There’s a reason why people more and more people with British accents in French are striving to learn how to perfect their French accents. During the past decades, the French language has taken its place amongst language giants such as Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic.
With nearly 300 million Francophones in Europe, North America, Africa, and Oceania – you’ve probably also heard the incredible diversity of the speakers themselves through Australian, Japanese, and American accents.
While language learning can sometimes feel like learning how to program, from understanding the concept of diphthong to ascii codes or alt codes – many people around the world are making it their mission to become a French speaker. In fact, according to a study performed by the Francophone Observatory, 90% of French language courses in 2018 could be found in places like North Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Whether you have a Spanish accent, English accent or Arabic accent while speaking standard French, this article will give you tips on how to perfect your oral expression in French!
What Does the French Accent Consist Of
While French may seem like a language that will only be useful across the pond, learning this language will actually put you into contact with the global French learning community. In fact, the countries with the most French language learners are Madagascar, Morocco and Egypt.
With this in mind, it is natural to see how understanding how to type accent marks on a French keyboard, knowing what a circumflex sounds like or when to implement an acute accent can be quite useful. Many French professors would even put learning the French accent on par with learning your grammar and vocabulary.
French pronunciation involves phonetics, the occasional accent mark and diphthongs. While having a foreign accent under no circumstances is something people need to get rid of, many people do try and often consider it as a fun part of the learning process.
One important starting point in managing a French accent, even before memorizing the French alphabet, is understanding that there is no standard French accent. Just as people think there is a general American or British accent, the truth is that differences in culture, geography and history have given rise to regional accents.
Here is a general list of the kind of characteristics you’re likely to find for those who want to learn French, whether that be in France or in your home country:
- Northern accent: there are different degrees of orthography and or an occasional vowel sound in the following parts of the country, but generally have the same style of pronouncing words. Normandy, Brittany, Picardy, Champagne, Lorraine, Burgundy.
- Parisian accent: while things like word stress or demonstrative pronouns can vary from city to city, the Parisian accent is an amalgamation of the Ile-de-France region.
- Southern accent: influenced by what is known as the “langue d’oc,” these meridian accents were inherited from vulgar Latin, leading to a host of different pronunciation in vowel sounds and unstressed words. This accent includes the “provencal” (Marseille, Nice), the “languedocien” (Montpellier), the “occitan” (Toulouse), the “baque,” and the “gascogne” (Bordeaux).
- Lyon accent: influenced by the ancient city of Lugdunum, this accent has a super interesting phonology.
If you’re worried about sounding “non-native,” understand the fact that there is no standard, “native” accent. As this short pronunciation guide has shown, French people themselves have vastly different accents depending on where they live.
From a linguistic point of view, the French accent is broken down into three components:
- Pronunciation of phonemes
- Special French characters: unaccented words, circumflex accent, cedilla and the grave accent
If you're interested in learning more about how to speak French, check this guide out.
How to Pronounce the Letters “e” and “r” in French?
While knowing how the diaeresis, also known as umlaut, functions or understanding whether the alt key or the option key on an international keyboard will result in the correct letter are important – starting with the basics is a good place to start.
On oft-repeated phrase in French lessons London is that the French accent is monotonous. Meaning, every syllable is pronounced with the same emphasis and the same duration. As opposed to what a special character like a diacritic will have you believe, French words are not pronounced the same as in other romance languages. When compared to a Spanish word or Italian word, for example.
This means that the first syllable and the last syllable are often emphasized in the same tone, which can be a strange thing for foreign accents to master. This is the reason why it is essential to master the two most important letters in French.
Pronouncing the “e”
- The silent “e”: accomplished by not pronouncing the vowels at the end of words like devinette, demoiselle, cerise, etc.
- The “e” in the following words is pronounced like “è”: destin, respect, respirer, etc.
- The “e” in the following words is pronounced as “é”: dessin, descender, ressusciter, etc.
Saying the letter “r”
Not all consonants are created equal, especially for English speakers. Here is some advice on the phonetic sound of this consonant: the letter “r.”
Because r is often in the middle of words, pronouncing it can be a difficult task. For this reason, this might be helpful to try some tongue exercises. Practice saying this key combination of vowels and consonants: iiiiiiiii+r; eeeee+r; pooooo+r; etc.)
How to Pronounce Silent Letters in French
While it might be easy for native speakers to understand when and how to pronounce certain syllables and words, the rest of us will have a hard time discerning when not to pronounce a letter. Silent letters are ones that are written but not said aloud. It can be especially difficult to navigate these as they can vary from dialect to dialect.
One special rule you can take with you is that letters with diacritics, or other special characters such as those with a circumflex, will always be pronounced. What makes French such an interesting foreign language to learn is that there are 23 letters in its alphabet that can be silent in certain words.
Some examples of words that have a silent letter in the middle are: compter, comptabilite, grand-pere, grand-mere, etc. Some words with the silent letter at the end include: fond, rond, long, etc.
Take French Language Courses in the UK
One tried and true bit of advice to master a new language, and reach fluency in its pronunciation, is to immerse yourself completely into francophone life. Whether that be by moving to France in order to become a native speaker, or taking courses led by fluent French language professors with Superprof, native English speakers can perfect their accents in no time.
The fortunate thing about professors is that, regardless of what country you live in, they will be preparing you for the levels of knowledge set out by the European Union. These levels are ordered by skill, where A1 would signal a beginner and C2 complete mastery of the language.
Some other great resources to check out are online platforms geared for learners, such as Facebook groups headed by either a linguist or French professor, or language exchange sites. While you're browsing for courses, it may be good to keep in mind that there are different prices involved in different programs.
Listen to Others to Improve Your French Accent
Stressing the importance of oral comprehension cannot be done enough – it is not only important for developing your understanding of the spoken language, but also a great way to learn new vocabulary.
Some ways in which you can accomplish this are:
- Watching French films and series
- Listening to the radio in French
- Speaking with native French speakers
The great thing about France is that they still pour a lot of effort into their radio programs – one example of this can be seen through Radio France. This radio station, having developed into multiple channels, is great because it offers audio in a diverse amount of subjects.
While some people may still be struggling with a new keyboard layout for French, the tech-savvy amongst you might want to try one of the newer forms of practicing oral French: going on YouTube. The great thing about learning French online isn’t just that its free, and that the web stores thousands of resources for learning online, but also that you can watch whatever already interests you in a different language.
The goal of perfecting the French accent isn’t to forget your foreign accents, but instead to try and express yourself as best you can in French. That is the reason why you might want to consider another method of acquiring a French accent and actually go and study in France. Not only will you be able to make Francophone friends on your linguistic journey, but you’ll also get a chance to learn about the culture in real time.
Who knows, learning the accent might take you less time than you thought! Bon courage!