Real Spoken French – My #1 Tip To Be Better Understood in French

If you struggle to make yourself understood when speaking French, it could be because the French you learned in school focused on spelling and grammar… with little attention to pronunciation.

To sound more fluent, you must focus on spoken French — not the technical French you remember from school. Luckily, that’s what we specialize in here at Comme une Française!

So, let me explain how you can improve your pronunciation to be better understood in spoken French.

C’est parti!

1) Don’t worry about your ‘R’
2) Making the distinction: u/ou
3) The final pronunciation struggle: Nasal Sounds
4) Final Quiz

1) Don’t worry about your ‘R’

The French “R” sound can be tricky to pronounce for English speakers. It comes from placing the back of your tongue to the back of your throat.
La mer = the sea.
Le car = the bus, the coach bus.
En un quart d’heure, notre grand groupe arrive en car en bord de mer. = In fifteen minutes, our large group arrives by bus at the seaside.

But the point is, many people who try learning French as adults have trouble with the French “R”. It’s often one of the last traces of an accent, even for students who have lived in France for a long time.

Here’s some good news: you don’t have to focus on mastering the French “R” sound, and French people will understand you just fine. It’s OK! Really!

Click here to learn more :
How to Pronounce the French “R” (Does it matter?!)

So here’s my number 1 tip to be better understood in French:
Don’t focus on trying to erase your accent. Don’t focus on sounding chic. Instead, you should strive to be understood when you speak and to navigate other problems of French pronunciation that are much more important than a French “R”!

2) Making the distinction: u/ou

This difference can lead to more misunderstanding: the difference between the vowel sounds “u” and “ou”.
Can you even hear it? For each of these next examples, try to hear if I pronounce u or ou.

  • Tu (= You
    • Tout (= Everything)
  • Dessous (= Underneath)
    •  Dessus (= Over)
  • Tu es sûr ? (= Are you sure?)               
    •  Tu es sourd ?? (= Are you deaf??)

As you can see, the problem isn’t just that “u” is a weird French sound. If you don’t pronounce it well enough, the person you’re talking to might understand something else entirely. Let’s quickly recap the pronunciation here:

– “Ou” (/u/) sounds like a longer “oo” sound from “foot.
When you pronounce “ou,” your lips are rounded, your mouth is almost completely closed, and your tongue is in the back.

– “U” (/y/) doesn’t exist in English, however.
When you pronounce “u,” it’s the same, except your tongue is much more in front. It should press against your teeth.
Let’s practice it together right now!

Il l’a vu. = He saw her.
Il avoue. = He’s confessing.

Elle et nous. = Her and us.
Elle est nue. = She’s naked.

C’était nous. = It was us.
C’est ténu. = It’s very thin, flimsy.

Dans la rue. = On the street.
Dans la roue. = In the wheel.

C’est un clou. = It’s a nail.
C’est inclus. = It’s included.

Click here to learn more:
French Pronunciation Fundamentals Part 3: “U” / “OU”

3) The final pronunciation struggle: Nasal Sounds

The French vowel nasal sounds pile up the difficulties and complexities. You pronounce them with your tongue at the back of your mouth and the air passing through your nose. Remember that the “n” is now silent: in a nasal sound, there’s only one sound. It’s [an], not “an-n” or anything.

Nasal sounds:
“An” (/ã/)
“On” (/õ/)
“In” (/ɛ̃/),

But they can also be spelled in many different ways in written French.

For each vowel “a”, “e”, “i”, “o”, and “u”, you can add a “n” after it to create a nasal sound. So it makes :

  • “en” = “an” (= /ã/)
    • an”, like “un an”, a year.
    • en”, like “les gens”, people. It’s the same “an” sound as before
  • “in” = “un” (= /ɛ̃/)
    • in”, like “la fin”, the end.
  • “on” = “om” (= /õ/)
    • On”, like “un son”, a sound
  • “un” = “un” (=/œ̃/)
    •  “un” like “numéro un”, number 1.

For most French people, it’s the same “in” sound as earlier!

Each sound “in” and “en” actually has two spellings. Sometimes, we don’t add the “n” to a vowel to create a nasal sound: sometimes, before a “p”, an “m”, or a “b”, we use an “m” instead.

  • Le champ = the field.
  • Une ombre = a shadow.
  • Emmener = to bring.

It’s not the case before a vowel or double “n”:

  • Une année (not nasal) = a year vs Un an, (nasal).
  • Amener = to bring.

The nasal sound “in” can also be written as “ein” and “ain”, three letters but only one sound, [ɛ̃]! There’s no diphtongue. It’s not “ah + inn” or something else.

  • Un pain = a bread.
  • Américain = American.

a → an = am
e → en = em (= an)
i → in = im
o → on = om
u → un = um (= in) (= ain)

Click here to learn more:

Nasal sounds are the difference between:

C’est tentant ! = That’s tempting.
C’est tonton ! = That’s my uncle.
Des vins français = French wine
Des sourcils froncés = Furrowed eyebrows.
La route des vins = The wine road.
La rose des vents = The wind rose, the compass rose.
Le fond du fond = The bottom of the bottom, the deepest part.

4) Final Quiz

How do you pronounce all these?

Je vais manger : du chou. = I’m going to eat some cabbage.
… du chou! With an “ou” sound.

On va où ils vont plus. = We go where they don’t go anymore.
“On” nasal sound, “ou”, “on” nasal sound in “vont”, “u” at the end.

Click here to learn more:
French Grammar: How to Say “Plus”

And our final quiz sentence:

Enfin, un enfant humble qui a pu simplement prendre le temps de manger tout son jambon. = Finally, a humble child who could simply take the time to eat all his ham.

It is a long sentence, but you can repeat it after me!
Here, we have many nasal sounds, with the “en” sound: “un enfant.” = a child and all the underlined sounds:
Enfin, un enfant humble qui a pu simplement prendre le temps de manger tout son jambon.
And the “in” sound: “enfin” = finally.
Enfin, un enfant humble qui a pu simplement prendre le temps de manger tout son jambon.

And I leave you to the difference between u and ou.

Keep practicing the differences between u and ou and between the nasal sounds. But remember that the real insight is to focus on practicing what you need in a real everyday French conversation.

And now, you can keep improving your everyday spoken French comprehension on your own or go back to the beginning of the video to watch it again.

On the other hand, you can keep exploring modern, everyday French with me and the obstacles to understanding fast-spoken French!

Or you can keep learning about understanding fast-spoken French with me!

Click here to get your next lesson:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you right now 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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