French Pronunciation for University Students

Watch this video:

If that video was too fast for you, then try this video:

Isn't it great to have both options? You can start practicing with the slow video and then continue with the fast video as you progress.

You may say, "But it's only one word!" We have good news for you – the course "French Pronunciation for University Students" has 2,500 carefully selected French words and 85 common phrases read by a native speaker.

As you can see, the speaker was filmed with two HD video cameras from two different angles (front and side view). This will help you understand and imitate the movements of the speech organs.

The course covers different aspects of French phonetics, including:

  • Pronunciation of French sounds in different positions
  • Pronunciation changes (liaison, vowel elongation and silent "e")
  • Letters with diacritics

 

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Frequently Asked Questions about this course

No. You can't install the course on your tablet or cell phone – although we do have plans to create an app.

 

Sample videos can be watched for free online on the page about the sounds of the French language.

 

The most common French words

It is quite reasonable for a beginning French language learner to focus at first on the most popular French words. To decide which words to include in this course, we used a French word frequency list.

Examples of each French sound

The course gives you many examples for each French sound as they are pronounced in the beginning, middle, and ends of words. Some sounds, such as [ŋ] in "meeting" [mitiŋ], are relatively rare in the French language - but again, only the most popular French words are included for each sound in each position.

Note that the course doesn't include the following sounds:

  • [x] is a rare non-native consonant that may occur in some loaned Spanish and Arabic words (jota, khamsin).
  • [œ̃] is pronounced as [ɛ̃] by most French speakers in France, including Paris.
  • [ɑ] is now pronounced as [a] by most French speakers in France.

Pronunciation changes: liaison, vowel lengthening and the silent "e"

If you have already started learning French, you may know that the same word can be pronounced differently depending on its position in a sentence. Pronunciation changes occur most frequently in the following situations:

1. Liaison. When a word that ends with a silent consonant is followed by a word that starts with a vowel, the final silent consonant is pronounced. Compare:

les amis [lez‿ami] les parents [le paʁɑ̃]
mon ami [mɔ̃n‿ami] mon mari [mɔ̃ maʁi]

2. Vowel lengthening at the end of word. The rule of thumb is that the final consonant may lengthen the preceding vowel at the end of a phrase. Oral vowels are lengthened only when followed by [ʁ], [z], [v], [ʒ], [vʁ] or [bʁ]. The nasal vowels are always lengthened. Compare:

Il dort. [il dɔːʁ] Il dort bien. [il dɔʁ bjɛ̃]
Elle est grande. [ɛl‿ɛ ɡʁɑ̃ːd] grande et petite [ɡʁɑ̃d‿e pətit]

When you practice with the course material, notice that the native speaker in the example often pronounces individual words as if they were at the phrase end - in other words, he lengthened some vowels. We added the lengthening symbol [ː] after such vowels.

3. Final silent "e". This is pronounced as [ə] if preceded by two consonants and followed by a word that starts with a consonant. Compare:

notre maison [nɔtʁə mɛzɔ̃] notre ami [nɔtʁ‿ami]

In order to increase your oral comprehension, it helps to hear all possible pronunciations of a given word . For that reason, the course also includes short word combinations for the 300 most frequent words. These combinations represent the above pronunciation changes.

For example, the course includes the word "on" [ɔ̃]. To show you how the pronunciation of this word can be affected by other words, the course also includes two short phrases: "on est" [ɔ̃n‿ɛ] and "on veut" [ɔ̃ vø].

In the case of popular nouns, the course frequently includes the combinations "article + noun". This way you will learn the noun's gender at the same time. For example:

esprit [ɛspʁi],
l'esprit [lɛspʁi],
un esprit [ɛ̃n‿ɛspʁi].

In the case of frequent verbs, the course often includes the combination "pronoun + verb". For example:

sera [səʁa],
il sera [il səʁa],
elle sera [ɛl səʁa],
on sera [ɔ̃ səʁa].

Letters with diacritics

â, é, è, ï, ô, ç, etc. – Don't worry if you don't yet know how to pronounce all these unfamiliar letters! The course gives you plenty of examples, so you will get used to them very quickly!

