07 Jul Best Tips on Improving Your French Pronunciation

This week, I am delighted to introduce my guest blog by Aurelie Palermo. Aurelie is the Head of Department for French at Eton Institute.  As she teaches both French and English, Aurelie is very well qualified to give us some tips on how to get students to master the sounds of the French language, and also point out some good techniques for practising pronunciation in general:

‘Paris ne s’est pas fait en un jour! by Aurelie Palermo
In the UAE, when people choose to learn the French language, it is usually for business or travel purposes but we also see the occasional cheese, wine or fashion lover sign up for a course merely because they  are curious to discover what is behind this so-called ‘romantic language’. It is usually after the first couple of lessons that they realize that speaking ‘La langue de Moliere’ is not going be an easy task and having to make distorted faces in order to produce certain sounds may jeopardize their first ‘rendez-vous’!  Needless to say that pronunciation is one of the major difficulties for students and the first few classes really need to focus on familiarizing the learners with new sounds and letter combinations.

The French language also has complex grammatical and syntax structures. Naturally, learners whose native languages derive from Latin will have better predisposition for French as compared to speakers of Germanic, Slavic, Semitic or Asian languages for instance. It is well known that the younger you start learning languages, the closer to a native speaker you will sound. However, it is never too late to start! Here are a few tips to help you improve your French pronunciation:

Many of my students have trouble with the letter ‘r’. The French ‘r’ sounds nothing like the English ‘r’ which is pronounced in the middle of the mouth, or the Spanish ‘r’ pronounced in the front of the mouth. The French ‘r’ is pronounced at the back of the throat, almost where the ‘k’ sound is made. It is similar to the Scottish pronunciation of the sound ‘ch’ in ‘Loch Ness’ and is identical to the Arabic letter ‘ghain’ .
If you ask French learners, they’ll also unanimously tell you that the French ‘u’ is another difficult sound. In order to produce it, you have to position your lips as if you were making a ‘w’ sound. Keep your lips round and tight as if you were going to whistle…and at this stage, you will need the help of a French speaker to model this sharp sound for you.

The French ‘e’ sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘about’ or the ‘u’ in ‘fur’, but adding accents will change the way you pronounce it. For example, ‘é’ is similar to the English ‘ay’ in the words ‘say’ or ‘bay’, but ‘è’ or ‘ê’ sound more like ‘bed’. When the bare ‘e’ is placed at the end of a word, it is always silent. All of our tricky silent letters also create problems for non-native speakers as they make it more difficult to guess the spelling of spoken words or the pronunciation of written words.
Like any other language, the more you listen to French people speaking, the better you’ll get at distinguishing unfamiliar sounds, and the easier it will be for you to produce them yourself.

The best way to progress is by interacting with as many native speakers as you can and spending some time in a French speaking country. If this is not an option for you right now, you can start by playing a French language CD in your car on your way to work and mimic the pronunciation of words and phrases over and over until you get really close to the authentic accent. Watching French TV shows, movies and listening to songs will also help you improve your pronunciation. But above all, be patient, everything comes with time and practice! And remember: ‘Paris ne s’est pas fait en un jour!’(Paris wasn’t built in a day)

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