You are on page 1of 8

t alkinf re m http://www.talkinfrench.

co m/french-pro nunciatio n-guide/



How to pronounce French the right way

Reading time: 12 minutes

Dif f iculty: Beginner- Intermediate

T heres that charming sound to the spoken French

language that everyone f inds utterly delightf ul. How the
words seem to melt together to f orm pleasant sounds
and f lowing melodic tones can be both enchanting and
intimidating at the same time. Enchanting enough f or non-
French people to strive to replicate its romantic-sounding
inf lections, but very intimidating when you listen to actual
French people talk.

No need to get intimidated f or long though. It seems like

youre in the right track with learning how to speak French
because this discussion is solely f ocused on learning
proper French pronunciation. Whether you are beginning
to learn the language or you only need to brush up on
your intonation, this is the perf ect tool and guide f or you to ref er to every once in a while.

Heres a tip f rom native French speakers:

Dont be too hard on yourself when you cant fully grasp the pronunciation rules after a few
hours of practice. It takes time to learn how to pronounce French words properly months, in
fact. Besides, its extremely rare to see a foreigner with a 100% correct pronunciation. But does
it really matter? France is a hugely multicultural country and the French people are quite familiar
(and accepting!) with a wide range of accent. So dont beat yourself to a pulp, and just keep
practising until you start to pull off French quite nicely.

T he study method and guide presented below are targeted f or English speakers, and it will help you grasp
the pronunciation rules better. It could get tricky f or newbie learners, but with regular practice in speaking
and reading, you should be able to to do quite well soon enough. Remember, you dont need to memorize
these rules by heart, but by just ref erring to this page every once in a while, youll get there in no time. So
bookmark this page and study the guide as of ten as youd like. It will be ingrained in your system bef ore you
know it.

So are you ready?

Here we go!
When compared to the English language, French has a more distinct sound and a f lat intonation. T he
stress is mostly even except f or the last syllable which is being given a tad bit more of an emphasis. Check
out this example where we will use the word IMPORTANT. Notice the dif f erence in the stress between the

In English: im-POR-tant, while in French: ang-por-tahng

See the difference?


For the newbie French learner, the dif f erence between a, , and as well as e, , , and can get head-
swimmingly f rustrating. But the truth is, its not actually that complicated at all. Heres a nif ty guide f or you
to use so you could easily distinguish the pronunciation between the letters and all its mind-boggling
accents or diacritical marks (or simply put, those little thingies on top of the letters).

What the example

Vowels Pronunciation Guide Example means

a is pronounced like 'ah' in English la (the)

is also pronounced like 'ah l (there)

is pronounced like 'ah' but longer ne (donkey)

e When placed in the middle of a syllable, it is pronounced like mer (sea)

ai in 'f air'

e When placed at the end of a syllable, it is pronounced like er le (the)

in 'her'

e is silent at the end of a word tasse (cup)

is pronounced like 'ay' t (summer)

is pronounced like ai in 'f air' pre (f ather)

is also pronounced like ai in 'f air' tte (head)

i, y are pronounced like ee in 'meet' ski (skiing)

o is pronounced like o in 'not' poste (post of f ice)

is pronounced like 'oh' htel (hotel)

u this sound does not exist in English; say 'oo' with rounded vu (seen)

oi is pronounced like 'wah' roi (king)

ou is pronounced like 'oo' roue (wheel)

ai, ei are pronounced like e in 'let' laine (wool)

au, eau are pronounced like 'oh' au (to the)

eu, oeu are pronounced like er in 'her' neuf (nine)

soeur (sister)
Source: Hugo in 3 Months Beginners Language Course

Easy enough? Heres a quick recap on the vowels:

a and are both pronounced like ah in English. is also like ah, except that it is longer.
e when placed in the middle of a syllable is pronounced like ai in f air, same as and .
T he rule f or pronouncing e: in the middle of a syllable ai as in f air; at the end of a syllable, er as
in her; but when you see it at the end of a word, it is silent. (example: tasse)

Now we move to the consonants.


Consonants in French are basically pronounced the same way as in English. But here are some rules f or
you to take note of , just to make things a little bit easier.

