French pronunciation can be a problem for a lot of learners, as we have sounds that are not really used in other languages. For example, nasal sounds can be problematic for English speakers, simply because they have to discover a completely new way to place their whole mouth. When you speak your native language, you don't pay attention to what your tongue, lips and teeth are doing. Learning how to produce some sounds can lead to a rediscovery of the whole mechanism. As enlightening as it may be, this will also require lots of practice.


The main difficulty when you learn a language is producing sounds that do not exist in your native language. Just like native French speakers struggle with the "th" sound, English speakers might have trouble with some of the sounds used in French. Here are some of the sounds you might find in French, which are not in English.








Merci, Vert, Clair (Thanks, Green, Light)



Roi, Soie, Doigt (King, Silk, Finger)



Poux, Roux, Mou (Lice, Ginger, Soft)


/i/, /ij/

Fille, Y aller, Quille (Girl, To go, Skittle)



Embêter, Emmener, Ambulance (To annoy, To bring with, Ambulance)



Pin, Daim, Rein (Pine, Deer, Kidney)



Patron, Salon, Ombre (Boss, Living room, Shadow)



Un, Chacun, Brun (One, Each, Brown)



Huile, Huître, Pluie (Oil, Oyster, Rain)



Tu, Jus, Sucre (You, Juice, Sugar)



Veux, Oeufs, Lieu (Want (I, you), Eggs, Place)



Veulent, Seul, Tilleul (Want (they), Alone, Basswood)



Of course, now we need to learn how to pronounce them. You might not be able to hear the difference between some of these sounds at first if you're not yet able to produce them, but don't worry, that's normal.


Nasal sounds, like /ɛ̃/, /ɔ̃/ and /ɑ̃/ need you to use your mouth, but also your nose. For example, to produce the sound /ɑ̃/, put your lips as if you wanted to say the "o" in "fox", but try instead to say the "on" sound like in "strong", and remember that the sound has to come from your mouth and nose. Of course, you won't be able to master it right away, but using English words and sounds as references can help you a little. You can also record yourself and compare the sounds you made with native speakers. After a few days of practicing, you will definitely see an improvement.


Semi-vowels (/ɥ/,/j/ and /w/) are produced by a rapid upwards movement; It kind of feels like your tongue is trying to push the sound from your palate to the outside of your mouth.


For the sounds that simply do not exist in the English language (/y/, /œ/ for example), you will have to understand that English speakers are way more "relaxed" than French speakers. When speaking French, there is a greater muscular tension which leads to sounds like /y/ in "tu". The /u/ sound is made by pushing your lips forward, and if you look at it carefully, you will see that this is a quick, sharp, tense movement.


Another example is the /i/ sound, like in vite [vit] (quick) or souris [suʁi] (smile). It makes the mouth stretch as if you were smiling, and it stretches more than when pronouncing words like meat or green. The /u/ sound, found in rouge [ʁuʒ] (red) or pousse [pus] (push) is also different from afternoon or spoon as the lips are more rounded. As for the nasal sounds, you can start from an English word and tweak it until it sounds like the French sound. Here, you have to exaggerate the position of the mouth.


  • Silent letters and liaisons are also very important in French.


Some letters are written but not pronounced, like the English "t" in "castle" or the "k" in "know". They can be pronounced if the word is in another form, the silent "t" as the end of petit [pəti] (small) is pronounced for the feminine form petite [pətit] or the noun petitesse [pətitɛs] (smallness). Silent letters can, in some cases, be used for liaisons.


Liaisons are a link between two words, when a word ends with a consonant and the next one begins with a vowel, usually. For example, you will say the "t" in petit if you say un petit enfant [ɛ̃ pəti ɑ̃fɑ̃] (a small child).


You can also find forbidden liaisons. Liaisons are forbidden when the second word begins with an "h" and the word’s article is le or la. For example, le héros [lə eʁo] (the hero). If it begins with an "h", but the article is "l'", then it's a mute h, and liaisons are made: des heures [dez- œʁ] (hours), des habits [dez- abi] (clothes).


If there is a verb after a subject, there is no liaison either. For example, Le petit arrive [lə pəti aʁiv] (the small one is coming).


There is no liaison after a verb: tu pars à la mer [ty paʁ a la mɛʁ] (you go to the sea), the "s" is not pronounced.


After et [e] (and), liaisons are never made either. There are some exceptions to this rule, but there are usually no liaisons after quand [kɑ̃] (when), comment [kɔmɑ̃] (how) and combien [kɔ̃bjɛ̃] (how many).






Ce sont des héros [sə sɔ̃ de eʁo]

They are heroes


Un dangereux ennemi [ɛ̃ dɑ̃ʒʁø ɛnmi]

A dangerous ennemi


Elle a attendu des heures [ɛl a atɑ̃dy dez- œʁ]

She waited for hours


Elle écrit une lettre [ɛl ekʁi yn lɛtʁ]

She is writing a letter


Ils mangent des haricots [il mɑ̃ʒ de aʁiko]

They eat beans


Son petit-ami [sɔ̃ pətitami]

His boyfriend


Comment allez-vous? [kɔmɑ̃t- ale-vu]

How are you doing?




Rhythm and intonation in French are very different from English. Instead of stressing a syllable per word, stress is often at the end of the rhythmic group or sentence. There are 4 main types of sentences, and each one of them has a different intonation:



Type of sentence



Falling intonation (rise then fall for longer ones)


Sharp fall at the end


Sharp fall at the end

Interrogative (closed)

Sharp rise on the last syllable

Interrogative (open)

High pitch on the first word and gradually fall



Stress is used at the end of rhythmic groups, as the last syllable is a little bit elongated. It can be hard to hear as native speakers speak fast and tend to merge short groups together in sentences: Je vais | au cinéma. (I go to the cinema). You will not hear a pause between the two groups.



Nominal group

Verbal group

Prepositional group

Ma petite soeur

a révi

toute la journée.

Il est parti

avec son frère

avant la nuit.



en vacances?

Nos parents

sont partis.




Green = high
Red = low


French is often described as a very "melodic" language, and it is not easy for a non-native to master this aspect of spoken French. But it will come… with a lot of practice!


Try to divide sentences of your everyday life into rhythmic groups to become more familiar with where you have to stress a syllable. As usual, I recommend to practice as much as possible; speaking in real life is the best practice ground!



Hero image by Valentin Antonini on Unsplash