French Pronunciation Practice Lesson 3 (with a REAL French speaker)

To quickly improve your ability to speak and understand French, focus on learning spoken French. School-taught French often lacks opportunities to practice speaking, so your pronunciation isn’t always correct.

I’ll help you boost your confidence in speaking French and improving your pronunciation. Today, we’ll focus on the French sounds “An” and “In” !

C’est parti.

1 – Nasal sounds in French
2 – Pronouncing “An” and “In”
3 – Spelling
4 – Practice with French conversation
5 – Practice: subtle differences
6 – Practice: final challenge!

1 - “An” or “In” ? Nasal sounds in French

Nasal sounds are weird French vowels. You probably heard about them during some French lessons back in school. They are:

  1. On” (/ɔ̃/) as in                   Non = no.
  2. An” (/ɑ̃/) as in                    France = France.
  3. In” (/ɛ̃/, /œ̃/) as in            Demain = tomorrow.

You’ll hear these in French conversation or on the streets of Paris. They can be hard to pronounce correctly; even worse, you might have trouble hearing the difference between them. Let’s focus on “an” and “in” today.

Le truc en plus:
Some people say that there are two “in / un” sounds in French:
/ɛ̃/ (as in “vin” = bread) – nasalized version of the /e/ sound. It can be written as

  • “in” (“matin” = morning)
  • “im” (“important” = important),
  • “ain” (“pain” = bread),
  • “aim” (“faim” = hunger),
  • “ein” (“plein” = full),
  • “ym” (“sympa” = nice),
  • “yn” (“synchroniser” = to synchronize) or
  • even “en” coming after an “i” (“chien” = dog).

/œ̃/ (as in “un” = one) – nasalized version of a rounded vowel sound. It can be written as

  • “un” (“lundi” = Monday) and
  • “um” (“humble” = humble).

Attention! This nasal sound is similar to the previous one, and most people don’t even make a difference between them. That’s why I refer to them both as “ain” sound.

2 - Pronouncing “An” and “In”

First, before we cover their use in French conversation, here’s a quick reminder of their pronunciation.

Click here to learn more:
French Pronunciation Fundamentals Part 2: nasal sounds

To pronounce nasal sounds, the back of your tongue should shut the back of your mouth. So, the air goes through your nose instead. That’s why it’s called a nasal sound.

  1. “AN”
    To pronounce “an,” you can start with a simple “ah.” Then round your lips a little, with the back of your tongue half-shutting off the back of your mouth. And it becomes: “an”. There’s no “n” sound here; it’s not “an,” it’s “an.”
  2. “IN”
    For “in,” you can start with the sound “é.” You just have to smile! The tip of your tongue touches your teeth. Then you simply push the back of your tongue at the back of your mouth, and it quickly becomes: “in.”
  • Le vent = the wind.
    Il y a beaucoup de vent. = There’s a lot of wind.
  • Le vin. = wine.
    Il y a beaucoup de vin. = There’s a lot of wine.
  • Maman. = Mom, mommy.
    Parle à maman. = Talk to mom.
  • Ma main = my hand.
    Parle à ma main. = Talk to my hand.
  • Il est franc. = He’s frank.
  • C’est un frein. = It’s a brake, he’s a drag, he’s slowing us down.

You can see why the difference matters much for a real French conversation!

And that’s the point of practicing French pronunciation: to get more confident for real conversations in French or when enjoying French culture. That’s why it’s such a focus in my 30-Day French Challenge program, for instance, where we go over natural French pronunciation and expressions while having fun and learning more about the culture, with a new challenge every day, like dialogues in everyday French, pronunciation overviews, games, or quizzes to make sure you’re actually learning something. There’s a new one opening soon.

Click here to learn more about your next 30-Day French Challenge!

3 - Spelling

Each nasal sound has different spellings.

The sound “an” can be spelled with a-n (an) or e-n (en).
Un enfant français marchant lentement. = A French child walking slowly.

You’ll find these spellings at the end of a word or before a consonant.
At the end of a word, they often come with a silent letter like a silent “t.” For nouns like un croissant, or verbs in the gerund form as in “en marchant” = while walking. There’s no “n” sound, there’s no “t” sound. The same thing happens with “en” in adverbs like “lentement” = slowly.

On the other hand, we also say:
Les enfants chantent. = The children are singing.
The ending “ent” often appears at the end of verbs with the plural “Ils / Elles (= They), but the whole “ent” part is silent!

