Bonjour ! and welcome to this French phonetics lesson.
I know, I know… If you are learning French (and chances are as you’re reading this blog post !), one of the most confusing parts is dealing with our phonetics. Imagine a single letter to be pronounced in two or three various ways. Conversely, three to four letters can only make one sound. What ?! Why would be French phonetics so complicated ? Isn’t France the country of philosophers and mathematicians, so keen on logic ?
Don’t worry, we are here to help you :-)
First, this is true : French phonetics is not easy. Not even for French natives kids. You can’t imagine how difficult it is when you’re 5-6 years old trying to learn reading and writing French ! Anyway, with just a few rules and a few exceptions, you can already go far in your learning.
Did you know that the French Alphabet has 37 total sounds? Ideally, the IPA symbol is being used by language experts in marking a certain sound.
To give you deep insight about French phonetics, let’s take a closer look on the 12 French vowels. These vowels refer to the sounds that are being produced in the absence of any obstruction to the air as it exits the month. If you are a beginner in learning French phonetics, your untrained ear would hardly hear these phonemes especially /y/ versus /u/ as well as /œ/ versus /ø/.
Here are some examples of French phonemes that are commonly spelled in words:
1. /i/ – vie, stylo, dix
/e/ – fée, danser, , été, je partirai – in its future tense
/ɛ/ – sel, treize, tête, je partirais – in conditional form
/a/ – gars, là, ami,
/y/ – vu, jus, , tu, sucre, une, nu (although no such sound in English language)
/ø/ – le, œufs, veux, feu (although no such sound in English language)
/œ/ – veulent, professeur, seul, (although no such sound in English language)
/u/ –où, nous, doux, vous,
/o/ – faux, beau, métro, bientôt,
/ɔ/ –sol, pomme, homme, porc,
/ɑ/ – bas, pates, las
/ə/ – le, (Muted E) usually replaced by ø
In French, there are also 4 nasal French phonemes. When you are on your quest to learning French phonetics, you will notice that there is tilde symbol (~) that lies directly above every letter. Again, these phonemes make use of IPA symbol when being marked by linguists.
/ɛ̃/ – gain, , impatient, vin, pain
/œ̃/ – l’un, chacun, parfum,
/õ/ – long, pont, monde,
/ɑ̃/ – enfant, , chamber, dans, l’an
Here are 3 French Semi-Vowels:
How are semi-vowels in French produced? It is through the production of a rapid and upward motion of the tongue while you are pronouncing.
/ɥ/ – huile, lui, nuit
/w/ – oui, moi, ouest
/j/ – yeux, dieu, fillette
These consonants are produced by means of an obstruction in the mouth while you are exhaling.
/p/ – public, plage,
/b/ – bateau, bon, bêtise
/t/ – terre, thé, sottise,
/d/ – dimanche, diner
/k/ – cou, que, carreau
/g/ – gare, gallois, gants
/f/ – flic, fosse, pharmacie
/v/ – avion, vous,
/l/ – le, mille, lait
/s/ – sac, cerise, soixante
/z/ – zoo, guise, visage
/ʃ/ – chat, short, chinois
/ʒ/ – japonais, genial, je
/m/ – magasin, mêler
As you can see, French phonetics is really a bit complicated. However, as long as you are sincere and you are willing to learn the French language, rest assured that you would be able to pull it off in no time. To get adept with French phonetics, you should also study their stress, Liasons and Nasality. Also, do take note that French vowels can be classified as nasal or oral.
Source : International Phonetic Alphabet
Born in Paris where he has spent more than 30 years, Yannick is a French native speaker now based in Ireland. His interest in learning foreign languages comes from his Italian grand-father, his Spanish wife and his Japanese sister-in-law. Teaching French has been a passion since his early twenties when he spent countless hours exchanging with international students.