How to Pronounce French Words

Although the French language is similar to English in some respects, many French learners still find that French pronunciation is very difficult. If you are wondering how to pronounce French words and how to make sure you pronounce them well, then this article is for you. 

I’ll give you 4 tips to help you pronounce French words like a native French speaker. These tips are useful if you’re stuck with a certain French word that you want to pronounce. Maybe you just don’t know how to pronounce it well or you’re unsure whether you’re saying  the French word correctly. 

1. Ask a Native Speaker

French native speakers are a great resource to help you with French pronunciation. Let’s say you encounter a French word you don’t know how to pronounce. The first thing you can do is you could ask a native speaker for help.

Native speakers are great examples of how  to use the French language in real life. Therefore, we recommend that you learn to mimic native speakers and how they pronounce French words. 

If you have a friend or family member who is a French native speaker, then you can ask them how to pronounce words in French. This is a great way to learn how to pronounce French words like the way a native speaker would naturally pronounce them. 

Don’t worry if you don’t know any French native speakers personally, as there are other options available. For instance, you could use an online language learning platform where you can connect with other French native speakers such as iTalki or Preply and more. 

While some language tutoring platforms are paid, there are also free alternatives such as online language exchanges, such as Conversation Exchange and Tandem. In a free online language exchange, you help a French native speaker learn English, and in return that French native speaker will help you learn French, including French pronunciation.

2. Listen to Audio Pronunciations Online

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a native French speaker who is available to help you. There might be no French speakers or very few of them in your area. Or you may be too busy to schedule a time to speak with a French native speaker online or offline. 

If you’re still having trouble pronouncing certain French words, then another option is to find the audio pronunciation of those words online. There are websites, such as Forvo or online French dictionaries, that have the French pronunciation of words recorded by native speakers. Google also has a free pronunciation guide here. These are completely free to use and can be an easy way to learn how to pronounce French words.

You can listen to the audio of the French pronunciation to make sure you hear all of the sounds. Then you can practice with that audio, by mimicking the native speaker’s pronunciation. Next, you can listen to the audio and repeat it several times until you’ve really got that pronunciation down pat. 

3. Learn the French IPA

A third suggestion is for you to learn the French IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet. In fact, you may have already encountered the International Phonetic Alphabet in certain French dictionaries. You can usually see the IPA next to each French word entry in a dictionary. 

The International Phonetic Alphabet is a standardized representation of how words in French and other languages are to be pronounced. The IPA looks very similar to the regular alphabet,  but you may have noticed that the IPA has particular lines or special characters over or around the letters. The special letters of the IPA are standardized across different languages to represent certain sounds, and proper French pronunciation can be represented by this IPA. 

So, you can use the French IPA yourself if you are having trouble with pronouncing specific French words. Whenever you come across a French word that is difficult to pronounce, you can go and look up its corresponding IPA to help you pronounce it correctly.

You will find that the IPA can be so important because there will be times when you’ll encounter a French word that is spelled a certain way. But it can be difficult to figure out how to pronounce that word based simply on its usual French spelling. 

This is because often there are different ways to pronounce combinations of letters. Sometimes there aren’t any clear patterns and connections between the usual spelling of a French word and the way that the word should be pronounced. 

Nevertheless, each French word actually has a way to be spelled using the French IPA and this tells you how you should pronounce it. So it does help to learn the French IPA.

If you learn the French IPA, then you’re able to understand which sounds you’re supposed to produce for any given French word. That’s because for each unique sound of the French IPA, you’ll be able to figure out how your mouth is supposed to move, where to position your tongue, teeth and lips. To learn the French IPA, you can use an Anki French IPA flashcard deck, which will allow you to memorize the French IPA and help you learn French pronunciation more easily and more effectively.

Once you learn the French IPA, you can use this tool to look up the IPA of any French word. You’ll have greater confidence to speak French as you’re more able to pronounce French words correctly.

4. Use French Minimal Pairs

The final tip is to use French minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are two different French words that sound almost the same, but there’s just one sound that is different. Your goal with minimal pairs is to hear these two different sounds and to be able to distinguish which of those audios correspond to the correct audio.

Let’s take for example “feuille” (leaf) and “faille” (flow). These two words sound very similar however, have two completely different meanings. To be able to hear the differences and pronounce both words correctly can help you improve your French pronunciation.

French minimal pairs are a great way to hone in on your pronunciation and listening skills. In fact, there’s been a fair bit of research showing the benefits of minimal pairs for improving your pronunciation and comprehension in a second language.

An example is a study by Ann R Bradlow from Northwestern University (Illinois, USA) and other researchers. The researchers recruited several Japanese students from Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, who were learning English and trying to improve their English pronunciation. All students had problems with the ‘R’ and ‘L’ sound, so minimal pairs were introduced. The students were tested regularly with similar-sounding words. Then students had to distinguish the difference between the two sounds. Each student had to listen carefully and try to figure out which English word had the R sound and which one had the L sound.

This study showed that monolingual Japanese adults who were given intensive minimal pairs training improved in both perception and production of English R and L minimal pairs. In addition, researchers found that these Japanese trainees benefited from long-term retention of learning in both perception and production of the R and L sounds.. Results showed that 3 months after completion of the training, the Japanese trainees maintained their improved levels of pronunciation and comprehension. 

This study can be applied to learning French pronunciation, too, as it demonstrates how effective minimal pairs training can be. If you are looking for French minimal pairs, there are flashcard decks available to help you improve your French pronunciation using minimal pairs.

Key Takeaway about How to Pronounce French Words that are Difficult

Overall, there are many ways to help you learn how to pronounce French words. These include getting help from a French native speaker, using French audios online to listen to the French pronunciation, learning the French International Phonetic Alphabet and pronunciation training with the help of French minimal pairs.

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