7 Tips For Improving Your French Accent
Speaking French is much more than just using correct grammar and vocabulary. The French people place great emphasis on the proper pronunciation of their language and are more willing to overlook a grammar mistake here and there if you have a lovely French accent. Any non-native French speaker will tell you that she longs for the day when she receives the ultimate compliment from a native French speaker, who, upon hearing her beautiful French accent, asks, “Are you French?” Below are seven tips that I recommend for achieving the perfect French accent. Oh la-la! Allons-y! (Let’s go!)
LISTEN TO A NATIVE SPEAKER
First, one of the most important ways to work on your pronunciation is by training your ear. To do this, you must listen to the correct pronunciation being spoken by a native French speaker. If you don’t have access to un français, fear not. This exercise can be done by watching your favorite movie dubbed in French. It’s as easy as going into the settings and switching the language, and most movies are equipped with this feature. In addition, since you already know the storyline, you aren’t as likely to get distracted by trying to figure out what’s going on. Another idea is to pull up a French broadcasted news program on the internet. Keep in mind, it’s not important that you understand what is being said; you are merely training your ears to hear the French sounds.
Speaking of sounds… as you are listening to French, you should be picking up on the fact that there are some different vowel sounds in French that you might be hearing for the first time. This is an important point to make because you will need to visualize these different sounds and their corresponding letters in order to comprehend, spell, and speak the French language. If you haven’t already done so, find a good resource that focuses on the French vowels and their sounds. Here are a few of my favorites…
Note that while the consonants are important, for the most part they are phonetically more similar to those in our English language, excluding the infamous throaty “R.” Further, focusing on the vowels during active listening helps to better comprehend the French language since these sounds are often more prominent. I find that this perspective alone is helpful for my students because English tends to place more emphasis on the consonants. In the same way, if we enunciate the vowels rather than consonants when we speak, the result is a more authentic and fluid flow of the language.
READING OUT LOUD
Once you have a pretty good handle on those vowels, try reading out loud for pronunciation practice. This is an easy way to practice perfecting those French sounds. And don’t be afraid to use the same piece of literature again and again. Repetition is indispensable in second language learning!
MAKE RECORDINGS OF YOURSELF
Let’s talk technology. We have some great tools at our disposal today, one of which can bring a simulated language lab right into your home. Most smart phones, iPads, and computers have voice memo features or other programs that make it fairly easy to record yourself. This is a fabulous tool that you will want to use often. Simply record yourself speaking French, then play it back, noting any pronunciation errors. It’s surprising to find out that what you are hearing in your head isn’t always what is coming out of your mouth! And one great benefit about this exercise is that you can receive instant feedback.
WHAT’S YOUR MOUTH DOING
And since we’ve just referenced votre bouche (your mouth), let’s take a closer look at this very important component in parlant français. Try standing in front of a mirror as you practice speaking French. What is your mouth doing? Is your tongue close to the roof of your mouth, or is it lower and much closer to your bottom teeth, making your mouth cavity seem larger? Some French vowels, known as open vowels, require your mouth to be more open on the inside, whereas closed vowels need your mouth cavity to be more tightly closed.
For example, compare these two sounds: à (open) vs. vous (closed). Can you feel the difference in your mouth when you say these two words? And what about your lips? Are they rounded or unrounded? In the first word “à,” which is open, your lips should be unrounded, but in the second word “vous,” you will find that your lips need to be rounded in order to make the correct pronunciation. Is your mouth setting you up for failure? In general, the lips are more often rounded when speaking French, so you may need to practice rounding your lips for greater flexibility since it is nearly impossible to achieve a proper French pronunciation when the mouth is not in the correct position.
Okay, now that you have the vowels down and your mouth is cooperating, you’ll want to put on the finishing touch, and that means linking the words together, or making the “liaison” as it is called in French. You may watch this liaison video to hear a more detailed explanation, but basically a liaison is made when a normally silent consonant at the end of a word is pronounced at the beginning of the following word which starts with a vowel sound. For example, “vous appelez,” pronounced “vou-Z-appelez.” Normally the letter “s” in the word “vous” is silent, but “appelez” begins with a vowel sound, so the “s” is pronounced like a “z.” Making the liaison is a sure way to improve your accent!
And last but not least, perhaps the best advice… let me hear your French accent, s’il vous plaît! I’m sure you have pretended to speak with an accent before, right? Wasn’t it so much fun? Well, now is your chance to roll those “RRs” and round those lips and make those “OO” sounds. Let go! Relax, because stress makes your mouth tense, and exaggerate all of those wonderful French sounds! Oui! Oui!
I hope you found this information to be both useful and relevant in perfecting your fabulous French accent. Remember, focus on those vowels, loosen up your mouth muscles, link those words together, and have fun! Until next time, my wish for you is that one day you too will hear those magical words… “You have a great accent! Are you French?”
https://youtu.be/0mC2zRtx8h8 (basic vowels) (French with Alexa)
https://youtu.be/7VOhQ2V4E14 (vowels with accents part 1) (French with Alexa)
https://youtu.be/Q9jE16C_V7U (vowels with accents part 2) (French with Alexa)
https://youtu.be/FsEvcLCIcxU (liaison) (learn French with Cindy)
About the Author
Gina Duss earned her Bachelor of Science degree in French Education from University of Georgia and furthered her studies at the renowned Middlebury College’s French immersion program. During her college years, she was blessed to study abroad in Tours, France and the rest is history! She has taught in various capacities over the years from elementary to high school and is thrilled to be in her current role teaching students from all over the world through online learning. Gina brings her love for everything French: the language, the culture, the country, and the people, right into the classroom! When she’s not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her husband, children and many fur babies.