French accent comes in all shapes and sounds.
But how can you sound a little bit less like an English speaker – and a little bit more like a Parisian?
Let’s dive in.
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1 - French accent: Doing an impression
The main benefit of trying to improve your French accent is actually in your own mind.
I know, it’s hard to speak a second language without feeling a bit self-conscious. “Am I good enough? Do I deserve to learn how to speak another language? Is it really ‘me’ or ‘for me’ ?”
The answer is “yes” of course – and when you concentrate on doing a French accent, you’ll forget about these doubts. After all, you’re only playing, you’re doing an impression, it’s just for fun! And that’s how you can keep learning and practicing without being nagged by doubts.
Another practice tip I love: parler à son chien, talking to your dog in French. It works!
2 - French accent: Pronunciation
The first step to getting a Parisian accent is the pronunciation. Specifically, pronouncing (and hearing!) the difference between some close French sounds.
a) Nasal sounds:
- on = /ɔ̃/
- en / an = /ɑ̃/
- in / un / ain / ein (etc.) = /ɛ̃/
These three nasal vowels ([on] / [en] / [in]) can be difficult to separate for an English speaker, but to a French ear, they’re clearly different!
- Marron = Brown
- Marrant = Funny (colloquial French, with a silent “t”)
- Marin = Maritime / Sailor
(And by the way, if there’s no liaison involved, then there’s no “n” sound either. )
You need to be able to pronounce and to hear the difference, if you want to join a French conversation.
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Some French people might even insist that “un” and “in” make different sounds from each other… but to be honest, I can’t really hear the difference!
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b) Other vowel sounds:
- u ≠ ou
- é ≠ eu
- o ≠ a
Deux canards font le mur. (= Two duck are escaping.) is very different from Des connards font l’amour. (= Some assh*les are making love.) ! Of course you can get by with context and body language, but you’ll be a lot more confident if you train your ear to these differences. That’s the first step to getting a better French accent.
3 - French accent: Shortcuts
If you really want a “French accent,” you can also take some shortcuts.
The French R, for instance. It sounds like a more guttural “rrr.”
Click here to find my whole lesson on: How to Pronounce the French R
Another one is stressing the end of words. This one is far more subtle. In French, we mostly stress the final syllable of a word. That’s where we put the “energy” of the word, that’s the syllable we rely on.
You might find that easy to grasp. Or maybe you won’t get it. To be fair, I don’t really get it either. I’m really bad at stressing English words correctly, so I’m not going to judge you here. So I decided not to worry about that at all.
And you can too!
Really, stressing the words incorrectly and keeping your English “R” will not prevent you from having fun in French. Many French people will love that and find it cute, actually!
You’d better practice your nasal sounds pronunciation instead – it will not give you a full “French accent” but you’ll be able to understand and be understood. And that’s much more important.
And, by the way, is there really a “French accent” ?
4 - French accent(s)
Actually, what we call “French accent” is mainly the Parisian accent. It’s the one we hear the most in French media and government. And it’s mine, too! But exactly like English speakers can have all kinds of accents, there are many ways to speak French, even in France.
Each area of France has its own accent. In Paris, each neighbourhood used to have their own accent! All these accents got gradually flattened into one “French (Parisian) accent” throughout the centuries as France basically colonized itself, especially after the Industrial Revolution.
Nowadays, speaking anything other than the “Parisian accent from TV / the radio” is mostly a sign of being “an old person who lived in that place since birth,” but in some places it’s more common among even younger people. Especially in the South, the South-West and the North. And in French territories overseas.
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French oversea territories are called les DOM-TOM (= an acronym for les départements d’outre-mer et territoires d’outre-mer, oversea départements and territories.)
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That’s without even mentioning local dialects and languages!
And of course, other French accents stay especially strong outside the French borders, like in Belgium, Québec, or Sénégal and other French-speaking African countries. The club of French-speaking countries is often called la francophonie. All these accents have their own pronunciations, often their own vocabulary, or even grammar!
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The weekly radio podcast L’Accent des Autres gives you 10 minutes of the news from different French-speaking countries, each in their own accent. Click here to check it out.
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Learn the one that you want, the one that you’re looking to join conversations in.
You can’t get fluent in all these accents. So as I said, you only need to get confident speaking French with your own accent, whatever it is!
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂
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