Les amis. = Friends.
Practice French pronunciation today with this lesson!
Let’s take a moment to practice together the most common difficulties of speaking French.
Learn how to pronounce things like the French “R”, nasal sounds (“an, en, in, on, un…”), French “u” and “e”, and more. With specific techniques on video.
C’est parti !
Practice French pronunciation:
- French “R”
- Nasal sounds
- French “u”
- Silent letters
- French “e”
Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?
1. Practice French pronunciation: French “R”
The French R is difficult to pronounce.
It’s not the English “r”, or even the rolled Spanish “r.” In Spanish and in English, “le R” is pronounced with the tongue at the front of the mouth.
In French, it’s the opposite: your tongue should be stuck at the back of your mouth, under la luette (= the uvula.)
So the middle of your tongue vibrates against la luette. And it makes: “r.”
Try it with the video lesson! Repeat after me:
- Merci. (= Thank you)
- Je ne regrette rien. (= I don’t regret anything.)
- Marie est mariée à un marin. (= Mary is married to a sailor.)
2. Practice French pronunciation: Nasal sounds
French nasal sounds = Les nasales = Les voyelles nasales
You know, when French vowels have a “n” (sometimes an “m”) after them and make a new sound: An – En – In – On – Un
In English, vowels come from the mouth. In French, in the case of the nasal vowels, they also come from the nose. Today, let’s learn how you can pronounce them right!
Let’s start with a simple word: bobo (= a booboo, an owie)
Now, try and move the vowel “o” up your nose. Your tongue goes to the back of your mouth, so the sounds now has to go behind your nose instead. And bobo becomes : bonbon (= a candy).
Keep practicing by repeating after me in the video lesson. Once you have it, you can try the other vowels:
è (“ey”) → in:
Mai (= May) → Main (= Hand, sounds like “M + nasal sound ‘in’”)
a → an :
Ça (= This, sounds like “Sah”) → Sans (= without, sounds like “S + nasal sound ‘an’”)
Click here to learn more: French pronunciation: Vowel sounds and accents
For me, there are only three nasal sounds:
- “an” = “en”,
- “in” = “ain” = “un”.
(Some people hear a difference between “in” and “un”, but it’s very subtle anyway.)
Nasal sounds can have different spellings too. Mainly, “on” (or any nasal vowel) before a p or a b becomes “om” (or n → m) : une ombre = a shadow, with “om” = nasal sound “on.”
But sometimes it’s just weird. For instance in the city of Caen, “aen” sounds like a simple nasal “an”. There are always exceptions in French.
3. Practice French pronunciation: French “u”
There are two main problems with pronouncing the French “u.”
The first one is: hearing the difference between the sounds “u” and “ou”. They’re not the same!
Practice with the video lesson. Can you hear the difference between:
- U / Ou ?
- La rue (= the street) / La roue (= the wheel)
- Dessus (= over) / Dessous (= under) ?
“Ou” sounds like English “oo” (or Spanish “u”) so it’s easy.
But French U can be harder to pronounce. So let’s practice that French pronunciation together.
We’ll start by saying the sound i (“ee”). Your lips are opening, like you’re smiling.
Now, try saying i while pushing your lips in a very small circle.
It starts to make the sound… u !
Do you get it? Congrats!
Another way to pronounce it is by starting with the sound ou.
Now, shove your tongue forward in your mouth, at the top of your mouth just behind your teeth.
And you should start to make the sound u again!
Don’t worry, it will come with practice. The most important thing to start is to actually hear the difference between u and ou. Otherwise you’ll make embarrassing mistakes!
For instance :
- Beaucoup (= “bohk + ou”) means “a lot”
- Beau cul (= “bohk + u”) means: “nice butt!”
So try to make the difference, Merci beaucoup ! (= Thanks a lot!)
4. Practice French pronunciation: Silent letters
French spelling is weird. In many words, there are some silent letters. Just like the “p” in beaucoup !
There are no hard rules to know which letters are silent. I’m sorry. However, here’s a rule of thumb you can use as an approximation:
A consonant at the end of a word is silent – except C, F, L and R.
In particular: t or s at the end of a word is often silent.
As in: Dans (= in), Dessous (= Under), Vert (= Green)…
The guideline above is not always true, but it works for a lot of words.
5. Practice French pronunciation: La liaison
La liaison is the revenge of the silent letters.
When French people don’t like how two words sound together, they can revive the sound of a consonant at the end of a word. That’s la liaison. So we have:
- C’est grand. = It’s big, with a silent “t” in “est” (and a silent “d” in grand, cf the guideline above!)
- C’est énorme. = It’s really big. → The “t” is pronounced!
La liaison only comes with a silent consonant (at the end of a word), just before a vowel (at the beginning of the next word). Mostly t or s !
Also, in la liaison, s (and x) are pronounced “z”, and d is pronounced “t.”
- Un ami. = “a friend”. The silent “n” in “un” (nasal sound) now sounds like “un nami”
- Un petit ami. = “a small friend” literally = “a boyfriend” → sounds like “petit tami.”
- Un grand ami. = “a big / tall / great friend” → sounds like “grand tami.”
- Deux amis. = “two friends.” → sounds like “deux zami”
- Trois amis. = “three friends.” → sounds like “trois zami”
There are specific rules for when and how you have to make la liaison. And for when it’s not mandatory, but helps you sound more formal and elegant.
Click here to learn more: La Liaison: How to Use it Properly (Rules + Examples)
6. Practice French pronunciation: French “e”
Practice French pronunciation with that final difficulty: the letter “e”.
It’s everywhere in French, and comes with a ton of different pronunciations. It also depends on the accent! A French person who grew up in the South would pronounce it differently than someone who’s from Alsace or the North.
So I’ll only mention the most difficult parts that I’ve seen students struggle with:
- Je (“e” = “eu” = “uh”)
In two-letter words, like Je – ne – le – se… “e” sounds like “uh.” Don’t pronounce Je suis (= I am, “juh + ss + French “u” + ee”) like J’essuie (= I’m cleaning, “jay + ss + French “u” + ee”)
- We don’t pronounce “e” at the end of a word.
(Except with these small words, or when there’s an accent, or in a few exceptions.)
This could change your meaning! As in:
Un livre = a book (= “leevr”) / Livré = delivered. (= “leevrey”)
E = “uh” also in the middle of a “long” (several syllable) word, when it doesn’t come before two consonants. Le cheval. = The horse = sounds like “chuh vaal.”
And now: congratulations!
That’s a lot of French pronunciation for today!
You got to practice:
- On / An / Un
- U ≠ Ou
- Je – Le
- Les ami(s)
Of course, practice makes perfect. So you can always come back to this lesson, and check out where you’re confident now, and where you can use more practice.
Or you can jump to another of my lessons!
Click here to get to your free full lesson on:
- Dessous / Dessus : deep dive in French “u” or “ou”
- French Pronunciation: When and how to use La Liaison ?
- French Pronunciation: Vowels, accents and nasal sounds
- French Pronunciation Practice : “Écureuil” (squirrel) – How to make “euil” sound and more
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
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