Issues related to accents, sometimes, get extremely frustrating for French learners. Luckily, there are a few factors that can mitigate these issues and can fix your French accent. There are some rules that can fix your French pronunciation allowing you to utter French words fluently.
Majorly, there are 6 major problems associated with French pronunciation that trouble learners even at advanced levels. If you are not surrounded by French-speaking people, you will most probably face these problems. To resolve this, you can enroll yourself in italki’s French learning online program. To learn French online book your lesson plan with your favorite French teacher with just a click! It also gives you the facility to have a free trial session to experience before getting enrolled.
Now let’s move towards French pronunciation rules to let you improve your French accent.
The French R
It is a classic French sound. It may be the most difficult, but it will eventually become the most enjoyable. You should use your throat to pronounce it. Approach it as if you were trying to gargle. Make a “k” sound, then pronounce the “k” with your throat closed to find the location where you should be gargling.
Because there isn’t an English equivalent for this sound, it is natural to pronounce the r as we know it, but sounding French tends to rely heavily on getting this sound right, so keep on practicing until you get it right.
Following are some words to practice the French r:
- arriver (to arrive)
- vraiment (really)
- sucre (sugar)
- frère (brother)
The French U
Along with the r, it is one of the more difficult sounds to get right. To speak it, say “ee” in English and hold it out, then round your lips. In addition to the French vowel u, there is also the ou vowel, which is pronounced slightly differently, so we must distinguish between the two. Don’t be deceived: tu and tout sound very different.
Consider the word “soup” to help you pronounce the ou sound. This sound is likely to be easier to pronounce than the plain old u. In your own mouth, the best way to tell the difference is to remember that with u, your tongue will be out further than with ou.
Some of the examples of this sound are as follows:
- tu and tout (you/all)
- vue and vous (sight/you)
- jus and joue (juice/play)
The French Sound of Silence
This is one of the major obstacles associated with the French pronunciation. There are some letters at the end of words that you just don’t pronounce.
Like most French language concepts, silent letters, or lettres muettes, have rules and exceptions. Many words in English have a silent “e,” and the silent e in French follows many of the same rules. You don’t pronounce that e unless it has an accent or is part of a two-letter word like le or ce.
There’s more to French silent letters than just the e, and the best way to memorize them is to learn which endings are pronounced and which aren’t. These are most pronounced at the end of the word: b, c, f, l, q, r.
French, like English, is full of exceptions that like to attack you from all sides. You’ll get used to the common exceptions, such as -er infinitives and Blanc (white), in which these consonants aren’t pronounced.
You need to concentrate on pronouncing the endings of words like these:
- un club (an organization)
- avec (with)
- actif (active)
- un look (a look)
- un bol (a bowl)
- cinq (five)
- hiver (winter)
So, now that you know (mostly) what you should say, let’s move on to the silent letters. P, g, n, m, s, t, d, x, and z are not usually pronounced at the end of a word. That’s a lot of letters, aside from your everyday exceptions (most of which are either proper nouns or words borrowed from another language) in which you leave off that last letter the majority of the time. Simply cut it out. Don’t say it out loud.
- trop (too)
- le sang (blood)
- le train (train)
- le parfum (perfume)
- vous (you)
- poulet (chicken)
- froid (cold)
- le prix (the price)
- chez (the house of)
The general rule here is that you shouldn’t say the final consonant. Pay attention to these exceptions and you will master them eventually. Learning basic French words by keeping an eye on these exceptions will help you to develop an easy flow.
Vowels Followed by M or N (Nasal sound)
Nasal sounds give a tough spot to many French language learners. Know that m and n aren’t pronounced at the ends of words, and this doesn’t change that. When you see them, all you need to know is that the vowel becomes nasal, so start breathing through your nose!
One important thing that you need to remember is that if another vowel follows ‘m’ or ‘n’, then it’s not a nasal sound. For example, un is nasal, but une is not.
Following are some of the French words to practice nasal vowels:
- quand (when)
- plein (full)
- lundi (Monday)
- emporter (to bring)
- important (important)
- bon (good)
Liaisons serve as a bridge between two words that would otherwise sound mismatched. Assume you want to say, “I have two ampoules” (I have two lightbulbs). Usually, you would overlook the x at the end of deux and proceed to the next word as usual (hoping your accent does the trick to make it flow).
However, because the following word begins with a vowel sound, you cannot leave that x hanging as usual. You’d get something that sounded like “deu ampoules” if you left it hanging, which may not bother English speakers much, but liaisons make it look pretty.
There are a few things for you to know, in this regard:
- D sounds like t.
- N and p sound like themselves.
- S and x sound like z.
Some dos and don’ts of liaison
Liaison when it is:
- After a pronoun.
- Before a noun.
- A number.
- A proposition with one syllable like chez or en.
- Your indefinite or definite articles (les, des, un).
Don’t liaison when it is:
- A name.
- After et (and).
- Before onze (eleven).
- After nouns.
- Before oui.
The Double L
Is it pronounced as an “l” or a “y”? This is a question that keeps French learners awake at night. Of course, there is an answer, but the rule, like most things French, is riddled with holes. In general, everything is determined by what comes before the ll.
A, e, o, u and y signal an “l” sound. Words like elle (she) and balle (ball) are pronounced like with a regular “l.” The general rule is that if it’s any letter other than i, then you’re safe to pronounce it like the “l” you know and love.
The letter ‘I’ is a problem child, and you’ve got to watch out for the pronunciation of words with -ille in them. Here are three pieces of info to keep the -ille straight:
1. If other vowels come before the -ille, it’s pronounced like a “y.” Mouiller (to get wet), for example, is pronounced: “moui(y)er.” Here are a few examples of common words that follow this rule: taille (measurement), feuille (paper), and paille (straw).
2. When there are no other vowels, you would also pronounce -ille the same way. The general rule is as follows. As a result, words like fille (girl) and bille (marble) can safely use the “y.”
3. You simply need to be aware of the exceptions (which aren’t many). Most of these will come with practice, but here are a few of the most common ones that are pronounced with the “l” sound rather than the “y” sound:
- ville (city)
- tranquille (calm)
- un million (a million)
- un milliard (a billion)
- un mille (a thousand)
- Lille (a town in France)
- le bacille (type of bacteria)
Developing command of French pronunciation takes time. Follow these rules to develop your grip on French words. In order to build a good French accent, you need to memorize different French vocabulary words such as French colors, names of fruits and vegetables, etc.
You can also learn French by podcasts, in fact, seeking guidance from podcasts can also help you improve French pronunciation. Seeing natives speaking French words is a very effective and significant approach to acquiring desired French accent.