How to Pronounce French Words

Learning how to pronounce French words means learning different accents, including nasally vowels, and also learning how to drop final consonants. French has an entirely different vocabulary than English, but many of the words will be familiar; some will even be the same. When learning how to pronounce French words, you'll need to be very careful.

Check Your Pronunciation
Words such as hotel and restaurant are spelled the same in French as in English, and pronounced the same way as well. These are words that have been adapted into English from French. Other examples include sandwich, cul de sac, beret and baguette.

Some words that look the same as English words are not at all the same in the French language. Because the two languages have similar words with totally different meanings, serious language mistakes and embarrassing blunders can occur. For instance, the phrase à la mode is used in the French language, where it means to be in fashion, very different from it's meaning in the English language. Other words that look the same but have different meanings include gauche, which can mean go left, and crayon, which is a pencil.

As you learn to pronounce French words, you will also learn that mistakes do occur. Most people won't hold it against you, but it is important to try to be as clear as possible in your communication. The French are proud of their culture and heritage, and they will sometimes act coolly toward people who mangle their language.

Correct Pronunciation
While the French alphabet is the same as the English alphabet, many of the letters are pronounced differently:

  • ch is pronounced like the sh in shout, shell or shut
  • g, when appearing before e, i or y, is always pronounced like the g in gerbil, manager or Geronimo
  • final consonants are dropped
  • h is always silent, whether it is a final consonant or not
  • j is pronounced like the s in words such as treasure or pleasure
  • qu is always pronounced like the k in kite
  • r is always rolled slightly

Accents and vowels go hand in hand in the French language. While not all vowels have an accent, many do, and those that do are pronounced differently. If the letter e has an accent it is pronounced more like the two vowels a and y together as in the word say. Without an accent, the sound an e makes is more like that of an a in the words ashore or alone.

Remember also that the French language sounds very romantic when the words are accurately pronounced. The language itself is lyrical, almost as if each letter was a musical note. The reason words flow so smoothly and literally roll off the tongue is due to the fact that not one single word in any given sentence is singled out, stressed or accentuated in the spoken language. Because all words are given the same emphasis, you hear a lyrical, almost musical sound when the French language is being spoken.

This tendency can make it quite difficult for non-speakers to understand what's being said. If you're having trouble following what someone says, there are two phrases to remember. "Lentement, s'il vous plait," means "Please slow down." "Je ne parle pas tres bien francais" means "I don't speak French well." Let people know that you're struggling to understand, and they'll often do their best to help you.

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