7 French Pronunciation Tips to Avoid Sounding Like a Tourist

Have you ever pronounced a French sentence only to realise that native speakers can’t understand a word you say?

Frustrating, right?

Luckily, mastering French pronunciation isn’t that complicated.

All you need to do is follow these 7 tips!

1.Avoid simplified French pronunciations

Lots of textbooks and French courses show you how to pronounce French words the way you’d pronounce English words.

They tell you that “bonjour” is pronounced “bawnjour” or that “appétit” (one of many French words used in English) is pronounced “apaytee”.

As a result, you learn to pronounce French words as if they were English words and end up sounding like a tourist or worse, not being understood at all.

Next time you see “simplified” pronunciations like “banwjour”, avoid them and listen to a native speaker’s pronunciation instead.

It may be more complicated, but your pronunciation will end up being 100 times better.

There is a reason why French words are written the way they’re written after all.

2.Listen before you read

French pronunciation tips

Today my girlfriend came to me and screamed “on va s’éclaterre”.

I couldn’t understand her. After asking her to repeat several times, I realised she meant “s’éclater”.

The problem is that she discovered the verb “s’éclater” online and never heard it pronounced, so she instinctively pronounced it as if it was an English word.

That’s a very common mistake.

Your brain is used to pronouncing sounds the way you pronounce them in your native language (or in any language you regularly speak).

So if you see French words and don’t know much about French pronunciation, you’ll pronounce them the way you would pronounce words in your native language and nobody will understand you.

Look at the following sentences for example and pronounce them out loud.

  • je mange
  • tu manges
  • Il mange
  • Ils mangent

As an English speaker, you’d naturally pronounce the “s” at the end of “manges” and the “t” at the end of “mangent” ; you’d also pronounce the “s” at the end of “ils”.

All of this without knowing that in French, some words can be written differently and still pronounced the same way.

This would also be the case with many other forms of the verb “manger” for example:

  • J’ai mangé
  • je mangeais
  • Qu’est-ce que tu veux manger

If you listen before you read, you can immediately notice that.

If you read before you listen, you’re likely to remember each of these forms with a different pronunciation.

That’s why it’s essential to choose a French course with audio spoken by native French speakers like French Together.

You may save money by choosing a course without audio, but you’ll end up with a terrible accent and will have to work much harder later to correct it.

3. Know where to find audio of most French words and sentences

forvo French pronunciation

Even if your French course includes audio, you may still stumble upon new words and sentences while reading in French or chatting with your conversation partner.

When this happen, you can use tools like Forvo and Rhinospike to hear these words and sentences pronounced by native speakers.

You could also use Google Translate, but you need to be aware that Google Translate’s pronunciation isn’t always perfect.

4. Imitate native speakers and record yourself

A great way to improve your French pronunciation is simply to listen to native speakers and repeat what they say, but you could also record yourself and compare your pronunciation with a native speaker’s pronunciation.

By doing this you’ll be able to notice the biggest mistakes you make, but there are naturally cases when you won’t actually be able to tell you’re mispronouncing a word; which brings me to my fifth advice.

5. Find a French conversation partner to get feedback

You learn French to be able to communicate with French people, right?

Then you need a French conversation partner.

I know, I know ; speaking French can be terrifying (trust me I know, my girlfriend regularly laughs when I try to speak Russian). But the only way to know how great your pronunciation is is to talk to a real person.

If native speakers understand you, your pronunciation is good enough ; if not, you’ve work to do.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait to be in France to see if people understand you.

You find a conversation partner right now and practice French with someone who will have the patience to listen to you and correct your mistakes.

6. Imagine you’re French

You’re obviously not a native French speaker, but sometimes pretending you’re one can be beneficial.

Why? Because in order to speak French fluently, you need to forget about your native language and embrace a new way to speak, move and think.

You need to use your hands and body differently, but you also need to use your voice differently.

And in my experience, you’ll actually pronounce French much better if you’re not afraid to exaggerate a bit when you speak.

So next time, you speak French, imagine you’re a French person carrying a baguette and speak with as much conviction as possible.

Next time you watch a French movie, a TV series or watch French TV, imitate the pronunciation of the characters and imagine you’re one of the actors.

7. Use a pronunciation trainer

Have you ever heard two sounds you couldn’t distinguish even though natives tell you they’re different?

That’s because according to a study, your brain probably can’t recognise all French sounds. it can only recognise the sounds of your native language (or any other language you speak fluently).

The same is true with your mouth. You may never have pronounced some French sounds in your life, so you simply don’t know how to produce these sounds.

Luckily, you can train your ears and your brain to recognise French sounds and learn how to pronounce  French perfectly with a course like French Together, which is something I encourage you to do as soon as possible.

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Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn conversational French.