Note that the course uses the new spelling rules introduced in 1990. That implies, among other things, that the circumflex on most i's and u's has disappeared ("parait", "s'il vous plait", "gout").

French numbers

Special attention have been placed on the pronunciation of French numbers. "Dix" (ten), for example, can be pronounced in three different ways: [dis], [diz] or [di]. The course gives you many combinations of "number + noun" to help you learn how to pronounce them correctly.

The course also includes every number from 1 to 100. This way you will get the chance to practice all these strange numbers, such as "quatre-vingt-dix-sept", which literally means "four-twenty-ten-seven". That's how we say "97" in French!

Basic French phrases

For people that just want to communicate in basic French while travelling, the course includes 85 common phrases, such as:

Merci beaucoup! Thank you very much!
Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement,
s'il vous plait?
Can you speak slowly, please?
Où sont les toilettes? Where is the bathroom?
Parlez-vous anglais? Do you speak English?
Est-ce que vous pouvez l'écrire? Can you write it down?
Je suis désolé! I am sorry!

All these phrases were pronounced with a natural intonation and normal speech rate. That may be too fast for beginners, but don't forget that Pronunciation Player allows you to slow down the recordings by 50% while preserving the natural quality of the voice.

Miscellaneous

The course also covers all the letters of the French alphabet, names of the months, and days of the week.

 

All video clips have three types of subtitles, each of which can be turned on and off separately:

  • French subtitles. These subtitles will show you the spelling of the word in French and help you learn French pronunciation rules (see next section).
  • Phonetic transcription subtitles. These will help you make out unfamiliar sounds and improve your pronunciation.
  • English and Russian translations. Although we do not recommend studying the meanings of isolated words, we do provide English and Russian translations for reference.

 

You will not find any text description of French pronunciation rules in this course. Why? Let me explain.

In 2012, I created an automatic tool that can translate French text to phonetic transcription. From the beginning, I knew that French pronunciation rules are very complicated with many exceptions. The first version of the translator used a dictionary that contained the phonetic transcription of the main forms of French words. Since the dictionary was very large, the translator was very slow - so one day, I decided to create a code that would describe all these rules. This process took more than 10 months and the help of several volunteers!

The new version of the translator has more than 2,800 lines of code, a list of 2,300 exceptions, and it's still growing. That's a LOT of rules!

So how can you learn how to read in French?

In the traditional approach you learn, for example, that the letter "x" is not pronounced at the end: "prix", "yeux". Seems simple - but then you encounter the word "aux". This rule applies for "aux parents", but not for "aux enfants" where "x" is pronounced as [z]. Well, how about the word "dix" (ten)? It's pronounced as [s]....but only some of the time! If we count (huit, neuf, dix) – the "x" is pronounced as [s], but if we say "dix minutes" (ten minutes), the "x" is not pronounced at all. And if we say "dix enfants", it becomes [z] again! Grr... At one point you may think: "I have had enough!" :)

And this is just one example, for one letter in one position. Remember, there are hundreds of rules and thousands of exceptions, and it's very difficult to learn them just by reading a textbook.

So what alternative do we recommend for learning French pronunciation? Forget the rules! Learn French words by imitating the native speakers! Watch and listen carefully how they pronounce the words and repeat after them. Start practicing with the course, repeat French words and phrases, learn them by heart, and internalize them. After two to three weeks of intensive training, you will be able to correctly predict the pronunciation for 90% of new words that you see.

 

All words from this course are pronounced slowly with good articulation, to help you easily imitate the native speaker. But sometimes even "slow" is not slow enough for beginners – you just can't make out all the sounds of a particular word (the word can be long, or it can contain a lot of unfamiliar sounds). In order to solve this problem, Pronunciation Player allows you to decrease the playback speed by 50% and see how the lips move in slow-motion. This feature is unique in that a special sound processing technology was used to keep the voice sounding natural and distortion-free during this slow playback.

For the most popular French words, the course includes additional recordings with questioning intonation. Just like in English, in French you can sometimes ask a question with a single word, like "Vous?" ("You?"). However, this questioning intonation is not exactly the same in French and English. To help you sound natural when you ask these questions, you can practice with these additional recordings.

 

The total size of all files of the course after download is 856.7 MB.

 

 

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