Improve your French pronunciation

When a student says he wants ” to improve his  pronunciation “,  his goal is generally to
improve the quality of his Oral expression (Speaking). To achieve this, several skills are required  such as :

              • Distinguish French sounds (27% of Tefaq)
              • Place mouth the right way to produce the right sounds
              • Master ” les liaisons “, ” les accents “, “e et h muets”,  …
              • Use Rhythmic Groups
              • Use Intonation

And in the end, his ultimate goal is to have a good communication.  So, this is more than just improving “pronunciation” but all these skills help to improve Speaking and Listening, and to have a better communication.

Here is an explanation of the advantages of each skill .

1. Distinguish French sounds (27% of Tefaq)

How is it possible to produce the right sound if you cannot identify it ?
This skill allows you to control the sounds you produce and helps you to listen.
Training your ear helps you control your pronunciation and better understand what you hear.

It’s a WINNER at TEFAQ because :

The TEFAQ oral comprehension test has 10 of 60 questions to test your ability to distinguish sounds (Section C, Phonetics. Examples : Entendu/Attendu, Boule/Poule, Vu/Bu, De/Deux/Du, …). It makes 27% of the correct answers needed to pass the Tefaq. A good ear training guarantees success for 9 of 10 questions.

Real life, at your level or a little higher is a good practice (real conversations, movies, television, songs, audios with transcriptions, …). In case of difficulty, take the time to analyze, seek advice from a francophone or a teacher.

Another solution is to work alone at home. You can educate your ear online by practicing many discrimination exercises on close sounds. It will take a few hours, but it is worth it because it helps to detect the difficulties you are experiencing and to enhance your ability to distinguish sounds.

There is a tool I like, well structured and very practical, but with an old interface.
(It requires a browser with a Flash-player on a laptop and to spend 10 minutes to understand how it works. After that, everything is fine and go smoothly).

 (use a browser with a Flash player plugin. Link to plugin is in the page; HELP here)

So when you have a difficulty in pronunciation, ask yourself :  is it because I don’t place my mouth correctly or is it because I cannot identify, control correctly the sound I want to produce ?

My advice : Spend some time to understand how to use this website, go through some exercises on all  type of sounds, identify your difficulties and work on them.
To be able to distinguish French sounds very well saves energy, helps go faster, and it is needed to improve listening and to be able to control the quality of the sounds you produce. Spend a few hours training your ear, it’s worth it.

2. Place mouth well to produce the right sounds

The mouth is a musical instrument and the shape of this instrument is modified to produce the desired sound : position of the lips and the tongue, opening of the mouth, passage of the air (nasal), … If you don’t place correctly your mouth, your pronunciation will be not clear (or may be almost clear a low voice, but probably very different when speaking aloud), subject to misinterpretation. So to get confidence, learn how to place your mouth correctly and practice to get automatism (see Tongue-twisters at the bottom of the page).

Watching videos can help a lot to correct difficulties. Ask a French native speaker for help is a also a good solution. You can also work in front of a mirror (or film yourself with a phone) to watch the position of your mouth and to improve them.

3. Master " les liaisons ", " les accents ", "e et h muets",  ...

Since there is a big difference between the decoding of a written message and an oral one, to go faster, learn first “les liaisons”, “les accents”, “e et h muets”,  …  . I suggest 2 things for students who need to master this point :

Read with a French native speaker to have a feedback
or
Read alone (while recording), and I suggest this method :

      • Use audios with transcripts
      • Analyze the text, imagine “les liaisons” and underline
      • Read the text while recording yourself
      • Listen to the audio
      • Compare it with your recording and identify your difficulties
      • Read again aloud while listening to the audio

4. Use Rhythmic groups

A rhythmic group is a group of words of a sentence uttered in a single breath, there is no pause between words. A sentence can be split into several parts (each part has a meaning)and that it is possible to focus on the pronunciation of each part  . You probably already practice it intuitively but it’s interesting to understand the game.

