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French Pronunciation

edited March 2013 in French
Accents in French often generate puzzlement. While some of their sounds are obvious, many remain subtle to the untrained ear.

Here is a useful link to explore the meaning of French accents.


  • In general, French pronunciation is a source of embarrassment for English speakers. Frankly, this is misplaced in my opinion. I would even argue it is a plus: anything exotic sounds fascinating, no matter the subject or speaker. 

    To display a certain command of the language of course puts you on a different level, just as someone who knows a skill, like playing music, etc. But the most important is to show a desire to communicate and make a sincere effort toward it. 

    The French 'R' and 'U' are notoriously problematic in terms of pronunciation. It will take some time, since new muscles need to be trained to make those sounds. Isolate simple words with those sounds in Living Language audio samples, memorize them and practice them everyday. 
  • Great point, Sev!

    Here's a tip for pronouncing the French /u/ sound in tu, bu, and du (as opposed to the /oo/ sound in tous, boue, and doux.)

    The vowel in tu is exactly like the /ee/ sound in English tea, except the lips are rounded. So, to pronounce tu, start by saying tea, hold the vowel, and gradually round your lips so that they're in the same "puckered" position as when you say English /w/. The lips should be tightly rounded, and your u sound will naturally come out even if you think you're saying /ee/.

    Tous, boue, and doux are of course similar to the English too, boo, and do. But if you listen carefully, you'll see that the English adds a sort of -wuh off-glide. French cuts the vowel off before this extra English sound, so the vowel is purer.
  • Thank you Chris for those in-depth descriptions!

    And I wanted to underline the importance of isolating each syllable when you have a difficulty with a specific word. Simply decompose the word and practice each syllable slowly, one at a time, exactly how you would do with a difficult passage on a piano, to use the musical analogy again.
  • Chris that was super helpful!  Do you have any suggestions for our to pronounce the "oeu" in the word for sister (soeur)??? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!
  • "œu" as in "sœur", "cœur", "bœuf", etc. is the same sound as "eu" ("heure", "beurre", etc.).
  • I know I'm late to this but I just started the course; thanks for the explanation, this will help me while I'm learning I'm sure.
  • Your welcome Mischa. Feel free to post any questions you may have, and we will answer them!
  • I am new to this service.  How does it work? 
  • Bonjour. For information, please go to Living Language Customer Support.
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