Let’s continue on from a previous article I have written concerning tips to improve your French accent and pronunciation. This is something you will always be working on if you are learning French in France and doing an immersion stay is the perfect way to improve on this. You are surrounded constantly by native speakers so you have an infinite pool of examples which you can use to listen, learn, practice and perfect!
Nasal Sounds; On, In, An, Un
These are the sounds that often trouble French students the most and it’s easy to see why. You don’t just use your mouth to make them. You use your nose too which is not very common across other languages so it’s not surprising that they can be tricky. There is some dispute about how many nasal sounds there are in French but I figured we might as well go with the upper estimate which is 4. The shape of the mouth is very important is still very important and there is no substitute for watching how French people move their mouths when they talk. If want to perfect these sounds and wow everyone on your French immersion course you’re going to have to develop that graceful, slightly pursed mouth look when you are saying words that have these sounds. I will be using some pretty vague language as it’s quite hard to describe but I hope you catch my meaning.
Your Nose is Your Best Friend For Pronunciation in Your French Class
UN – This one is a bit irritating because it’s not easy and you have to say it all the time so I even after quite a few weeks I have to be conscious when I try to say it. It’s hard to write English words for these sounds because you just can’t communicate the sound if you convert it so head on over to YouTube or whatever site you are using to learn French and listen again and again. Repeat, record yourself and compare against the French speaker. You can start from the word ‘an’ and make it a bit more compressed and with a slight contraction of your diaphragm.
ON – in ‘Bonjour’ – This requires another rounding of the mouth and whereas UN has a bit of ‘oomph’ from the stomach ON is purely nasal. You can start of with the word ‘on’ and just try and stop putting the tongue on the top of your mouth and move the sound further and further up your nose. This might feel a little weird and you may feel strange about doing this in public but just keep practicing no matter what and it will come.
IN – in ‘Vin’ – This one is a more high pitched than ON and sort of makes you do a strange smile when you pronounce it. So imagine an uncle has just made a lame joke at a family dinner and you will be in the right area.
AN – in ‘France’ – When done correctly this inspires a sort of sigh and a slumping of the shoulders. So imagine you have got home after a busy day and as you sit in your chair and relax you sigh whilst saying ‘France’. With this example don’t forget the ‘r’ sound that comes from the throat like you are gargling water.
A phrase you can use to practice all of the sounds in one go is the following:
‘Con-stan-tin prend un bon vin blanc’.
A challenge is that these sounds cannot really be explained and what I have described above is just my perception and how they sound to me. You will probably hear these sounds in a different way and feel them differently too. So not to sound like a broken record but the best way is to practice, practice, practice. Your teacher on your French immersion course will help you as much as they can but going somewhere quiet with access to some examples of the sounds being used and repeating them over and over is your best bet at making serious progress. The repition aspect is even more important here as the nuances between the sounds are, for English speakers, very fine and it’s easy to use one instead of the other. Learning French in France gives you the best chance though as you are constantly surrounded by people using the sounds all the time. So keep your ears open on your intensive French course in France for adults and out on the street and they will come.