Man covering mouth

Tongue-tied: English speakers’ poor pronunciation of French

Little can compensate native English speakers for the fact that French can be so hard to pronounce – except perhaps the knowledge that our accents make us sound sexy. We may feel that we are mangling the language – and often, we are – but the result is usually well received.

Think of it as payback for French people sounding sexy when they speak English. It turns out the same is true in reverse.

Ironically, one of the mistakes that both sets of speakers make is to elongate vowel sounds. Eeet ees a beet like thees leestening to French people speak Engleesh. We sound similar when we speak French, I am assured.

We make other errors in our pronunciation too – confusing the ou and u sounds or pronouncing silent consonants at the end of words. And the rhythm of the language is hard for us to get right too.

French seems much harder to master than some other languages. I had my first French class at the age of 10. Now, here I am some 30+ years later and I still don’t sound like a native. I have accepted that I never will.

“I had my first French class at the age of 10. Now, here I am some 30+ years later and I still don’t sound like a native”

That said, some of my British friends say they wish they spoke French with an accent like mine. I studied in Rennes and I’ve worked in Paris and Brussels, so it is understandable that I should have a better command of the language than some of my countrymen. But I still have some way to go.

In my experience, the thing that can have the most impact on how you speak is spending more time with native speakers.

If that means spending more time in France, so be it.

This entry was published on Sunday, 16 November 2014 at 08:06. It’s filed under Language and culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Tongue-tied: English speakers’ poor pronunciation of French

  1. I was surprised to learn that the French find the English accent sexy. Unfortunately by then I had already trained my accent to sound fairly close to native. 😉

  2. Hi, I did a CELTA qualification last year (for teaching English as a second language) and one of the things I found really interesting was the difference between stress-timed languages such as English and syllable-timed languages such as French (There is a brief explanation here http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/syllable-timed-languages). Your funny sentence “Eeet ees a beet like thees leestening to French people speak Engleesh.” is a good example of how French people tend to give each syllable in English equal weight, whereas native speakers don’t.

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