"French Pronunciation for Beginners" – An Easy Way to Learn French Words

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Before you start reading the overview of this course, you may want to:

  1. take a look at the description of Pronunciation Player – the software you will be using to download and watch this course,
  2. read my article "A Complete Guide to Language Learning. Part 1. Learning Pronunciation".

 

What Is "French Pronunciation for Beginners"?

French Pronunciation for Beginners – screenshot

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The full version of the course contains 2,135 video clips of 2,598 French words and short phrases read by a native speaker. The speaker was shot with two HD video cameras from two different angles (front and side view). This way, you will be able to understand and imitate better the movements of the speech organs.

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

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How the French Words and Phrases Were Selected

The most frequent French words

It is quite reasonable for a person who starts to learn the French language to first learn the most popular French words. When I was selecting the words, I used a French word frequency list in order to decide which words should be included in this course.

Lots of examples of each French sound

The course gives you a sufficient number of examples for each French sound as they are pronounced at the beginning, in the middle and at the end 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.
  • [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 silent "e"

If you already started to learn French, you may know that the same word can be pronounced differently depending on its position in a sentence. The most common situations when pronunciation changes occur are:

1. Liaison is when the final silent consonant is pronounced when the next word starts with a vowel. 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 lengthen 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 are going to practice with the course material, notice that the native speaker who read the words very often pronounced individual words as if they were at the phrase end. So he lengthened some vowels. I added the lengthening symbol [ː] after such vowels.

3. Final silent "e" 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]

When you learn French, you should get used to all possible pronunciations of a given word in order to understand what people tell you. For that reason, for the most frequent 300 words, the course also includes short word combinations. 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 effected 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 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. – how am I supposed to pronounce all that stuff? Well, don't worry! The course gives you enough examples for each of these weird letters. You will get used to them very quickly!

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

French numerals

A special attention was brought to the pronunciation of French numerals. "Dix" (ten), for example, can be pronounced in three different ways: [dis], [diz] or [di]. The course gives you enough combinations "numeral + noun", so you could easily learn how to pronounce them correctly.

The course also includes absolutely all numerals 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

Some people just want to learn some basic French in order to be able to communicate on elementary level during their trip to France. To meet this need 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.

Miscellanous

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

 

Subtitles

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

  • French subtitles – spelling of the word in French. These subtitles will help you learn French pronunciation rules (see next section below).
  • Phonetic transcription subtitles. These will help you make out some unfamiliar sounds and pronounce them better.
  • English and Russian translations. To be honest, I do not recommend learning the meaning of isolated words, especially if a given word is very popular and has many meanings. But for those of you who want to know right away what all these words mean, I included English and Russian translations for all of them.

 

French Pronunciation Rules

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. This translator has greatly evolved during the last years. If you are interested, you can follow its story here.

Since the beginning I knew that the French pronunciation rules are very complicated with a lot of exceptions. So the first version of the translator was using a dictionary that contained the phonetic transcription of main forms of French words. Since the dictionary was very large, the translator was very slow. That is why one day I decided to create a code that would describe all these rules. And I did, but it took me... 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 is constantly growing. That's a LOT of rules!

So how to learn how to read in French?

In traditional approach you learn, for example, that the letter "x" is not pronounced at the end: "prix", "yeux". Ok, got it. Then you encounter the word "aux". And it works for "aux parents", but not for "aux enfants" where "x" is pronounced as [z]. Well, how about the word "dix" (ten)? Eh... it's pronounced as [s]. Wait a second! Not all the time. If we count (huit, neuf, dix) – yes, but if we say "dix minutes" (ten minutes), it's not pronounced at all. And if we say "dix enfants", it becomes [z] again! Grr... At one point you may think: "I had enough!" :)

And it's just one example – for one letter in one position. As I mentioned before, there are literally hundreds of rules and thousands of exceptions and it's very difficult to learn them by reading a textbook, especially if you are a beginner.

So what alternative do I suggest you? How to learn 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, make them part of yourself. I promise you that after two-three weeks of intensive training you will be able to correctly predict the pronunciation for 90% of new words that you will see.

 

Speech Rate

All words from this course are pronounced slowly with good articulation, so you will be able to imitate the native speaker easily. But I know that 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. What is really unique about this feature is that a special sound processing technology was used to keep the voice sound natural and without distortion 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?"). Guess what, this questioning intonation is not exactly the same in French and English. In order to sound natural when you ask such questions, you can practice with these additional recordings and improve your French even more.

 

Download Size

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

 

Price of the Course

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