As a native English speaker one of the big challenges I have faced whilst learning French in France is the pronunciation. During my intensive French course for adults I have often struggled with the words that are very unique to French but also those where there is a very similar word in English can snag as well. My voice automatically reverts to the easier well practiced option particularly when I’m speaking fast. There is an American guy in my French class who is also doing his DELF preparation course and he struggles too in comparison to our classmates from non-English speaking countries. So it’s time to take the bull by the horns and do something about it and I would like to share what I learn with you so…on y vas!
These are some of the common errors that people sometimes experience with the French pronunciation.
Letter R – How to Sound Like a French Native
This is hard for people all over thankfully. English speakers tend to convert it into a ‘ww’ sound whilst the Spanish speaking students at the language school tend fall back to the rolling ‘rrrrr’ that they use a lot in their mother tongue. This sound comes from the throat and will require a bit of getting used to because you have probably only used the muscles involved here when gargling some mouthwash. So this is where we’ll start; get some water in your mouth and start gargling. Play around with the sound and get a feel for it. Next try it without the water and get your stomach muscles involved, it helped me to imagine impersonating a cat. Eventually it will start to feel more natural and you can start to use it with words; réserver, erreur, and the most useful is at the end of bonjour.
Bare in mind though that another common error is pronouncing the R when it ISN’T necessary. This, principally, is when it is at the end of the sentence and preceded by an ‘e’… parler, aimer, essayer. The combination ‘er’ results in the same sound as ‘é’ so you can rest your throat and go for the much easier ‘ey’ sound. Another one is when a word ends in ‘ier’ like papier or ouvrier; this should be pronounced with more of a ‘eee’ ‘ey’ but students tend to give it the throaty R we talked about above.
Letter E – How To Have the Best Pronunciation in Your French immersion Class
You knew this was coming. This is a geyser of frustration for the students on DELF DALF exam preparation course but it doesn’t have to be; let’s break it down. At the end of most words if there is an E is is not pronounced like most letters in French but for the smaller words like articles (je, le, me) it is very important that it is pronounced because the wrong pronunciation can completely change the sense of the phrase:
e.g. je le fais – I am doing it (jur lur fay)
je les ai faits – I have done them (jay lay fay)
See with just a tiny alteration in the pronunciation we have managed to change not only the amount of things we are talking about but the tense as well.
Liaison of ET and the Next Word – Another Exception In Your French Studies
This is a bit of a cruel one. So you will have probably heard the rule that when a word begins with a vowel normally the last letter in the word preceding it is pronounced to maintain euphony. So if you have heard this rule and you see the word ‘et’ (and) followed by a word starting with a vowel you might try and liaise the two words and pronounce the ‘t’. Sorry but that’s wrong. For some reason you never liaise the word ‘et’ with another word. Don’t ask me why it’s just one of those things you have to accept about French but hey…..it’s a lot less weird than saying four twenties instead of inventing a word for eighty!
These are quite common mistakes for French students at my language school and I still make them myself. It is a case of polishing, sanding and sharpening but as you are doing a French language stay you have everything you need to quickly correct these bad habits. Bon courage!