What the
Consonants Pronunciation Guide Example example means

c bef ore e or i sounds like s ceci (this)

c elsewhere it sounds like k car (coach)

sounds like s a (that)

ch sounds like 'sh' chteau (castle)

g bef ore e or i sounds like s in 'measure' gnral (general)

g elsewhere sounds like g in 'go' gare (station)

h is silent htel (hotel)

j sounds like s in measure' je (l)

qu, q sound like k qui (who)

r is pronounced at the back of the throat; it is quite similar to rire (to laugh)
the sound we make
when are gargling.

s at the beginning of a word sounds like s salle (room)

s between two vowels, it sounds like z rose (rose)

Source: Hugo in 3 Months Beginners Language Course

Heres an important thing f or you to note:

Except f or these letters: c, f, l, and r, consonants are usually not pronounced when it is the last letter of
the word. Take f or example the silent last letters in the f ollowing words:

passpor(t) and Pari(s)

On the other hand, l and r are pronounced such as in the f ollowing:

hotel and professeur

Just remember the letters using this mnemonic or memory aid: Clear French Language Recall or CFLR. (See,
told you this is easy!)


Ask any non-French speaker and theyll usually describe the French language as being a bit nasal. T hese
nasal sounds are quite distinctive of the French language and are characterized by the f ollowing:

1. It is produced by blocking air f rom leaving the mouth and released instead through the nose.
2. T hese sounds are voiced which means the vocal cords vibrate to create the sound.

Sounds dif f icult? Not actually. In f act, the English language has three nasal sounds too, namely the m
sound, the n sound, and the ng sound. And we are using these to speak f lawlessly (or not!) everyday.

Try saying the words sing, sang, song and sung and notice the f ollowing:

the letter g is given very little value in the standard pronunciation, and
as you pronounce the words, air is blocked when the back of your tongue presses against the sof t

French has f our nasal sounds which are more similar to its English counterparts than we realize.

T hese are the f ollowing:

Nasal sound Pronunciation Example What the Example Means

om, on pronounce like ong in 'song' nom (name)

non (no)

um*, un pronounce like ung in 'sung' un (one)

brun (brown)

am, an pronounce like 'ahng' champ (f ield)

em,en an (year)
temps (time)
en (in)

im*, pronounce like ang in 'sang' simple (easy)

in, aim, vin (wine)
ain, ein f aim (hunger)
bain (bath)
plein (f ull)

ien pronounce like 'ee-ang bien (well)

Source: Hugo in 3 Months Beginners Language Course

We mentioned that there are f our nasal French sounds but you must be wondering why there are f ive listed.
T his is because some French speakers do not make distinctions between um* and im* and both are being
pronounced as ang like we do in sang.


Now read up caref ully because this here is where non-French speakers of ten get in trouble. Listed below
are some pronunciations f or syllables that, when spoken, dif f er quite well f rom how it is spoken in English.
What the Example
Syllable Pronunciation Example Means

er at the end of a word of two syllables or more sounds parler (to speak)
like 'ay'

ez at the end of a word sounds like 'ay' nez (nose)

ail at the end of a word sounds like ah'ee' travail (sun)

eil, eille sound like 'a'ee' soleil (bottle)


ill usually sounds like 'ee'y' billet (ticket)

gn sounds like ni in 'onion' signal (signal

Source: Hugo in 3 Months Beginners Language Course

To recap,

er (when at the end of a word with two or more syllables) and ez are both pronounced like ay.
As an exception to the C,F,L,R consonants pronunciation rule presented earlier, L when used in the
syllables ail and eil, are generally silent.
For sure youre quite f amiliar with the gn sound already. Especially if youre the lasagna-eating type.


We are all quite aware that the French language sounds f lowing and continuous, or to put it jokingly, like
speaking in cursive. T his lends itself a lot of charm and that very noticeable melodic sound that f oreigners
simply love.

To get this delightf ully melodious sound in intonation, heres a simple rule f or you to remember:

If a word that begins with a vowel or a silent H f ollows a word which ends in a consonant, the consonant is
linked to the beginning of the second word.

Simply stated, IF:

1st word ends in a consonant

2nd word begins with a vowel or silent H

Result: the consonant in the end of the f irst word is automatically linked to the beginning vowel of the
second word.

To illustrate, let us make use of these examples:

1. nous avons the 1st word ends with the consonant s while the 2nd word begins with a vowel.

To pronounce it: noo zah-vong (meaning, we have)

1. un petit enf ant petit ends with a consonant while enf ant begins with a vowel.

