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French Pronunciation 101 – Sound Like a French Person

By the sound of it, the French language is romantic and pleasant to the ears. However, there are many aspects to keep in mind to make sure you’re hitting the right accent. Just like in English, there are concepts such as silent letters, emphasized syllables, speaking tones, and more. This run-through of the rules will help you catch those minute errors and build the foundation for your French pronunciation skills.

If you’ve heard a native accent, you’ve realized that the French say some things differently than you might expect. So, who better to guide you than native speakers? Our first step gets you in character to speak better French.

1. Mimic Like a Pro

If you have siblings, chances are they’ve annoyed you with this popular game: repeating everything you say and copying your every move. You can use that same trick to improve your French pronunciation.

You can find videos of native French speakers online. Instead of youtubing the same old makeup tutorials, check out makeup tutorials in French! Observe every single detail, from body language to the way the speakers’ lips move. Also, through courses like Mimic Method French, you can learn and practice the way that each sound is made.

Repeat, mimic, repeat, mimic, and make that your language motto.

2. Become a Studio Artist

Just like a dancer records their choreography to become more self-aware of each move, recording yourself can be the best way to catch any mistakes.

You may be nervous, but try to get more comfortable with your insecurities about speaking French because listening to yourself speak will make you more aware of how you really sound. Listening to yourself struggle through will also encourage you to improve on those areas.

Going for a walk? Throw in earphones and listen to yourself on repeat, taking note of the areas you hesitate or sound awkward.

3. Pair Up Your French Sounds

There’s a reason so many irregularities and exceptions exist in French. All of them contribute to making it la belle langue we know and love! One such case is the liaison. Liaisons create the shades of romance that French is rumored to have.

And even English uses liaisons, for example, saying “an apple” and not “a apple,” so that vowel clashes sound more beautiful. Take this case:

Nous allons à Paris en avion.

If you disregard the effect of vowels on preceding consonants, then it would sound like “Nou aalons a Paris on aavion,” which isn’t anywhere as appealing as the correct “Nou zallon a Paris onavion.”

4. Music Brings Meaning to Life — and Language

Whether you’re traveling a long distance or running on the treadmill, music is your constant companion. You’ve found solace in a rhythm or two on tiresome days and lonesome nights. Put this same passion toward French music! You’ll want to sing along with the singer — improving your speech and speed in one go. Even putting a song on loop won’t feel that daunting.

Even better, have a karaoke night. Cue up the song, start the lyrics, and get those vocals working. Before you realize, you’ll have a bunch of vocabulary stored in your mind. There are just too many perks with this activity, so just sing!

Another activity you can couple with this is learning French tongue twisters. You can feel proud learning to rap a fast song perfectly or articulately saying, “Ces six saucissons-secs-ci sont si secs qu’on ne sait si s’en sont.”

 

Try out the tongue twister in the video below:

5. Flex that muscle memory!

You may not have realized it at first, but written French and spoken French are worlds apart. The pronunciation clues you can see with your eyes may be overlooked by your ears.

How do you solve this conflict?

Move on from the paper dictionary and instead get a talking one, or better, invest in both. Whenever you get stuck on a word, use the dictionary and repeat out loud. Even try reading an English passage, but in a French accent. It might sound like you’re doing stand-up comedy, but the benefits are totally worth it.

6. Bonjour Monsieur, comment allez-vous ?

The way to mastering French is speaking to native speakers. We often shy away from having a conversation due to the language barrier, but unless and until you try, you’ll never cross that wall.

Technologies like italki have been specially designed to give you that moral boost. Stop dreaming about having pretend discussions with native speakers, and go actually have them. They might even correct you, which just means more opportunities to improve.

7. Rrrroll Yourrrr Rrrr’s

Your friends might have told you to cut down on the exaggeration, but we say for speaking French, take it up a notch even higher. Sounds like the French R really need that trill to pass. It doesn’t have to be the perfect uvular one, and eventually with effort you’ll get there.

Pick words stuffed with the letter, use any of the methods above to hear its pronunciation, and attack. Repeat this method with any sounds you think need emphasis.

Customized Pronunciation Dictionary

  • When I is the hero, how are sidekicks D and T pronounced?

Say the word petit. The pronunciation has more to it than meets the ear! If you get into the analysis, accompanying the T is a slight “s” sound that is so subtle you hardly notice it. However, it’s still present. Similarly, with words like difestif, a subtle “z” sound can be heard. So, whenever you see a D or T before an I, remember this rule.

  • U Got This: Pronounce the French U

No, this isn’t just “oo” from English — U has its own distinct sound. It’s essential that you understand the difference lest you end up in a sticky situation from embarrassing word mix-ups!

First, pick a word like “tee.” Without moving the tongue, make your lips round or in an “oh” sound, then narrow your lips until you hit the French U. List a bunch of word pairs like bûche (log) and bouche (mouth) and get pronouncing, mon chéri !

  • RE’s Invisibility Cloak

At times, it can be tough to say words that end in “re,” for example, the infinitives perdre (to lose) and rendre (to return). You can just drop this ending while speaking. For example, “Il va le mettre dans la boîte” (He’ll put it in the box) will actually be spoken as, “Il va le mett dans la boît.”

  • The Metamorphosis of “ce que” to “skeu”

Try saying “Ce que tu fais est mauvais,” and then listen it on your talking dictionary. The beginning blends ce and que to become “skeu.” Whenever you come across formations like that, try saying it all together, and you’ll hit the right native sound.

  • Nasal Sounds Make You French

Just making sounds with your nose won’t give you the title of a French scholar, but understanding when and how to say them will.

Take these two words: lentement and lendemain. The first has “en,” which is pronounced like how you’d say “long” in English but stopping just before “ng.” “An” also follows the same patterns. Similarly, lendemain has “ain,” which sounds like “clang” but stopping before “ng.” Other letter combinations that follow the rule are “in” and “eint.”

  • É Is Not “ais,” “ait,” or “et

You might think that pellé and palais end in the same sound, but the little difference in pronunciation will pleasantly surprise you. The first, with é, is actually “ay,” while the second is more like “le” in goblet.

  • Gentlemen and Ladies Drop Their Ls

Remember skeu? We’re back to something similar. In the sentence “Dis-lui qu’elle m’a donné le livre” (Tell him that she gave me the book), “qu’elle m’a donné” will be pronounced as “keh ma donné.” Clearly, the Ls have been dropped.

Applaud yourself for coming this far and being this dedicated to learning French. Forget the natives, impress yourself first with the right drops, rolls, and emphasis. Connect to our French tutors for perfection. See you next post!

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