Top French Pronunciation Mistakes and Difficulties

Lessons on common French pronunciation trouble spots

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Many students find that pronunciation is the hardest part of learning French. The new sounds, the silent letters, the liaisons... they all combine to make speaking French very tricky. If you really want to perfect your French pronunciation, your best option is to work with a native French speaker, preferably one who specializes in accent training. If that is not possible, you need to take things into your own hands, by listening to French as much as possible, and by studying and practicing the pronunciation aspects that you find most difficult.

Based on my own experience as well as that of other French learners, here is a list of the top French pronunciation difficulties and mistakes, with links to detailed lessons and sound files.

Pronunciation Difficulty 1 - The French R

The French R has been the bane of French students since time immemorial. OK, maybe it's not quite that bad, but the French R is pretty tricky for a lot of French students. The good news is that it is possible for a non-native speaker to learn how to pronounce it. Really. If you follow my step-by-step instructions and practice a lot, you'll get it.

Pronunciation Difficulty 2 - The French U

The French U is another tricky sound, at least for English speakers, for two reasons: it's hard to say and it's sometimes difficult for untrained ears to distinguish it from the French OU. But with practice, you can definitely learn how to hear and say it.

Pronunciation Difficulty 3 - Nasal Vowels

Nasal vowels are the ones that make it sound like the speaker's nose is stuffed up. In fact, nasal vowel sounds are created by pushing air through the nose and mouth, rather than just the mouth like you do for regular vowels. It's not so difficult once you get the hang of it - listen, practice, and you will learn.

Pronunciation Difficulty 4 - Accents

French accents do more than just make words look foreign - they modify pronunciation and meaning too. Therefore, it's extremely important to know which accents do what, as well as how to type them. You don't even need to buy a French keyboard - accents can be typed on virtually any computer.

Pronunciation Difficulty 5 - Silent Letters

Many French letters are silent, and a lot of them are found at the end of words. However, not all final letters are silent. Confused? Read over these lessons to get a general idea of which letters are silent in French.

Pronunciation Difficulty 6 - H muet / aspiré

Whether it's an H muet or an H aspiré, the French H is always silent, yet it has a strange ability to act like a consonant or like a vowel. That is, the H aspiré, although silent, acts like a consonant and does not allow contractions or liaisons to occur in front of it. But the H muet acts like a vowel, so contractions and liaisons are required in front of it. Confusing? Just take the time to memorize the type of H for the most common words, and you're all set.

Pronunciation Difficulty 7 - Liaisons and Enchaînement

French words flow one into the next thanks to liaisons and enchaînement. This causes problems not only in speaking but in listening comprehension as well. The more you know about liaisons and enchaînement, the better you'll be able to speak and understand what's being spoken.

Pronunciation Difficulty 8 - Contractions

In French, contractions are required. Whenever a short word like je, me, le, la, or ne is followed by a word that begins with a vowel or H muet, the short word drops the final vowel, adds an apostrophe, and attaches itself to the following word. This is not optional, as it is in English - French contractions are required. Thus, you should never say "je aime" or "le ami" - it is always j'aime and l'ami. Contractions never occur in front of a French consonant (except H muet).

Pronunciation Difficulty 9 - Euphony

It may seem odd that French has specific rules about ways to say things so that they sound prettier, but that's the way it is. Familiarize yourself with the various euphonic techniques so that your French sounds pretty too.

Pronunciation Difficulty 10 - Rhythm

Ever heard anyone say that French is very musical? That's partly because there are no stress marks on French words: all syllables are pronounced at the same intensity (volume). Instead of stressed syllables or words, French has rhythmic groups of related words within each sentence. It's kind of complicated, but if you read my lesson you'll get an idea of what you need to work on.