How to Pronounce French Words

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French is spoken by roughly 300 million people in at least 50 countries around the world. Despite its prevalence, however, it is commonly understood to be a complicated language to speak. Although learning to speak French can seem a daunting task, it's useful to observe comparisons between English and French sounds. Many vowels and consonants in these languages can be pronounced similarly. Taking time to study these commonalities will aid you in your improvement of pronouncing French words. As you draw parallels between French and English, you will be ready to attack more challenging sounds inherent only to French dialects.

  • Study vowel letter clusters. In French, each vowel sound represents various different letter clusters grouped together to pronounce a particular sound. For example, [o] in French represents letters/sounds including o, ô, au, and eau. French words that represent these sounds respectively are "orteil" (toe); the "O" sound here is like English "O" as in "oration;" "bôite" (box); the "ô" sound here is like English "wa" in "water;" "beau" (beautiful, handsome); the "au" or "eau" sound here is like English "oa" as in "coat." Each of these groups of letters make the same sounds in English and in French. In English, letter clusters occur as well (the "o" sound of "soar," "tore," "your").

  • Use various English sounds to pronounce French consonants. For example, "b" in French "bébé" (baby) is pronounced as "B" in English (in "boy," for example). French "C" can be pronounced as English "K" or English "s." For example, in "garçon" (boy), the ç is pronounced as "S" in "senseless." On the other hand, in "courir" (to run), the c is pronounced as "K" in "kite." In addition, F, I, M, N, P and T are examples of consonants that translate from English to French.

  • Note French sounds that don't occur in English. French implements a lot of deep throated "r" sounds. The "r" sound, like in "parler," (to speak) for example, of the commonly-known phrase, "Parlez-vous français?" (Do you speak French?) is pronounced from the back of the throat. Some French speakers roll this "r" sound. In English, "r" sounds are never pronounced from the throat, but with practice, you can become adept at guttural articulation. Other common differences between English and French consonants include French "h" sounds, which are usually silent. An example is "hôpital" (hospital), which is pronounced "oh-pee-tal." French "j" sounds are often pronounced like English "g" sounds. For instance, "j" in "déjeuner" (to dine) is pronounced as "g" as in English "collage."

References

  • How to Pronounce French Words
  • O'Grady, William, Archibald, John, Aronoff, Mark, and Rees-Miller, Janie. Comtemporary Linguistics. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  • Friedberg, Sarah, Kestler, Justin, eds. Spark Charts. SparkNotes, LLC; A Barnes & Noble Publication, 2002.
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