“AN” spellings:

AN → before a consonant or at the end of a word:
Un plan = a plan
Un pantalon = a pair of pants
BUT of course: une banane (“ba / na / nn”) = a banana. It’s not a nasal sound if it comes before a vowel.

EN → before a consonant or at the end of a word:
Un enfant lent = a slow child.
En vendant = While selling.

AM → before a consonant or at the end of a word:
Une ambiance = ambiance.
Un amphithéâtre / un amphi = amphitheater.

EM → the sound [an] becomes “em” before a “p” or a “b.”
Embrasser = to kiss.
Attention, it doesn’t mean to embrace, prendre dans ses bras. They are false friends.
Un jambon = ham.
Rembourser = to refund.

When it comes at the end, it is often followed by

1. a silent “t” after it:

  • En marchant = while walking [gerund]
  • Un enfant = a child.
  • Une dent = a tooth.

2. or even a silent “c”:

  • Blanc = white,
  • Un franc = a franc (the former French currency).

For the sound “ain,” it’s even worse: We can spell it in all these different ways!

un → un (= one)
in → un lapin (= a rabbit )
im → imbécile (= idiot)
ain → le pain (= bread)
aim → la faim (= hunger)
ein → un rein (= a kidney)
eim → Reims (= the French city of Reims)
yn → un syndicat (= a worker’s union)
ym → symbiose (= symbiosis)
um → rhumbs (= an old word for a point of a compass – a word you won’t find in real everyday life.)
en → un rien (= a little nothing), or Mon ancien chien parisien. (= My former Parisian dog.)

Some people say that “un” and “in” are different sounds, but for me, they’re the same. I guess it depends on where you grew up.

4 - Practice with French conversation

Let’s practice with sentences that could come from real French conversation.

1/3 Tiens, tu prends un vin blanc maintenant? = Oh, so you’re having white wine now?
Did you hear if I use “an” or “ain”? How many times? In what order? Try to find these nasal sounds. Did you hear them?
It’s: “Tiens, tu prends un vin blanc maintenant?

I’ll let you write it down and analyze how many different spellings you can find for “an” and for “in” !

  1. Tiens – here, we have an “in” sound. The “en” is after an “i”. The “s” at the end is silent.
  2. Prends – this is the “an” sound—the “en” before a consonant. The “s” is silent.
  3. Un vin – We have two “in” sounds.
  4. Blanc – This is “an” sound before a silent “c” at the end.
  5. Maintenant – We have an “in” sound (ain) and an “an” sound (ant). You also have “Tenant”, but here “en” comes before a vowel, so it’s not a nasal sound but “te” + “nan

For this first conversation sentence, I just want to point out the Tiens: literally, it means “hold this.” But in everyday conversation, we use it to express surprise or to draw attention.

2/3 Quand Alain a faim, il aime bien un bout de munster avec une tranche de pain. = When Alain is hungry, he likes some munster cheese with a slice of bread.

The “an” sounds:
–  Quand Alain a faim, il aime bien un bout de munster avec une tranche de pain.

And the “ain” sounds:
Quand Alain a faim, il aime bien un bout de munster avec une tranche de pain.

How many spellings of “aim” can you count in the sentence?

Again, I’ll only point out one thing here, and it’s a very small one: une. It’s the feminine of un, one, as in “une tranche de pain,” a slice of bread, or one slice of bread, where une tranche (= a slice) is a feminine noun in French. Un sounds like “in,” only a nasal sound, without an “n” sound, while une has an extra “e” that makes the nasal sound disappear. We can hear the “n” sound again: “une.” This same thing happens in many words ending in nasal sounds. In the feminine, the spelling matters!

Un Kényan – une Kényane.
Un Américain – une Américaine. (ai = “è”)
Un Philippin – une Philippine

3/3 And for our third example, a quaint expression: “En avant Guingamp !” Can you guess how it’s written? What does it mean?
It’s En avant Guingamp ! = literally, “forward, Guingamp!”

OK, first of all, you can hear la liaison: we can now hear the “n” in the middle of En avant, because the next word starts with a vowel. “En navant.

But the main story here is that Guingamp is a small city in Brittany, on the West Coast of France. Its soccer team is called the “En Avant,” literally “forward” or “let’s go!” of Guingamp.
It’s a catchy catchphrase and rhymes, so it became an expression. It’s a bit outdated and quaint, but it’s a more fun way of saying En avant ! = Let’s go!

En voiture Simone !
In reference to the famous rally driver, Guy Lux didn’t hesitate to gently tease his colleague Simone Garnier by launching “En voiture Simone!” (= In the car, Simone!) at each new challenge or phase of the game. This amusing and clever expression quickly gained popularity before being adopted into everyday language.