To pronounce it: ung ptee tahng-f ahng (meaning, a small child)

A f ew guidelines to remember when using other letter combinations;

Letters Sound Example Pronunciation What the example means

s, x sounds like z deux ans der zahng two years

d sounds like t un grand arbre ung grahng tahbr a tall tree

f sounds like v neuf heures ner verr nine hours

Source: Hugo in 3 Months Beginners Language Course

PART 7. ACCENT MARKS (and the dif f erence it makes)

Just like several other languages, the French language makes use of accent marks. Accents are a type of
diacritic marks which are basically glyphs or small signs attached to a letter. T hese are commonly used in
Latin-derived alphabets as well as non-Latin ones like Chinese, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Korean and others.

French makes use of three main accents, and these are:

the acute accent () or laccent aigu which can be f ound in the letter e.
the grave accent () or laccent grave which can be f ound in the letters a, e, and u; and
the circumf lex () or laccent circonflexe which can be f ound in any vowel.

In addition, there is also the cedilla () or la cdille which can be f ound only underneath the letter c; and the
diaeresis () or le trma which is of ten used to indicate that the second vowel is to be pronounced
separately f rom the f irst (e.g. naf naive and nol Christmas).

So what are accent marks f or, you might ask.

Here are their uses:

First, they are used to change how a letter sounds. Lets take f or example the letter e.

T he unaccented e sounds like er in her

T he acute sounds like ay in say

T he grave sounds like ai in f air

For the cedilla, remember the rule discussed earlier wherein c is only pronounced as a sof t s when placed
bef ore an e or i? T he cedilla totally changes that. Take f or example the word garon (which means boy). It
precedes an o which means it should be pronounced as a hard c as in car, but the cedilla sof tens the
letter to make it sound like s as in sit.

Second, accent marks are used to dif f erentiate between similarly spelled words which have dif f erent


la (the) versus l (there)

ou (or) versus o (where)

sur (on) versus sr (sure)

T heres something very interesting about the accents though. In modern usage, French accents usually do
not appear in capital letters because it is already deemed unnecessary. T he Acadmie Franaise, however,
maintains that it should be used at all times in order to avoid conf usion.


Contrary to popular belief , there isnt really a huge gaping dif f erence between English and French
pronunciation. In f act, most syllables are pronounced as though they are a part of an English word and are
each given an equal stress.

But do take note of the f ollowing while reading the examples shown in this guide:

ng (italics) must never be pronounced; these letters merely indicate that the preceding vowel
has a nasal sound.
er (r italics) do not pronounce the r; this syllable sounds like er in her.
zh sounds like s in measure.
no equivalent in English; round your lips and say ee.
o sounds like o in not.
oh sounds like o in note.


T he French Alphabet also contains 26 letters of the ISO basic Latin-script alphabet (or simply, the alphabet
as we know it). It is basically similar to that of the English alphabet except f or K and W which arent always
used. T he pronunciation is also a bit dif f erent. So just in case you are planning to visit France soon, then
you might want to practice spelling out your name should the French-speaking receptionist (or other
people essential to your travel) require it. Spelling it out in French would make a lot more sense to them
than the English phonetics.

Heres a little example.

If your name is JANEY, it is spelled out as zheel ah en er ee-grek.

Here is the rest of the French alphabet as well as their pronunciation:

A (ah) H (ahsh) O (oh) V (vay)

B (bay) I (ee) P (pay) W (doobl-vay)

C (say) J (zheel) Q (k) X (eeks)

D (day) K (kah) R(airr) Y (ee-grek)

E (er) L (el) S (ess) Z (zed)

F (ef ) M (em) T (tay)

G (zhay) N (en) U ()
Try to practice saying these pronunciations as of ten as you can as this would help you in your f urther
learning. Remember, just like any other skill, all it takes is determination and consistency f or you to develop
the habit. Being exposed to a lot of French language in movies, videos, and even audio books can help you
f amilliarize with the words and sounds, and make it easier to learn them.

Bef ore we end this pronunciation guide, here are a f ew videos f or you to check out. Never mind that some
of the pronunciations are not 100% French, the important thing is that you are able to listen and compare it
with your recent learnings.

We wish you the best of luck in your French studies and dont f orget to keep visiting this site f or more
usef ul inf ormation! For more inf ormation or comments, please dont hesitate to let us know.

A bientt!

P.S. You would be doing me a HUGE FAVOR by sharing it via Twitter, Facebook, Google + or Pinterest.