Ask any student their biggest struggle in learning French and you are almost guaranteed to hear one thing – pronunciation.
Admittedly, pronunciation is one of the hardest aspects of learning any foreign language. As babies, our minds are very receptive to learning how to identify and reproduce the numerous sounds contained in a language.
This ability diminishes early in childhood, making it more challenging for second language learners to learn how accurately hear and pronounce sounds that are not present in their native tongue.
Native English speakers studying French usually have a harder time learning to pronounce the nasal vowels and French “r”.
French presents the additional challenge that a word’s pronunciation typically does not match its spelling.
There are many silent letters in French, particularly those at the end of the word. A word that looks long on paper may only be a single syllable when pronounced.
When you are first starting to learn French, this makes it challenging to know exactly how to say a word that you see.
This is made even more difficult by liaisons, where these normally silent consonants are suddenly pronounced when followed by a word starting with a vowel.
Improving Your French Pronunciation Online
Do not get discouraged – although French pronunciation can seem almost impossible to a beginner, it is a skill that can be mastered with time and effort.
With practice, French pronunciation will become easier. All you need to do is devote at least a few minutes each day to practicing speaking in French and improving your pronunciation. Before long, you will be surprised at how natural and easy saying things in French feels.
French Pronunciation Guides
These French pronunciation guides are a great way to learn proper French pronunciation.
They also make great resources to reference when you have a question or want to review later.
The French Alphabet: Every French learner has to start somewhere. The alphabet is the perfect place to start. This will serve as the foundation for everything else you will learn during your time studying French.
This infographic contains the sound made by each letter. Time to start practicing your “ah, bay, say”.
International Phonetic Alphabet: One of the most useful things that any language learner should do, regardless of what language they are studying, is learning how to read the International Phonetic Alphabet (also known as the IPA).
Originally developed by a group of French teachers in the late 1880’s, the International Phonetic Alphabet was created so that anyone could sound out how a word should be pronounced, regardless of what language they speak.
IPA is included in almost any dictionary. By learning how to read the IPA, when you look up unfamiliar French words in the dictionary, you will easily be able to determine exactly how they are pronounced.
French Phonetic Transcription Converter: Wondering how to pronounce a word, phrase, or block of French text? Copy and paste it into this phonetic converter, and you will be able to see the IPA symbols for each word.
French Pronunciation by FSL Homework Toolbox: This guide covers every letter of the French alphabet, as well as accented letters and digraphs (two letters that make a unique sound when used together).
The chart lists the equivalent English sound (or their closest approximation for sounds that are not present in English) and an English word that uses this sound. It also provides several French words that contain this sound as an example.
Spell and Sound Pronunciation Guides: This website has created a wealth of pronunciation guides for French students to reference. These guides are quick and easy to use. There is at least one guide available for almost every letter of the French alphabet.
Liaisons: This guide by About.com explains the rules concerning the French liaison. You will learn when you must use it and how it should sound when doing so.
French Pronunciations You Won’t Hear in School: Speakers of any language tend to shorten things when they are speaking without even realizing it.
For example, a speaker of English may say “doncha” instead of clearly annunciating “don’t you.”
This guide explains some of these common shortcuts taken by French speakers. Learning these abbreviated forms will help you sound more like a native while also improving your listening comprehension.
French Pronunciation Guide by Talk in French: This pronunciation guide provides explanations of almost every aspect concerning French pronunciation, including nasal vowels, accents, stress, and more.
Videos are included throughout the guide to model and further expand upon the topics discussed.
French Pronunciation Audio
These websites contain audio of words and sounds in French that you can listen to in order to hear the correct pronunciation and compare it to your own.
Spell and Sound Audio Lounge: This compilation includes audio of native speakers demonstrating the correct pronunciations for the French alphabet, vowels, nasal vowels, consonants, semi-consonants, the French r, and more.
If you are looking for a challenge, the site also has French tongue twisters.
You might have to start out very slowly, but saying them again and again while gradually increasing your speed is an excellent technique for practicing pronunciation.
French Phonetics: On this website, you will find a collection of French pronunciation audios to listen to, as well as games and quizzes to test what you have learned.
One unique feature of this website is that it can record your voice. This allows you to hear your own pronunciation alongside that of a native speaker’s. This direct comparison allows you to better judge your progress and make improvements.
Phonetique: Although much of this website is in French, these audio examples are intended to help second language learners improve their pronunciation.
It still should be pretty simple to navigate, even if you are new to the language. The site also includes games designed to help you practice what you have learned about the sounds and rhythm of French.
