The French accent is quite challenging. So how can you, as a student, improve your pronunciation? Well, one effective way is to simply copy the accent of native speakers.
You see, French is a language that is not at all phonetic. In other words, there is an inconsistency between the way we write it and the way we pronounce it. Therefore, one must pay close attention to the rules of spoken French in order to speak properly and be understood. So, let’s have a look at some French words whose pronunciation is unusual and that you might want to watch out for:
- La noisette / Les noisettes
- Le coq chante / Les coqs chantent
Consonants at the end of the words:
- Une perdrix
- Un coquelicot
These examples are a bit tricky, and stand in contrast to a language such as Spanish, which is phonetic and much easier to pronounce. However, don’t worry. French is really not a difficult language.
Nevertheless, speaking French properly can be difficult and foreigners’ accents can sometimes be quite pronounced. I often have fun trying to guess the nationality of a non-native person who speaks French based on their accent. This is because an accent gives me so much information about how my new foreign acquaintence speaks. For example, if he or she talks mostly with their lips, they might be an English speaker.
Native speakers of other languages have various other unique speaking habits too, such as speaking more with the internal or external parts of their mouths, making clicking sounds with their tongue or making guttural sounds with the back of their throat. These different language habits can make it difficult to reproduce some of the more challenging French sounds, such as:
Syllables with the letter r:
However, you should not dwell too much on the specific letters of the alphabet, being that the pronunciation of each letter can differ greatly between languages. Instead, let’s have a look at some tips that will help you pronounce French better.
Some useful rules
At school in France, we teach children to read words by syllable, which often includes one consonant sound and one vowel sound.
- La che ni lle de vien dra un jour un beau pa pi llon.
Furthermore, you should never forget to emphasize the double consonants that appear in certain words.
- Ll : La che ni lle, le pa pi llon.
- Ette : La fi llet te, u ne cô te let te, l'o me let te.
You should also remember to link certain sounds together when you speak. This is especially important in the liaisons obligatoires. Examples of these include:
- des arbres (pronounced: dé zar bres).
- deux oiseaux (pronounced: deu zoi seaux).
- un grand éléphant (pronounced: un gran té lé phant). In this case, the d in grand is replaced by a t.
Sometimes, the only way that we know something is singular or plural is through a link. For example:
- elle adore les fleurs (elle a do re les fleurs).
- elles adorent les fleurs (elle za do re les fleurs).
However, there are also certain times when links are forbidden, such as in:
- un enfant obéissant
- un procès interminable
- ils sont allés à l'école
- j'aime les haricots verts
Finally, do not ignore French accents because they change the sound and meaning of words. For example:
- É, È, Ê : Des pâtes ou du pâté
In general, French should remain fairly monotonous, with accentuated syllables that jump, hop and cut according to our heart's desire. I let myself think that this is one of the reasons why so many people around the world love French so much.
Other secrets to speaking French well
Secret #1: Speak slowly
The phrase savoir vivre à la française refers to the French way of life. This romantic image of France starts with the way that we speak. In fact, there is nothing that matters more in France than communication. We strive to be as comfortable, happy and serene as possible in life. For French people, one way to achieve this is to leave plenty of time for talking.
This characteristic is notable in French films. They are often very slow, mostly because action is not considered to be very relevant. The most important components of a movie are feelings and the comparing of ideas. Therefore, speaking as slowly as possible will impress your audience!
Just think of how French people often take the time to drink a glass of wine with friends or share delicious meals around huge tables for hours. They might even spend most of the day in a wonderful café or à la terrace d'un restaurant just so that they can chat.
Secret #2: Be articulate and put space between syllables
You should realize that in French, the meanings of words are articulated though the syllables. For that reason, you need to pronounce words clearly and put as much space between the prefixes, word stems and suffixes as possible.
This is important because a prefix can either accentuate the meaning of a word stem or be used to construct its opposite.
Similarly, the meaning of a suffix determines the gender (masculine or feminine) and the number (singular or plural) of each word. Therefore, you should treat each syllable as a word in its own right.
Secret #3: Emphasize double consonants
In French, we have yet another way of adding some melody to the language: double consonants! It is very important to over pronounce these double consonants when speaking, not just because they deserve it, but to avoid confusing the meaning of one particular word with another.
Using these tips, you should be able to see a marked improvement in your ability to speak French clearly.
Good luck, keep calm and breathe French!!!
Hero Image by francois schnell (CC BY 2.0)