May 17, 2024

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Repeat after me: I do not speak English in French

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I do not speak English in French means that you should forget everything you knew until now (not the alphabet, as, lucky you!, it’s the same one as in French). Indeed, our brain, our feelings and our thoughts are defining the way our language and our vocabulary enables it, thus some words are untranslatable from one language to […]

I do not speak English in French means that you should forget everything you knew until now (not the alphabet, as, lucky you!, it’s the same one as in French).

two types of vowelsIndeed, our brain, our feelings and our thoughts are defining the way our language and our vocabulary enables it, thus some words are untranslatable from one language to another one (click here to know which French word are untranslatable), some words have several synonyms in one language whereas only one word exists in the other language. Sometimes, you might need many words or even sentences to translate one notion. When you speak French, remember that you do not speak English and that prononciations or rules are totally different, so please keep in mind that you do not speak English in French!

French prononciation

Everyone wishes they were born in bilingual families to avoid learning a foreign language as an adult. Indeed, learning a foreign language is not an easy thing to do, and I know what I am talking about! Well, the language is one aspect, the prononciation is another one. Prononciation does not have to be perfect, but you will have to do small efforts so that you can communicate with French-speaking people.

The importance of the lips

the kissing language 1

French is known as the kissing language, not because of the French kiss, but because when French people are talking, they use their lips a lot, whereas in other languages, lips are left aside (if I may say so!).

Small exercise: Try to pronounce the word vue (meaning view). To pronounce it correctly, you really need to put your lips just like if you were about to kiss and leave a small round between your lips to expell the air. If you can read phonetics, here it is [vy].
C’mon, don’t be afraid, say it! (No one is watching!)

The world-famous R

The French prononciation of R is a nightmare for most people learning French. It sounds severe and it is harsh to reproduce. This sound really is made in the throat, with the back of the tongue: the throat and the tongue meet. The front tongue does not move at all and stays behind the below teeth, the mouth should a little bit be open.

Let’s try it with this word: Rat (yes, it means exactly what you think it means, same word in English). Repeat it until you can make it.

practicing french prononciationPrononciation is just like exercising: the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Nasal Vowels

There are two types of vowels: the oral ones and the nasal ones (those do not exist in all languages. For example, in English there are none). The oral ones are the regular vowels (a/e/i/o/u). When you are pronouncing it, you notice that the sound really is made inside the mouth and the throat only. On the contrary, the nasal vowels involve the nose in the pronounciation.

Croissant (double trouble with the R and the nasal vowel!), the nasal sound produced by the written combination of a and n is [ɑ̃]. The closer sound in English is the sound you make when you disagree: unh-unh. Time to practise now: Croissant.

Silent H

The silent H is one of the sounds that betray French people when attempting to speak a foreign language! H in French, when at the beginning of a word, is simply not pronounced. We don’t hear it at all… just like if it wasn’t there ! So please, just ignore it! And yes, I admit it, this is very tricky when it comes to spelling and writing.

The liaison

In French, when a word ends with a consonant and the word after starts with a vowel, we usually do what we call the liaison (I delibaretely use the word usually as there are exceptions, otherwise, that would be too easy 🙂). Let me show you an example:
Les artistes (plural for l’artiste, transparent word). Les, if followed by a consonant will be pronounced as [lɛ] with a silent S, but in this case, the last letter of les and the first letter of artistes will unite like if it all was just one word and thus we will pronounce [lɛz] + artistes (silent S at the end of artistes).

Other situations require the liaison, if you are interested with it, and not afraid to open Pandora’s box, please check here!

Gender of the words

Male or female?

YES, if you didn’t know it yet, our words are gendered! That might seem bizarre for English-speaking people, but every single noun in French is either a male or a female (neutral noun does not exist in French). It can lead to funny situations, that is why most French people won’t use the pronoun it, or It’s when speaking English, but he or she / his or hers when talking about objects. I can reassure you: NO, we do not have special relationships with objects! (yes, even that cute little dress that I love!) We are just doing the exact opposite of what I am advising you today: We are speaking French in English!

when vocabulary leads to feminismGender can change…

As a matter of fact, some words do not have the same definition when male or female. For example, livre means book when male (un livre) but means pound when female (une livre). Some words also change gender when singular or plural. Amour, which means love, is one of them : Un amour (male) vs des amours (female).

Determining the gender of the noun can also be a militant act, as many words do not have the equivalent in both gender, such as in the business field. Un auteur, which means an author, does not have a female equivalent, but since a few years, the words autrice (female form for words that finishes by -teur) or auteure (in French when you add an -e, it implies that the word is female) emerged. Equality also is a matter of vocabulary, as it is what moulds the way we think and our ideas.

Introduction to some French specificities


french grammar rulesIn French, accents can only accompany a vowel and can modify the prononciation, as follows:

  • The acute accenté ⇒ Prononciation with closed mouth [e]
  • The grave accentà / è / ù ⇒ This accent doesn’t change the prononciation, but for the -e, you have to pronounce it with open mouth [ɛ]
  • The circumflex: can be put on top of all the vowels except -y, and also only modifies the prononciation when on the -e, that you will pronounce [ɛ]

However, accents in French do not imply an emphasis on the word, it only indicates a way to pronounce the letter (or not, when it has no impact, but is only historical).

The Cedilla

In French, the cedilla is the little something you put under the letter [c] to indicate that it has to be pronounced [s], just like in the word Français for instance, which means…French!

Letters combinations

In French, letters can be combined to form new sounds. Kindly find below the table with the different combinations possible in French:

[Ɛ] ai: Faire (To do/To make)
ei: Reine (Queen)
[ɑ̃] an: Ange (Angel)
am + consonant: Jambe (Leg)
en: Enchanté (Delighted)
em + consonant: Embêté (Annoyed)
[ɛ̃] ain: Demain (Tomorrow)
aim: Faim (Hunger)
ein: Plein (Full)
en (when i + en): Chien (Dog)
in: Cinq (Five)
im + consonant: Impôt (Tax)
un: Un (A/an)
[o] au: Aussi (Too)
eau: Eau (Water)
[wa] oi: Oiseau (bird)
[u] ou: Couper (To cut)
[ɔ̃] on: Bon (Good)
om + consonant: Comte (Earl)
[wɛ̃] oin: Moins (Less)