The age-old problem.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (well, France actually) there lived a girl (me) who really struggled to learn French and people commented…frequently…on her specific style of pronunciation – sometimes in the positive (aww, si mignone!) and sometimes in the corrective. It worried me.
Now, I work with French speaking folks living in Australia and I see that you have similar worries.
What are we worried about when people hear our accent? Are we worried we won’t be understood? Do we blame others for not listening hard enough? Or, are we worried we won’t be taken seriously, and that the conversation will quickly descend into a discussion about high school French from 20 years ago – “la plume est sur la table” (my dad’s favourite and only phrase)?
Regardless of your concerns around pronunciation, it clearly is an interruption in your ability to communicate as clearly as you’d like. It stops you from genuinely connecting with your audience.
Pronunciation confidence leads to greater unity, and that is what I’m aiming for – so here are three tips to get you started
ONE: Intonation – The French language is typically quite flat in its intonation and it might be helpful to know that when I speak French, as a native English speaker, I start to feel like I’m pumping out words and syllables with the rhythm of a machine gun. I’ve been assured by some of my most critical French native speaking friends that it sounds just fine. From the reverse perspective, it’s very strange for many French native-speakers to put that English intonation into the sentences, and when I hear my students get it right, there’s something in me that clicks and makes me feel instinctively closer to them. It’s suddenly like we understand each other at a very root level.
The tip: Mimic a short passage in a Ted Talk or your favourite British series (I’ve been told it’s more effective to mimic British accents rather than Australian accents – go figure!).
TWO: Syllable stress – This is closely followed by the syllable stress. Most French speakers give almost equal weighting to all syllables; however, to the English ear, the difference is experienced as placing the stress in exactly the wrong position, and this can be quite distracting and hence your message gets lost.
The tip: Listen, listen, listen – Note down (in a page on your phone) three longer words per day and identify which syllable is stressed, e.g. in-to-NA-
THREE: Connected speech – In French, we have ‘la liaison’, and, to many people’s surprise, it occurs in English too. This can get quite complex, but generally speaking, French native-speakers can benefit greatly from closing the gap between their words.
The tip: When a word starts with a vowel and the previous word ends with a consonant, drag the consonant across e.g. “As idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean” becomes – a zide la zah painted shi pupo na painte docean.
If you’d like to practice these skills and get feedback on your pronunciation in fun and friendly sessions, come and join us at English Pronunciation for French Speakers from 20 March at 10am in Sydney. We’ve just added an extra class after hours from 6:30pm. Book online at e4french.com.au/courses