Ça roule ma poule !
(= It’s going great my chicken!)
It’s an informal interjection phrase that means Everything’s fine, all is well.

Click here to learn more:

5 - Practice: subtle differences

The problem with “an” and “in” is that the difference can be subtle, but it can make a difference.

Again, what do you hear in the next examples? Is it “an” or “ain”?

  • Un plan = a plan. ([ã] – “an” sound)
    Un plein = a full refill, a full tank of gas ([ẽ]- “ain” sound)
  • Le teint = skin tone ([ẽ] – “ain” sound)
    Le temps = time ([ã] – “an” sound)
  • Un an = a year [ã] (“la liaison”)
    Un nain = a dwarf [ẽ]
  • Un bain = a bath [ẽ]
    Un banc = a bench [ã]

Now can you hear the difference in these next three close verbs?

  • Attendre = to wait [an]
  • Entendre = to hear [an]

Can you hear the difference in short sentences? Let me use either quelqu’un = someone or tout = everything.

  • J’entends tout. = I hear everything with the verb entendre.
  • J’attends quelqu’un. = I’m waiting for someone, with the verb attendre.
  • J’attends des gens. = I’m waiting for some people.
    Les gens (= people) is always plural and has an “an” sound. It sounds the same as Jean, the name.

And it’s not the same as J’atteins quelqu’un. = I’m reaching someone. With atteindre = to reach, to achieve.

  • J’étends le linge. = I’m hanging the laundry with a “é” and “an” sound.
  • J’éteins tout. = I’m turning everything off with a “é” and “in” sound!

6 - Practice: final challenge!

And now, let’s mash it all together! I will pronounce a few sentences in French that sound more like a real French conversation. What can you understand? I’ll give you the translation right after. In this first pass, focus on hearing the different “an” or “in” sounds.
Here it is:
Tu m’entends ? J’ai faim. Nan, j’attends pas. J’ai pas le temps. J’ai besoin d’un croissant ! = Can you hear me? I’m hungry. No, I’m not waiting. I don’t have time. I need a croissant!
Did you understand what I said? Did you recognize some words that I used? Ok, let’s add the subtitles now. Keep trying to hear if I use “an” sound or an “in” sound.

Tu m’entends ?
J’ai faim.
Nan, j’attends pas.
J’ai pas le temps.
J’ai besoin d’un croissant !

And finally, let’s take one minute to analyze each sentence:

  • Tu m’entends ? = Can you hear me? = two “an” sounds, verb “entendre” = to hear.
  • J’ai faim. = I’m hungry. = “in” sound with a rare spelling. You need to know this sentence by heart, of course!
  • Nan, j’attends pas. = No, I’m not waiting. = Verb “attendre” = to wait + colloquial French Non → “Nan”. In everyday spoken French, the firm “Non” (no) often turns into a lazier Nan, with an “an” sound instead of “on.”
  • J’ai pas le temps. J’ai besoin d’un croissant ! = I don’t have time. I need a croissant! → We’ve already covered un croissant. But here we also have two sentences that are very common in everyday French:
    J’ai besoin de [quelque chose]” = “I need something.”
    “J’ai pas le temps.” = I don’t have time.

But now, it’s time for you to practice that short text. So take a deep breath. Relax. And repeat after me!

Tu m’entends ?
J’ai faim.
Nan, j’attends pas.
J’ai pas le temps.
J’ai besoin d’un croissant !

Finally, let’s do it all in one go, one last time! Together this time. Ready ? Three, two, one:
Tu m’entends ?
J’ai faim.
Nan, j’attends pas.
J’ai pas le temps.
J’ai besoin d’un croissant !

Yes! Great!

Congrats! You can try again as many times as you like. With practice, you’ll be able to hear how French people use “an” or “ain” in their conversations in real life or in movies!

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 🙂


Join the conversation!

  • I’ve never heard “in” & “un” pronounced the same. That sounded so strange to me to not make a distinction. I’m so glad you mentioned that.

  • Dear Géraldine, I’m loving your French lessons on YouTube. I watch them at home, and even at the gym when I’m exercising on the bike that goes nowhere. But, if I may, I would like to give you one little note about our English pronunciation. We say proNOUNce but proNUNciation-“Nun” like the Catholic nun. You tend to say proNOUNciation. In “pronunciation” we drop the “o” so it’s proNUNciation. C’est tout. Scott

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