Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Whether you're studying French for an exam, planning to visit a French-speaking country or just want to learn French for leisure, improving your pronunciation may turn out to be challenging at first but exciting and rewarding in the end.
If you already have a good command of French, but you're looking to improve your pronunciation, this article may help you become familiar with some useful methods.
Pronunciation is a fundamental aspect of languages, particularly French. Why? Since written French is starkly different from the way it is pronounced. It’s a trap that many of my students fall into! Let's take a simple example: mère (mother) - mer (sea) - maire (mayor).
Bear in mind that this article only provides some good tips to help you improve your French pronunciation. I won't give an exhaustive list covering all aspects of the French pronunciation.
1. Master every single phoneme of French pronunciation first
First of all, what's a phoneme? A phoneme is a term in phonetics to identify a sound of a spoken language. You can have a look at each phoneme of French here.
A good rule of thumb is to correctly pronounce every single phoneme of French until you can say them clearly and easily. By doing so, you will train your tongue and the muscles of your mouth to place themselves correctly. You can repeat this exercise in front of your mirror for example.
2. Forvo: Learn each word separately
Now that you can pronounce every phoneme of French, let’s have a look at Forvo. Forvo is an online pronunciation website allowing you to hear how specific words are pronounced by native speakers. It’s a great tool, provided you make good use of its potential.
If you learn a new French word, you can download the .mp3 extension for any word on the website for free. What you can do is to play one word five times and repeat it five times out loud. Repeat this exercise for the words that you have trouble pronouncing if necessary. Once you’re done, replay the audio recording and repeat the new vocabulary the next day. On the long term, your mouth and jaw will not only get used to the way each word should be pronounced, you'll also be able to recognise the new vocabulary in a French conversation.
You can follow this method not only for the new vocabulary, but also for terms you have learned in the past to ensure you can pronounce them correctly. Do not hesitate to review the most common words in French here to make sure you’ve got the basics right first.
3. YouGlish: Learn French words in context
Looking up new words in a dictionary is one thing. You also need to put these unfamiliar words into context and listen to their pronunciation. Why? Because the pronunciation of a word may sound different based on its position in a sentence, especially in French with the liaisons.
Let’s take an example: Ils avaient atteint le sommet de la montagne. (They had reached the summit of the mountain.) The “s” in Ils is pronounced /z/ instead of /s/ and the “t” in avaient can be pronounced /t/ rather than silent.
With YouGlish, you can listen to a specific word in context for free. Type in the word you’d like to learn and you'll be shown videos where native speakers actually use the term.
To put it into practice, repeat the whole sentence including the new word in front of your mirror. Keep repeating until you can pronounce the sentence effortlessly. Imitating a native speaker is key to improving your pronunciation.
4. Repetition: Learn by heart until you don’t have to think
Repetition is incredibly effective in languages, particularly when it comes to pronunciation.
Repeating the same words again and again will help you retain them once and for all. You’ll be familiar with their pronunciation and it will help the muscles of your mouth move into the right position.
Granted, this method requires cautious efforts and a great deal of repetition, but it’s far from impossible!
What you can do is to create a digital document to store the new vocabulary and open it every time you log on to your computer. You can include the spelling of the words in French and add the mp3 recording from Forvo. Take a few seconds to read the words and repeat them out loud.
5. A native speaker to help you
There's no better option than the support of a native teacher. You'll receive invaluable tips and useful advice, especially if you've a good level but you feel like you’re not improving as much as you’d like.
A native French teacher will immediately help you figure out what you should focus on and how to improve.
Whether you're struggling with /p/, /t/, the nasal French sounds (/en/, /on/ or /un/), or your rhythm and intonation, a native French tutor will definitely point you in the right direction. For more information, please visit French Native Speaker.