Ahh the beautiful French language… it conjures up images of romance, beauty and charm. As a Francophone in an English-speaking country, you’ve probably been complimented on your attractive accent countless times - it’s commonly stereotyped as the world’s sexiest, and the English love to try (and fail!) to imitate it. Of course there’s nothing wrong with having an accent that people adore, but perhaps you want to break free and get your point across without being put into a romanticised French-speaking box? Or you’re simply fed up of being asked to repeat yourself? Whilst there are difficulties for all English language learners no matter their mother tongue, it can be useful to understand the specific nuances. If you’re a French speaker who struggles with English pronunciation, read this blog for some simple tips and tricks on how to improve your British accent whilst still allowing your beautiful identity and personality to shine through.
1. Stress the right syllables
The French and English systems of word stress and rhythm are very different, and this can lead to some challenges when you are a French speaker trying to speak English. If you are struggling to be understood when you speak English, try stressing the second syllable of words, rather than the first. To practice, have a go at putting emphasis on the capitalised bits of the following words: converSAtion, apPArently, iDEa, neGOtiate, unFORtunately.
Principal Coach Kate Guest talks more about this in her latest video:
Kate is a self-confessed accent geek - why not Book A 1-hour Taster Session with her or one of our other coaches today?
2. Differentiate your vowels
For French speakers, some of the vowel sounds can be tricky. French speakers often think English speakers ‘swallow’ their words, and this can make you sound monotonous and uninspiring.
Here are some examples of where French only has one sound where English has two:
- Leave vs Live
- Pull vs Pool
- Not vs Nut
- Sit vs Seat
- Look vs Luke
- Bank vs Bank
- Pat vs Pet
- Slip vs Sleep
- Paper vs Pepper
- Mad vs Made
Try pronouncing these words and see if you can hear how each one is different.
Watch this video to find out more about how vowels can help you speak authentically:
3. Use inflection in questions
Another challenge for French speakers: questions! Words like ‘do’ have no equivalent in French, and this can make it tricky to form interrogatives as you would in your own language. Often, it is easier for French speakers to simply add a question mark to their sentence ‘You are going to work today?’ as opposed to 'Are you going to work today?'. In English, inflection (when you go up at the end of your sentences) is used for asking questions, rather than making a statement. This intonation is crucial if you want to deliver your message with conviction. Have a go at experimenting with different sentences, noticing the different in your intonation on a question versus a statement.
4. Practice your Rs and Hs
One of the major consonant changes that happens from French into English - the quality of the ‘R’ sound. In English, we pronounce the R sound when there is a vowel sound after it - as in ‘really’, ‘carry’, ‘red’, ‘right’. If there’s no vowel after it however (‘learn’, ‘other’, ‘car’) we don’t pronounce it. This can’t be said for French though! Believe it or not, the difference in R sounds is simply down to the position of your tongue. If French is your mother tongue, the R sound is formed at the back of the mouth, whereas in English, the tip of the tongue curls up in the mouth then releases forwards. Try practicing the 'r' sound in the mirror and notice what your tongue does. Another tricky sound for French speakers is the ‘TH’ - watch this video to help you master it.
Want a sneak peek of our brand new online Accent Confidence course? Try our free module on the Non-Rhotic R here.
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We'll be posting more language-specific content in the coming months so keep your eyes peeled - you can read our blog for Spanish speakers here!