How do you recognize a French accent

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French has its own melody

French is considered to be one of the most melodic languages ​​in the world. However, many language learners struggle with the melody of French. French is an invariably beautiful language, but learning is difficult due to the many rules and exceptions to French pronunciation. If you want to learn the correct pronunciation, you have to get to know the sounds first. In French, this is relatively easy, as this language works with almost no sounds that the average European cannot classify. A distinction is made between:

  • Vowels (in French: a, e, i, o and u)
  • Nasal vowels (in French an, en / in, on, un)
  • and consonants.

So-called diacritics are added to these sounds. These are dots and lines that serve as markers for a special pronunciation or a special accent. In French, this is mainly done by the cedilla (ç) and the trema (ï). The trema indicates that two vowels should be pronounced separately and the cedilla turns the c before a, o or u into an s. If you do not master the pronunciation, in the worst case, you express facts outside of your own intention in communication. Perhaps he is simply not understood or he no longer speaks at all because he feels demotivated. If the desire to learn gets stumbled because of stumbling blocks in the area of ​​pronunciation, however, it is a shame. Pronunciation can be practiced and optimized with a few tips and tricks. Lingoda can help you get into the rhythm and speak French as harmoniously as if it were music. As an online language school with native-speaking teachers, we move to the rhythm and rule pool of French pronunciation, like in the azure blue sea of ​​the French coast.

The French consonant system

The French consonant system is probably the smallest problem for a learner. Except for a few rules, the consonant pronunciation corresponds to that of German consonants. Here are the main exceptions:

  • h remains inaudible: The French h is not a voiced sound. Instead, it remains completely silent, for example in words like haute.
  • j is ʒ: The French j is the same as our journal. In the IPA phonetic spelling, this “sch” corresponds to the letter ʒ.
  • r is guturral: The French r is rolled on the uvula and thus resembles the r in the German word rat.

With these few exceptions in mind, the consonants themselves are the problem with French pronunciation. In every language, however, individual sounds influence each other and adaptation processes take place. A learner of French therefore ideally does not see individual sounds in isolation, but always in the context of their environment. For this purpose, Lingoda has summarized the most important assimilation rules for French consonants for you. These rules can help you understand the French consonant system even better.

  • Final softening: In words like petit, the last t does not sound. This reduction in the final consonant makes the words softer.
  • a and e turns c into s: The French c actually sounds like k. However, something about this rule changes as soon as the c comes into contact with the vowels a or e. That is, a and e refer back to a preceding c and change its pronunciation to s.
  • before h, c becomes sch: As soon as the French c meets a silent h, the h makes the c sound like sch. This is the case, for example, in words like chanter.
  • Softening of the g before e and i: The French g can correspond to a g as in gondola, but it can also become a voiced sh (IPA: ʒ) as in the word genius. Here, too, there is a rule that is related to the sound environment. If the vowels e, i or y follow the g, the sound softens. This is what happens, for example, in words likepassage. If, on the other hand, o, u or a follow the g, the g remains a g such as ingovernment.
  • g and n merge to ɲ: If the French g is immediately followed by an n, these two consonants merge to form the single sound ɲ. This sound lies between j and n and is pronounced like a j after n. A German native speaker is most likely to know this sound from words such asGntatted.

The French vowels and nasal vowels

Chaos and confusion in the mind of a language learner are caused less by the French consonants than by the vowels. Unstressed vowels, for example, sound completely different from stressed ones. Accents above vowel sounds can take on a wide variety of forms, from a simple line to a bow, and unlike in German, some vowel sounds are also nasalized in French. Many vowels also form vowel groups, the pronunciation of which is not very familiar to a German native speaker. For themselves, the French vowels are pronounced similarly to the German. An unstressed e is like the e in tub, for example. The i is spoken like the i in shepherd and the o sounds like the o in tomorrow. The French pronunciation of the a also resembles the German one. The only exception is the French u, which sounds more like a German ü. So the vowels themselves are not the problem. As with the consonants, it is more the assimilation processes. Let us first dedicate ourselves to the nasal vowels, as they do not occur at all in the German language. As the name suggests, they are all spoken through the nose. A vowel that comes before an n or m in its syllable is nasalized. The sound of the consonant merges with the vowel and is no longer audible as such.

  • at: The an as in chant is a nasalized a, in which the flow of air from the larynx is minimized as the soft palate approaches the base of the tongue. The sound sounds similar to a nasal Ä.
  • en / in: The en / in is a light nasal vowel like in main or bien.
  • on: The on as in bon is pronounced as a nasalized and closed o.
  • U.N: The un corresponds to a rounded and half-open nasal vowel. This sound sounds like a nasal ö.

In addition to the vowel assimilation processes before m and n, phonetic adaptation processes also take place in vowel groups. We have put together the most important ones.

  • ai: ai as in maison sounds like an e.
  • au / eau: au / eau as in beau sounds like a groaned o.
  • eu / œu: eu / œu as in bleu merges into a short ö.
  • ou: In ou as in nous, the u swallows the o.
  • oi: An oi like in boire sounds like oa.
  • ui / oui: oui sounds like ui.

Stress is the last important aspect of the pronunciation of French vowels. Unlike languages ​​like German, French works with fixed accents on its vowels. Stress is always on the vowel in the last syllable of a word or longer phrase. This fixed accentuation gives the language such a harmonious sound. There are three accents in French: the accent aigu, the accent grave and the accent circonflexe. Noticeable changes in pronunciation can only be seen when the accents affect the e. For example, è sounds like a short ä, ê sounds like a stretched uh and é corresponds to an accented e like in snow.

Is that quite a bit to remember? That's right, but in direct interaction with native speakers or in a French language course, these rules become firmly established anyway. Have fun with the unique melody of French.