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. French Together (beginner) and Français Authentique (intermediate, advanced) are two great choices.

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 can click here to 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

mimic method

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 the Flow of French, which is something I encourage you to do as soon as possible.

Some people even do it before they start learning French!

What’s your secret for learning French pronunciation?

Do you use a particular method to improve your French pronunciation? Share it in the comment section below this article!

Oh and if you’re brave enough feel free to post a video of you speaking French!

19 thoughts on “7 French Pronunciation Tips to Avoid Sounding Like a Tourist”

  1. Two things I learned from my high school French teacher have helped me with pronunciation.
    1. The u sound (in tu for ex.) can be difficult for non-native speakers. She suggested forming your lips as if you were saying “oooo” and with your mouth in that position say “eee”. Pretty close!
    2. Don’t worry about accentuating a syllable in a French word. She described French as a having a machine gun pronunciation. Tat tat tat tat tat. Fairly even, for the most part. Non english speakers have to learn where to accentuate our words. Saying “vay cay shun” instead of “vay CAY shun” announces a non-native english speaker. Trying to learn where to put the accent in every multisyllabic word in English is about as much fun as our learning the gender of every noun in the French dictionary.
    Merci Madame Elliot

    Reply
  2. As an extremely new learner, I use duolingo as well as asking my French Canadian friend about pronunciation and advice. I’m not sure though if there is a huge difference between French in Canada and in France itself.

    Reply
    • Big difference but do not worry. If you speak standard bookish Canadian French you have no problem in France.

      French Canadians still differentiate sounds which have merged for 80% of the French. For example, the four nasals are all distinct in Canadian French.

      Brin = twig
      brun = brown

      Are distinct in Canada as they should according to dictionary. But they are the same for most Frenchmen.

      Long and short vowels are still distinct in Canadian French. So

      mettre and maître are different in Canada. Mât and ma, là and la are different.

      Also Canadian French has a long and short i and u. The short i is like “shit” in English while the long one is like “sheet”. The long u is like the French u as in “flute”. The short one exists in German…. but no English equivalent since there is no “u” sound in English.

      This is only the beginning of the list of differences. Generally French Canadian phonology is much more complicated than standard French with a lot of archaism.

      Reply
  3. When I’m driving, I listen to, and sing with (over and over and over), French versions of songs that are familiar in English, as well as some that I’ve studied and learned the lyrics for. Doing this has made me pick up on letter groupings I was pronouncing wrong. I’ve noticed, too, that I’m picking up vocabulary. I’m understanding more and more of what’s being sung.

    Reply
  4. I will be traveling to France next year and I want to know if you think it would be wise to get speaking lessons from my close friend from Africa. He is from Cameroon and French is his first language however I have been told in the past that African speaking French is different from France speaking natives. Is this true and what do you advise?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Your African Cameroon man may be a well educated speaking friend who do speak perfectly well with a little accent only
      Because someone was born in France that does not make him a good speaker and a better teacher a lot of times Having and accent does not make a person a bad speaker also.
      Every Country have their own accent,. At the end of the day, we do understand each other; I know by experience what I am talking about.
      If I was you, I will star practicing with him to get used to some words very difficult to enunciate and comprehend in French You have nothing to lose

      Reply
  5. On the very first day of my French course in my university, the teacher walked in and immediately started speaking in French ( she only stopped to explain in Vietnamese or English if we asked or could not understand her other ways of explanation), and we all did not get anything other than “bonjour”. So I try to intimate her sounds ( I repeat what she said out loud, which might have been annoying to my classmates because I was the only one did such practice actively) as well as trying to figure out the contexts. It’s pretty similar to how a baby learns to speak. I try to avoid linking the new words to my native language as much as possible, but rather trying to feel or imagine the concept expressed. I have to admit that I find learning languages is much easier for me than for my classmates although many of them had taken extra French class back then while I was totally new ( The only thing I knew before the course is the French alphabet). I tried to focus on the lessons and staying active, as well as enjoying it ( languages are somehow interesting to me) instead of just being passive. In my native language, Vietnamese, there are a lot of words borrowed from French due to past colonization, and I felt very excited every time I learned a French word that is borrowed into our native language. I also try to make new words fun, like imagining something hilarious describing the context of the words.
    By learning a new language when I have learned to observe better and looking back on how I learned English, I noticed that I have been exposed to the language naturally without worrying too much about understanding what the foreign- language speakers said, but learning their tones and rhythms of speaking first then intimate them ( like I said above, the way a baby first learn to speak). ( For English, I used to watch Cartoon Network, the only cartoon channel in Vietnam back in 2005. There were no subtitles or Vietnamese dubbed broadcasts like there are now, so I literally had to guess what was happening based on the visuals and non-speech sounds.)Then, I started to notice how the new languages can be used in daily life ( in a practical way. Most of my English is from playing online games, watching videos and reading things I was interested in which are does not give out a feeling like I was made to “study” English like Math or Physics). There are many French words and phrases used around me that I did not pay attention to before ( remember what I said above about French – borrowed words in Vietnamese). Additionally, I could not change the language of my Adobe reader into English anymore, so I have to go with French.

    Reply
  6. Great post Benjamin.
    Very nice guide to pronounciation.
    #4 is very important I think, somehow I find that new learners don’t pay a lot of attention to it.

    Reply
  7. I attend a French meetup group once a month. When I sit among fast speakers, I have a hard time participating — just listen and feel dumb. When I sit among others who speak more slowly, I can carry on a basic conversation. I need to listen to fast speakers more and figure out what they are saying.

    Reply
    • Yeah, it can be intimidating. What you could do is try to find one person you’re comfortable with and only talk to that person until you feel confident enough to join a group conversation.

      Reply
  8. Hello, i have a question that doesnt quite relate to this but…i overheard someone once saying bisou chaton, or something like that. meaning kisses kitten, and i wanted to know what it means not literally but in like a native perspective. is it a goodbye phrase or some other sort of insult maybe?

    thanks C:

    Reply
    • Bonjour Regina

      “Chaton” or “mon chaton” is usually used as a term of endearment. It’s something you can hear parents tell their kids for example. A bit like “sweetie” or “sweetheart”.

      Reply
    • First of all, it must have been said between lovers. Also, this “someone” is usually a male, and the “chaton” a female.
      When between fathers and sons, it is mainly used between a mother and her son, or her daughter.
      Very soon, a boy would not accept his mother to call him a “chaton” anymore. If his friends happen to listen to her saying this, his life would become a nightmare at school.
      I personally call my son “mon poussin”, and my daughter “ma poussine”, which shows more tenderness than intimacy.

      Reply
  9. The ability of training your brain into “something” new (in this case the sounds of a foreign language” is a very interesting one. That explains why it takes some time to “acquire” the language since you need to train your brain into that new language, something that many language learners forget or are afraid of.
    The article from the “americanscientific” is also very helpful.
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Yeah. What many people don’t realise is that there is much more to learning a language than simply learning vocabulary and mastering grammar rules.

      And that simply listening may not actually be that useful as long as you can’t distinguish all the sounds of the language you learn.

      Although whether you can distinguish all sounds or not depends a lot on what your native language is.

      Reply
    • A new language is also a new way of thinking, and a new culture.
      For example, these expressions are pure products of their respective cultures and history:
      “Right in the bullseye”
      “En plein dans le mille”
      “Justo en el blanco”.

      Use the right word for each situation, and the native speakers will forgive you for your pronunciation.

      Reply

Leave a Comment