“How can I sound less English and more French when I speak French?”
That’s a frequent question from people who try to learn French again after many years.
Here are some general tips and tricks that you can use to sound more authentically French in your own conversations – and the most common mistakes to avoid.
1) Mistake with your French accent #1: Wrong Stresses
The first mistake is technical: in French, words are stressed on their last syllable.
For instance, we say:
- une Parisienne (= a Parisian woman)
- And NOT, for instance: une Parisienne
- Demain, on ira à la bibliothèque. (= Tomorrow we’ll go to the library.)
- And NOT, for instance: Demain, on ira à la bibliothèque.
Listen to the video lesson above to hear the difference!
Stressing the wrong syllables would sound jarring in everyday French. Stressing the end of words instead is a first step you can take to be better understood, and sound more French!
** Le truc en plus **
Today, we’re talking about the “Parisian” (most common) French accent, the one you’ll hear on French national radio and TV (and when I speak, personally.) Other regional or national accents can sometimes follow other rules. For instance, Southern French tend to pronounce more letters. The Eastern Alsatian French accent, influenced by German, will place its stresses differently.
This is really underrated… Including by French people themselves!
French people often don’t realize they’re stressing the end of the words. When we first learn about stress syllables in English (or Spanish or Russian etc.), many young French students find it strange. We don’t think we have stressed syllables! It’s seen as “the natural pattern,” “the way people speak naturally.”
That’s why we have trouble placing the stressed syllable accurately. So a part of French people’s accent when speaking another language is pronouncing, for instance:
Let’s go to the library together.
Instead of: Let’s go to the library together.
Two important take-aways from that piece of information:
- As you can see, stressing the wrong syllables sounds weird in your language! Well, it’s the same thing when you’re making that mistake in French.
- Speaking French with a more accurate accent (and stressing the right syllables) might feel silly. As if you were doing an imitation of a French person’s accent in English – while actually speaking French.
That’s the point! You have to feel at least a little bit silly to progress. And you have to feel like you’re doing an impression – at least at first. That’s how you can relax your ego, simply have fun, and ultimately, progress.
2) Mistake with your French accent #2: Pronouncing every letter
There’s a ton of silent letters in French, and pronouncing them all would be a big mistake.
For instance, in:
- Vues (= seen in feminine plural, or the plural noun views), -es are silent
- Le printemps (= springtime), in is one nasal vowel, em is another nasal vowel, –ps are silent
- Les Champs-Élysées, amps is only one nasal vowel, final -es are silent
Click here to learn about the Parisian avenue: French People Never Go To The Champs-Élysées
Common silent letters:
- -s at the end to mark the plural → Un ami / Des amis (= a (male) friend / friends)
- -e at the end for mark the feminine: Un ami / Une amie (= a male friend / a female friend)
- Both: Des amies (= several female friends)
It gets worse in everyday spoken French. We cut a lot more e, including in the middle of a word. Like:
Je serai là à huit heures. (= I’ll be there at 8.)
→ “Je s’rai là à huit heures.” (= informal spoken pronunciation)
→ “Ch’rai là à huit heures.” (= same, cutting the “e” in “Je” as well.)
We also cut the end of some words to shorten them:
Le cinéma → Le ciné (= cinema, movie theater, movies)
Le petit-déjeuner → Le petit-dej / Le p’tit-dej (= breakfast)
Or we cut whole words, like ne in the negation “ne… pas.”
Je ne serai pas là. → Je serai pas là. / Je s’rais pas là. / Ch’rais pas là. (= I won’t be there)
Click here to learn more:
All of this to say: often in French pronunciation, you’d rather pronounce fewer letters than all of them.
But focusing on pronunciation itself is our third mistake:
3) Mistake with your French accent #3: Obsessing over pronunciation before hearing the sounds
Some sounds are just too strange. Don’t stress over their pronounciation! At least, not yet. First, you should spend time simply trying to hear them, and hear the difference with close sounds.
You know, sounds such as:
- French “R” like Le riz doré. (= Golden rice, with a silent “z” !)
- U/Ou like Le mur. (= Wall) La mûre. (= A berry) L’amour. (= Love)
- Nasal sounds : “on”, “an” , “in” as in Le thon. (= tuna) Le temps. (= time, weather) Le printemps !
