Improve your French pronunciation — 5 methods to use right now
UPDATED ON DECEMBER 2, 2020 | METHODS
ARTICLE IN ENGLISH
Whether you are studying French, planning to visit a French-speaking country or you just want do it for fun, improving your French pronunciation may appear challenging at first but exciting and rewarding in the end.
If you already have a good level of French, but you are seeking to improve your pronunciation, this article should help you become familiar with some useful methods.
Pronunciation is a fundamental aspect of languages, particularly French because written French is starkly different from the way it is pronounced. It’s a trap that many of my students fall into!
It is worth bearing in mind that this article only provides tips to help master French pronunciation, rather than giving an exhaustive list covering all aspects of the French pronunciation.
1. Master every single phoneme of French pronunciation first
First of all, we should define what a phoneme means. A phoneme is a term in phonetics that refers to every sound of a spoken language. You can have a look at every phoneme of the French language here.
A good rule of thumb is to start correctly pronouncing and mastering every single phoneme of the French language until you can say them clearly and with ease. Not only will this help you fundamentally improve your pronunciation, your mouth will also become accustomed to the position and various muscles of the tongue when uttering sounds in French.
2. Forvo: Learn each word separately
Now that you can pronounce every phoneme in the French language, let’s have a look at Forvo. Forvo is an online pronunciation website that allows you to hear how specific words are pronounced by native speakers. It’s a great tool, provided you know how to exploit its potential.
If you learn a new word in French, you can download the .mp3 for any word on the website for free. You should play the word 5 times and repeat it yourself 5 times out loud. Repeat this method for the words that cause you trouble. Once you’re done, replay the audio record and repeat the same words the next day. This method will not only enable you to put your mouth and jaw in the right position, you will also be able to spot these words in a conversation when a native speaker uses it.
I would encourage you to follow this method not only for new words, but also for terms you have previously learned to ensure that you can pronounce them correctly. Do not hesitate to review the most common words in French here to ensure that you’ve got the basics down first. Select the first 200 words on this list and review their pronunciation.
3. YouGlish: Learn French words in context
Looking up new words in a dictionary is one thing. But you also need to place these unfamiliar words in context and hear how they are used naturally. Especially in French with its liaisons, the pronunciation of a word can dramatically alter depending on its position in a sentence. Let’s take a concrete example: Ils avaient atteint le sommet de la montagne. (They had reached the summit of the mountain.) The “s” of Ils becomes /z/ instead of /s/ and the “t” in avaient will be pronounced /t/ rather than being silent. If you become familiar with these exceptions in French pronunciation, your brain will be better equipped to link unfamiliar French words together.
Thanks to YouGlish, you can listen to a specific word in context. Type in the word you’d like to learn in French and the website will show you how it should sound in context.
To put into practice, you can repeat the sentence you’ve just heard in front of the mirror. At this stage, you can repeat on and on until you pronounce a given word it effortlessly. Imitating a native speaker is key to successful pronunciation.
4. Repetition: Learn by heart until you don’t need to think
Repetition is incredibly effective in languages, particularly when it comes to mastering French pronunciation.
Repeating same words again and again will help you retain them once and for all. You’ll be familiar with their pronunciation with ease and it will help the muscles of your mouth move into the right position when needed. You will no longer have to think about your pronunciation as your mouth will already know how to correctly utter the sounds.
Granted, this method requires cautious efforts and a great deal of repetition, but it’s far from impossible!
Create a digital document to store your new words and open it up every time you log on to your computer. You can include the spelling of the words in French and also add the mp3 recording from Forvo to remember them more effectively. Take a few seconds to read the words and repeat them out loud. If you do that for 1 week, I am positive that you that you will know how to pronounce them like a French native speaker.
5. A native speaker to help you
There is no better option than the support of a native teacher. You will receive invaluable tips and useful advice, especially if you have a good level but you feel like you’re not improving as much as you’d like. A native teacher will immediately help you figure out what you should focus on and how to best achieve this. Whether it’s the sounds of your /p/, /t/, your nasal French sounds (namely, /en/, /on/ or /un/), or your rhythm and intonation, a French native speaker will definitely point you in the right direction.