French Pronunciation

Why bother

You're probably thinking to yourself "If I just want to be obnoxious to the French, why should I be bothered learning how to use their language properly? Surely mangling their language should serve as insult to injury."

It must be remembered that the French are used to hearing their language mangled. The English live just across the Channel, and now that they are both part of the European Union the English are busy going across there to buy cheap wine, and expounding in broken French on how the Brittish saved the French in World War II. This is all of course rot, as we know it was the Australians who did all the work, and many visitors from this country arrive in France to tell people of this. Unfortunately, the Australian mouth is too lazy to open itself more than a couple of millimeters, let alone master some of the more tricky vowel sounds and nasals.

If this doesn't persuade you that there are hordes of people currently massacring the French language in Paris, one need only be reminded that the Americans are worse. I am not sure of the quality of French produced by non-Anglophones, but the Italians seem to fit in very well. There is an annual pilgrimage of dirty old men from Italy to Paris. If a female is pinched on the backside in Paris, it is most likely that it was done by a tourist, but still many women return complaining that the French are all perverts. Please note that most French perverts visit Scandinavia or Germany.

The point is that if you go to France with an awful accent, the French will just pretend that they can't understand you. Far better to have somebodies undivided attention when you tell them what a prat they are. If you follow the guidelines given below and still find it difficult to affect a French accent, try the following rules of thumb:

  1. Keep stress even within the word. French is much more lightly accented than English.
  2. Act as if you own the world.

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Rules of Pronunciation

Consonants

Most consonants are pronounced as in English. Those that aren't follow:

ll: Most phrase books tell you to go into far more detail than is necessary here. It is pronounced by the French as the "y" in "yacht", not some bizarre "ly" sound. It used to be done that way, but it was too much trouble even for the French.

j: Spelt by linguists "zh", the French pronounce their j's as we pronounce the "s" in "Asian".

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Vowels

u: This sound is not as annoying as the nasals (below), but if used correctly, it is very pretentious to our ears. To master this sound put your lips in the shape for a "oo", and try to say "ee". It is often found at the end of past-tense words, undoubtedly so that you speak in a disdainful tone of voice of something that has gone out of fashion.

eu: A pretty revolting sound that is a shortened version of "er" in "her", without the rolling r.

Nasals

Easily the most revolting sound in the French language is that of the nasal. Anybody having heard a French Gregorian chant will vouch for the fact that a couple of dozen French monks singing through their noses is a wholly unpleasant experience. Some people will have you believe that there are four French nasals, but in reality all nasals closely resemble one of two. Below I have given instructions for four nasals, but you really only need to use "un" and "in".

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(C)1996 Conrad Leviston.