- Difference between é / è / eu as in: La reine du jeu d’échecs. (= The queen in a chess game)
These sounds are very common in French. Each of them is a specific issue you need to master. Yet, don’t start by diving into trying to pronounce them. First, take the time to listen to their differences.
Watch the video lesson to listen to the difference between, for example:
- Le bon. (= The good, “on” nasal sound)
- Le bain. (= The bath, “in” nasal sound)
- Le banc. (= The bench, “an” nasal sound)
- Le but. (= The goal, French “u” sound)
- Le bout. (= The end, the extremity, “ou” sound)
As in: J’ai bu. (= I drank)
Or finally, with “é” / “è” / “euh” sounds:
Or with all combined:
- Je cours dès huit heures. = I start running at eight.
- J’ai cours de français. = I have a French lesson.
In the video lesson, can you hear all the different sounds in these two sentences?
Which sounds that we’ve covered today can you hear in these sentences?
Click here to learn more:
4) Mistake with your French accent #2: Obsessing over your accent
You’ll probably always have your accent. And don’t worry, it’s cute!
You only need to be clear enough so people can understand you. That’s the important thing – not having a perfect French accent!
And, just like everything we’ve seen before, it comes with practice.
With any kind of active practice, you’ll quickly realize which sounds and words make you struggle.
Practice can be as simple as reading French aloud and speaking to your dog in French!
Or you can get to the next level with the French Conversation Club, my Comme une Française program that’s focused on making you practice. You’ll get a ton of help with everything we’ve mentioned today and much more!
Enjoy regular one-on-one sessions with our amazing native teachers, to help you practice French and reconnect with the language in an engaging way.
Click here to learn more : The French Conversation Club – Comme une Française
Practice with the French Conversation Club will also help with our final mistake: neglecting grammar and vocabulary.
5) Mistake with your French accent #5: Thinking about accent before grammar and vocabulary
Using everyday informal vocabulary with friends can go a long way into making you sound like more than a simple tourist.
It can be as simple as using words such as:
- Chouette (= nice, cool)
- Un pote (= friends)
- Une fringue / Les fringues (= informal for un vêtement, les vêtements = clothes)
- J’ai la dalle (= informal for “J’ai faim” = I’m hungry.)
- Je suis crevée. (= informal for Je suis très fatiguée. = I’m exhausted)
Click here to learn more:
- French “Slang” Words for All Ages
- French Phrases: 5 French Slang Words Anyone Can Use Without Sounding Awkward
And you can use informal grammar too:
- Cutting the ne in negative sentences (ne… pas → pas only)
- Changing Vous to Tu
- Everyday expressions: Quoi de neuf ? (= What’s up?), Dans le coin (= Around here, literally “in this corner.”)
- Ask questions in an informal manner.
The formal, correct way to ask questions can be quite complicated in French, such as:
- Est-ce que tu es là ? (= Are you there?)
- Es-tu là ? (= Are you there?, alternative way.)
- Où es-tu ? (= Where are you ?)
Well, you’ll sound more French with more informal grammar around questions. And it’s also easier for you!
You just need to add an inflexion to an affirmation.
- Affirmation: Tu es là. (= You’re here)
- Informal question (without inversion) : Tu es là ? (= Are you here?)
- Informal question with informal pronunciation: T’es là ?
In everyday spoken French, we very often cut the “u” of “Tu” before a vowel.
You can do the same with interrogative pronouns and adding it to the end, such as:
- Qui ? = Who
- Quand ? = When
- Quoi ? = What?
- Où ? = Where ?
Où es-tu ? → Tu es où ? → T’es où ?
Quand venez-vous ? → Tu viens quand ?
It’s a simple way to sound more authentic – and more effective than trying to get a perfect French accent before everything else.
Next video : 5 (Very) Embarrassing Mistakes in French – YouTube
Learn more about informal French:
- Asking Questions in French: Est-ce que vs. Qu’est-ce que
- Top 5 Very Embarrassing Mistakes in French
- French “Slang” Words for All Ages
- French Grammar: 5 Easy Everyday Expressions
- Explore Normandy: Slowing Down Fast Spoken French
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video
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