France – home to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and decadent cuisine – is one of the most visited places in the world. From a language perspective (always top of our mind given the field we’re in), French is one of the loveliest, most fascinating ones out there. There is a reason it’s earned the moniker “the language of love,” after all.
However, it is on the complex side to master as it’s not a phonetic language and there are a lot of silent letters in French words. If you’ve decided to learn French, congratulations as it can be a challenging task (when I was in high school, it was the least chosen foreign language class as I think my classmates and I instinctively knew it was on the more difficult end of the scale when it came to those offered). But the effort is well worth the reward. There is a distinct cachet (see what we did there?) to knowing and speaking French well, oui?
So whether you find yourself in France as an expat, a permanent resident, or a visitor, the following primer will help you speak more effectively, while being privy to common language snafus that can come up when you’re hobnobbing with the French.
General Rule: Focus on native pronunciation sounds.
There are 23 consonant sounds and 16 vowel sounds in French. Using these, you can form all words in French. Only three new consonants and 10 new vowels make up the difference between English and French. Focus on learning those different ones and the French language learning process won’t seem so daunting.
General Rule: Pay Attention to “R’s”
It’s common for students to mispronounce the French “R” as there isn’t an equivalent sound in English or even Spanish. The “R” appears often in French words so you’ll want to practice this particular pronunciation. It’s a guttural, almost raspy sound that comes from close to the throat, in a similar location as to where you say a “G.” The French “R” pronunciation has been compared to the ch sound in “Loch Ness.” As you can see, it sounds nothing like the English “R” so it may be helpful to not even associate it with the letter “R” as you know it from the English language.
General Rule: Don’t Pronounce ‘H’s
As a matter of course, avoid actually saying the “H” in words that have an “H.” The letter is almost always silent. For example, with the last name “L’Heureux, you would pronounce it leh-RUHR (with no emphasis on the “H” at all). In the word “Homme” (“man” in English) the “H” is silent, and the silent ‘me’ is there so that the sound is ‘om’ and not a nasalized vowel (oh~).
General Rule: Go Silent
French words often end with letters that are silent. It can be confusing to know which ones but try this acronym to help: CaReFuL. If a French word ends with C, R, F, or L, the final letter is usually pronounced. Otherwise, the final letter is silent. There are exceptions but this will get you started in understanding.
As always, the best way to learn nuances of language is to practice by jumping right in, either through lessons or regular opportunities to practice conversing. Fluency Corp can help your employees and their families assimilate to their country, city and neighborhood through private English lessons (or French!) in home, in office or online. We transform communication with employees and their families so the success of international relocations are greatly increased. For a free consultation, contact us at [email protected] or (800) 401-3159.