Thank you very much, on behalf of all of our family, for your touching messages following my beau-père's passing. Many of you noticed an error, throughout my story, when I referred to John as my "father-in-law." I really meant to say "step-father!" Did you know that the French keep it simple--by using the term beau-père for both step-father and father-in-law? I like this--especially as the words beautiful father do much to honor John!
We return, now, to our French lessons. I have a very special edition for you written by a teacher that I admire. Benjamin Huoy has written a few posts for us before and he is back, today, with a helpful lesson on French pronunciation. Enjoy and, as John always said, don't worry about a thing!
7 steps to follow to get a French pronunciation you can be proud of
Imagine the scene.
You just arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport and would like to buy a croissant, so you go to the Paul bakery in the corner, take a deep breath and say "Bonjour, je voudrais un croissant s'il vous plaît".
Then you realize the seller didn't understand a word you said. Embarrassed and feeling dumb, you switch to English and wonder what you did wrong.
Something similar happened to me when I tried to speak English for the first time (I'm a native French speaker), and I can still remember how embarrassing it was.
The reason this happens to so many of us is that we've been learning languages the wrong way.
Luckily, getting a French pronunciation people can understand isn't that hard if you use the right method.
Here are 7 steps you can follow to make sure you have a French pronunciation you can be proud of and don't get embarrassed next time you order a croissant in a bakery.
#1 Listen before you read
When you learned your native language, you started by listening.
In fact, you waited years before learning how to read.
You need to do the same in French. You need to learn with your ears before you learn with your eyes.
Because you're used to the sounds of English, so if you see French words, you'll automatically pronounce them the way you think they should be pronounced and not the way they're actually pronounced.
That's how I spent the first 4 years of my English-speaking life saying "hey-veal" instead of "evil". So embarrassing!
In French like in English, it's better not to know how words are spelled, because they usually don't sound anything like the way they're spelled.
Don't believe me? Read the following sentences out loud!
"Mange", "manges" and "mangent" are all pronounced the same way even tough they're written differently.
But if you don't listen before you read, you're likely to pronounce the final letters without knowing they're in fact silent.
If you don't make listening before reading a habit, you'll associate the words you learn with the wrong pronunciation, won't be understood and will have a hard time understanding spoken French, because the French you'll hear won't be the same as the French you imagined.
#2 Avoid simplified French pronunciations
most textbooks and French courses include simplified French pronunciations.
They tell you that "bonjour" is pronounced "bawnjour" and that "Quelle sorte de légumes avez-vous?" is pronounced "kehl-sohrt deh leh-gewm aveh-voo".
This may seem helpful, but it's actually ruining your pronunciation.
French and English don't use the same sounds and trying to pronounce French words with English sounds is like cooking chinese food with traditional ingredients of French cuisine. You may end up with something similar, but it won't taste Chinese at all.
If you want to sound French and be understood, avoid simplified French pronunciations at all cost and listen to the words first.
It'll take more time, but locals will actually be able to understand you when you speak.
#3 Use pronunciation dictionaries
The best way to get a good French pronunciation is to choose a course which includes audio spoken by native speakers and not simply text or robot voices.
But what if you read a book and don't know how to pronounce a word?
Forvo contains recordings of thousands of French words while Rhinospike allows you to ask people to record words and sentences for you.
#4 Make listening to French a daily habit
Listening to French is the activity you should spend most of your time doing as a French learner, because it's the best way to get used to the sounds of the language.
Every time you listen to French, you improve your understanding of the language, naturally learn grammar and improve your pronunciation.
But don't listen to random shows and podcasts just because they're in French. It's essential to listen to something you partially understand so you can learn from it.
If you're a beginner, this means the best listening material is probably your French course itself or some easy children's books.
If you're an intermediate or advanced French learner, you can listen to real-world material or to podcasts made specifically for French learners such as Français Authentique.
#5 Get feedback on your pronunciation before going to France
Simply listening before reading is the guarantee that your French pronunciation will be much better than average, but the only way to make sure it's perfect is to get feedback.
In fact, I recommend you to try to get feedback every time you learn a new sentence.
Getting feedback is terrifying, but it's the best way to notice mistakes and to correct them before you have the time to develop bad pronunciation habits.
Think about it this way. Would you rather practice your pronunciation with a helpful friend or find out whether people can understand you or not for the first time when you talk to complete strangers in France?
That's it, you now know the 4 most important steps to follow to get a good French pronunciation.
French pronunciation is only one of the three main skills you need to master if you want to become a confident French speaker though. Which is why I created the 30-Day French course, it helps you learn French naturally using proven methods and real-life conversations.
Many thanks, Benjamin, for sharing your pronunciation lesson with us--and for scrambling for a photo when I asked for one to accompany this post!
Here is Benjamin and his fiancé, Aysa, in the vineyards of Noizay where French vignerons make the famous Vouvray wine.
Click here to learn more about Benjamin's 30-Day French program