Parlez-vous français? If you are just starting to learn French as an English speaker, chances are you already have noted significant differences in French grammar and French pronunciation. The grammar is difficult, but pronunciation of French words can be downright arduous. Follow this guide for 5 things to know about French pronunciation.
Many people trying to learn French encounter what they view as “useless” or even “unnecessary” things when trying to read or write French. The most prominent of those would be the silent letters found in virtually every French word. Though it would seem easier to simply remove those letters, the silent letters are left in to preserve the Latin root and, more pragmatically, to distinguish homonyms. An example of that would be the silent “d”, which is used in words like poids, meaning weight. Even though the “d” is not pronounced, it holds a purpose when looking at the word pois, which means pea. “Pea” and “weight” have two completely different spellings and meanings, and that is where the importance of silent letters comes in. Furthermore, like many other languages such as Spanish and Portuguese, French belongs to the Romance language family, a collection of Latin languages that evolved from the tongue of the Romans, and silent letters are a vestige of the Latin origin of French. There are numerous silent letters in French depending on where they are placed in the word.
The French language links words together with pronunciation. As an example, we will use the phrase Nous allons au parc, meaning we are going to the park. Once again, the “s” in the word nous uses the concept of silent letters, and thus is not pronounced. However, there is a catch. When linked to another word that starts with a vowel, the “s” needs to be pronounced as the letter “z”. Indeed, as a rule, liaisons are obligatory between pronouns and verbs. Trying to understand why involves a lot of factors, so let us stick to the fact that these liaisons make a phrase sound more fluid and homogenous.
Have you ever heard from a French learner who visited France, that once a French speaker found out they were a non-native French speaker, they would refuse to speak French any longer? The French speaker knows that no matter how many times they try to correct the learner's pronunciation, it will likely be to no avail. Such pronunciation difficulty by non-native French speakers is due to the fact that French is a very subtle and nasal language, when compared to English. Many letters such as the French consonants “l” and “r” are not emphasized in the French language. For example, in English, the letter “l” is very much emphasized, which people usually carry over when speaking French. Another important one is “r”. Indeed, pronouncing the “r” in French is single-handedly the toughest for native English speakers because that sound does not exist in English. Thus, they end up overpronouncing it, making it sound wrong. The main tip I would give to remedy this is to keep in mind that French is a light language, and letters need not to be too emphasized in words.
Feminine and Masculine
It could be argued that the very fact of attributing genders to objects is the main thing that distinguishes French from English. It could also be argued that it is an added difficulty that does not serve much purpose, e.g. a table or an apple does needs to have a gender attributed to it. Indeed, there is absolutely no logic behind why some objects are feminine and why others are masculine, but it is a very big part of the French language and going as far as just mistakenly attributing a feminine indefinite or definite article to an object will immediately signal that you are a non-native French speaker. There is no rule behind it, and it just needs to be learned and engrained in the brains of those who are learning French.
French Pronunciation is Convoluted
Inevitably, this point was going to be brought up. It is with no doubt that the French language involves many rules to follow and is by nature complicated. From the silent letters to the extremely numerous objects having to be distinguished as either masculine or feminine, or even how meticulous French pronunciation is, it is important to know that French is indeed a complicated language. There is no harm in acknowledging it and should in no way discourage anyone trying to learn French. However, trying to understand or learn French will present many obstacles due to its Latin origin and complicated history, which is why it is an important factor to consider.
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