French Audio Dictionary
Whenever you encounter a word in French you do not know, it is important to look it up in the dictionary so you can learn what it means.
By using an online French audio dictionary, you can also ensure that you will pronounce it correctly when you want to use it in your own conversations.
Reverso: This online dictionary translates between English and French, as well as many other language pairs. Every entry includes definitions, translations, and example phrases and sentences, as well as audio clips of the pronunciation.
Forvo: Forvo calls itself the “pronunciation dictionary”, with the tagline “All of the words in the world. Pronounced.”
The site currently contains audio recorded by native French speakers from around the world for over 100,000 French words and phrases.
If you create a free account, you can add words to the list that you would like to hear pronounced and download mp3s of existing recordings.You can also return the favor by recording pronunciations for people trying to learn your native language.
About.com French Audio Dictionary: About.com has compiled an audio dictionary featuring 2,500 of the most common French words you will encounter.
AudioFrench.com: AudioFrench.com allows you to learn new vocabulary and pronunciation simultaneously.
You will find French vocabulary lists here that are focused on a specific topic, as well as word videos that show the words on the screen while playing the audio recorded by native speakers.
The site also contains verb tables that demonstrate conjugations for regular and irregular verbs.
Lawless French: Lawless French has many wonderful French-learning lessons and resources, including pronunciation guides. Hear audio for each letter, common letter combinations, accents and more.
French Listening Practice
When you are learning how to pronounce French words, practicing saying the words aloud is only one piece of the puzzle.
Listening practice helps train your ear to recognize the sounds of the French language. By learning what the words should sound like, you can apply this to your pronunciation by attempting to mimic how the native speakers say them.
RhinoSpike: At RhinoSpike, you can upload any French text that you would like to hear read aloud. You could input an article, story, or even something that you have written in French.
Your request will be sent to a native speaker, who will make the recording and send it back to you as an mp3 file. Although the service is free, there may be a queue.
You can bump yourself up on the list by helping others on the site by recording readings of texts in your native language.
Lyrics Training: If you love music, then you will love Lyrics Training.
Watch a French music video while typing the lyrics in the box below. The site instantly checks your work. If you fall behind, the music will pause to allow you to catch up.
If you have trouble understanding something, there is a button that allows you to rewind and listen to the current section again.
You can choose how hard you want the game to be – whether you only want to fill in the blanks for a few words or think you can do it all by yourself. This is also a great way to discover French music and immerse yourself in the culture.
Duolingo: This free app quickly became extremely popular when it was first released a few years back. Although the game provides you with a variety of exercises during each lesson, some of these questions will ask you to listen to a sentence in French and type what you hear.
There is a button that allows you to play the audio slower, if necessary. The app automatically grades your submission for accuracy and spelling before allow to move in the game.
News in Slow French: This weekly podcast covers top news stories from around the world, as well as a brief segment at the end covering grammar, vocabulary, or an idiomatic expression used in the episode.
One of the biggest advantages to this podcast is that, as the title suggests, the speakers speak at a slower pace than usual. This makes it easier for beginners to follow along and allows advanced students the opportunity to hear the words said slowly and clearly.
Transcripts are also available for the episodes.
Coffee Break French: Designed to be enjoyed during a “coffee break” or any other time you have a few minutes to practice your French, Coffee Break French is a series of brief, 10 to 15 minute podcasts that are fun and interesting.
These lessons cover everything you need to know about the French language, including vocabulary, grammar, culture, and of course, pronunciation.
The show’s four seasons start at “bonjour” and gradually build to cover topics for advanced learners, so there is something here for everyone. The episodes are available for free, but you can download a set of transcripts and worksheets to accompany them if you wish.
FrenchPod101: This podcast uses both audio and video lessons to help you improve your pronunciation, expand your vocabulary, and discover the French culture.
Lessons range from beginner to advanced. Every podcast is labeled according to its difficulty level so that you can find material that is perfectly suited for your needs and abilities. You can find even more video content on the FrenchPod101 YouTube channel.
In addition to using these resources, working with a language tutor is one of the best ways to quickly improve your French pronunciation.
Because they will be working with you one-on-one, they can provide you with instant feedback on your pronunciation to correct any minor errors before they turn into bad habits.
Your tutor will also be able to address any questions about French pronunciation that you have and offer pointers to help you pronounce the many beautiful sounds of the French language.
Do you know any other great resources for studying French pronunciation online? Share them with us and our community of language learners in the comments below!
Photo by Ray_from_LA