r. Ç is an extra letter in the French alphabet. It makes the sound of an s as in sun and is easy to pronounce as long as you remember that that's what the accent is for.The French r on the other hand, is not easy to pronounce at all. The tendency for Anglophones is to pronounce the French r in the front or middle of the mouth similar to the Spanish or English r. However, the French r is properly pronounced in the back of the throat.

Pronouncing Vowels in French

Vowels in French are fairly straightforward:

  • a - sounds like the a in the word father, even with accents
  • e - is similar to the a sound in about
  • é - sounds like the ay in say
  • ê, è - both make the short e sound as in set
  • i - always sounds like the long e sound in seed, regardless of whether or not it has an accent
  • o, au, eau - sounds like the long o in goat
  • ou - like the oo in food, but the lips are formed in such a way as to almost make a whistling sound
  • u - also like the oo in food but with the tongue in the front of the mouth
  • y - sounds like the long e in seed

French Diphthongs

Diphthongs are combinations of vowel sounds in a single syllable. It is memorizing these combinations that will most help you with your French. Common French diphthongs include:

  • ail - pronounced like the long i in the word sight
  • an, en, em - pronounced with a strong nasal sound
  • oi - this combinations sounds like wa in walk
  • oui- should sound like wee

Practicing French Pronunciation

The best way to learn how to pronounce French words is to speak to someone in French. Not only can you learn from listening to a native speaker, but they are also likely to help you correct yourself as you're speaking since you will be able to hear the correct pronunciation of the words you are saying.

How to Pronounce French Words