2011 TRAVEL STUDY GUIDE
Learning French, Living the Adventure
Your guide to studying the French language, arts, and cuisine
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF IT
What native English speaker hasn't been self-conscious at some point about their French accent? A foreign accent can be charming and endearing, but the charm won't be dented by a little improvement. No matter your level in French, pronunciation is important, and when you start hunting for the right French class, don't forget to ask about phonetics training. Meanwhile, here are a few tips for sounding like a native.
The proper use of liaisons can make you stand out from the pack, and misuse can result in total misunderstanding. A liaison is when the final silent consonant of one word is activated by the following word beginning with a vowel. For example: Les Etats-Unis. (The United States)
The "s" at the end of les and Etats are normally silent. But since they are followed by vowels, they are pronounced using a soft "z" sound-LezEtazUnis. Once you start looking, you'll see liaisons everywhere. An easy one: Je suis américain becomes Je suizaméricain. But be careful. Les héros does not call for liaison, despite the silent "h"- and if used, it results in lezéros-not the heros but the zeros.
An enchaînement is a link between a consonant that you normally pronounce and the following vowel. For example: Il est (He is) The "l" sound, which is always pronounced, attaches itself to the following vowel. It should be pronounced "Eelay" instead of "Eel ay."
In French, final consonants attach themselves phonetically to a vowel that follows. Say the final consonant sound as if it were the first letter of the next word. Compare this to the next example: Il va (He goes)
In this case the "l" sound stays attached to the preceding vowel, and there is no enchaînement.
"U" versus "OU"
This is the bane of many Anglophones. The sound "u" in tu or du doesn't occur in English, and many English speakers can't quite get the sharpness or tension required to produce the sound correctly. It sounds right in their heads, but the sound still comes out a soft "ou" like doux or nous.
Try pretending that you are playing a trumpet or a French horn. Those mouthpieces are very small, and you have to pucker the corners of your mouth. One French teacher suggested smiling wide, then arranging your lips into the "u" shape without moving your teeth. The best thing to do is overcorrect yourself and exaggerate the sound. You might think that you're overdoing it, but chances are you're still saying doux instead of du. Your French teacher should be able to help you identify your problem areas and work with you to correct them. The best way to practice on your own is to listen and repeat after native speakers as much as possible. Read words and sentences aloud, and focus on difficult sounds. The muscles around your mouth will feel tired, but it's great training for your accent.