A short explanation would be :

      • A phrase can be divided in  rhytmic groups (minimum is : 1)
      • Each part is pronounced with a specific intonation without interruption
      • There is a transition between rhythmic groups
      • Each groups is associated to a meaning
      • When speaking fast,  groups can be merged

When speaking slowly the phrase of this video can be divided in 6 rhythmic groups (Look at the graphs in video)  :
“La chambre ~~ des députés ~~ a adopté ~~ un projet de loi ~~ lors d’une séance plénière ~~ vendredi dernier.”
When speaking faster, at normal speed, 2 rythmic groups will merged (4 rhythmic groups to pronounce) :
“La chambre des députés ~~ a adopté un projet de loi ~~ lors d’une séance plénière ~~ vendredi dernier.”

Read transcripts of audios and I suggest this method :

      • Read and imagine rhythmic groups (write down some notes)
      • Read aloud the text while recording yourself
      • Listen the audio and compare to your audio record
      • Mimic the audio while reading with intonation
      • Try to “feel” it
      • Practice several times same text until you get comfortable enough.

Think of the gestures that accompany a speech, observe and decide

In languages ​​with a tonic accent (like French), the movement of the body is part of the language.
With tonal language like Chinese it is not the case
See a short explanation below (and Nota)

Watch for example the video without trying to understand the lyrics, observe the intonation and then look at it again without the sound.
“Do you still see” the intonations ?

Gestures can help give strength to your message, to give it a rhythm and to have better communication.
Think about it and go step by step, and find your style.

Nota : Be aware of cultural differences because, for example, for tonal languages, changing the tone changes the meaning of a syllable (Example : the syllable “ma” in Chinese has 4 different meanings related to four different tones) . This is not the case in tonic accent languages ​​such as French. This difference can explain why one will have a cultural adaptation (for the tonic accent or tonal accent) during the passage from Mandarin to French or from French to Mandarin. In addition, another cultural difference: gestures are a part of the communication in languages ​​with a tonal accent (like French).

Have a look at this video without the sound. Does it make sense to use gestures for communication ?
A simple example that you can try: Say “Premierement, …”, “Deuxiemement, …”, “Troisiemement, …”, … counting on your fingers.
Can you do it naturally without intonation ? It could be a good start if you are a beginner.
A Tip : Feel it, look at people, find your style and copy what you like, what you can do at your level and go step by step to connect intonation and gestures. It’s really working !

Mimic people for good intonation !

Start with situations of everyday life. The purpose is to have good pronunciation and discover how intonation can enrich your message. If you like to practice intonation, you will begin to live the language and your relationship with your learning will become completely different. It’s worth a try !

There is also a very good website that I encourage you to visit.

Pratice tongue-twisters, it's a winner :

Tongue twisters are exercises :

              • To place youth mouth correctly
              • To keep it naturally

If you practice tongues-twisters, you get automatism kept in time (little fatigue and quality of the pronunciation preserved). Kids, adults, actors, VIP, … practice tongue-twisters in any country, any language to get a clear pronunciation.

Here are some examples of tongue twisters (click on pictures) :

How to practice: Speak aloud and begin by slowly pronouncing a tongue twister and exaggerate the movements of your mouth (over-articulate). Then you go at a normal speed and you always exaggerate the pronunciation. Afterwards, you go faster and you always exaggerate the pronunciation. Working 10 minutes a day, after a few days (after a few weeks for some difficult tongue twisters), the result is excellent: a good pronunciation with almost natural movements.
You can also train with friends and make a game: who speaks the fastest while keeping a good pronunciation? Guaranteed laughter!
A tip: for the first time, register with your phone, as a reference, to see your progress after a few days.

A tongue twister can be difficult at first. Here is some actions you can do :

    • Work in front of a mirror and watch the movements of your mouth when you speak well and when you say badly. Do not forget to move your jaw, to exaggerate movements.
    • Watch mouth movements on online videos
    • Check how you place your tongue, your lips, your jaw, …
    • Forget your apprehension (to feel like “stupid” or “funny”) because it’s a real winner. Don’t hesitate to open your jaws and to exaggerate movements
    • There is not enough exaggeration if you don’t feel that your muscles are working
    • Ask the help of a francophone or a teacher to correct you

Do practice tongue twisters and you will be surprised at your progress : A natural and good pronunciation when you speak aloud and fast.

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