157: Native French speakers special!

The top 10 errors made by native French speakers.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 157th episode.

We've had a lot of people asking us to do a special podcast for French speakers lately, so here it is. The transcript page for this lesson is especially important because I'll add links there for all the lessons on Pronuncian that can help you with these issues. You can find all of our episodes' transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. For this episode, just click "episode 157." Also, lessons with exercises, quizzes and audio for everything that I talk about here regarding vowels and consonants is in our book, "Pronunciation Pages 2." You can find information about both the physical and ebook format by visiting our products page at Pronuncian.com. If you want all of your practice to be online, exercises, quizzes and videos for everything I'll talk about in this episode is available to our Pronuncian.com subscribers.

English really is a quite difficult language for native French speakers to pronounce. When speaking a language that is not your first language, a concept called "interference" occurs. Interference is when characteristics of your first language are used when producing a non-native language even if those first-language characteristics don't exist in the the non-native language. French speakers tend to have a lot of interference when they are speaking English, so it can take a lot of practice to acquire new language characteristics.

Here are the top ten most troublesome pronunciation issues for native French speakers when speaking English.

#1: One of the most troublesome aspects of French pronunciation interfering with English pronunciation is in rhythm. English rhythm is based on syllable stress. Although English does have a lot of patterns to help learners understand syllable stress, it still is much more irregular than the patterns of French. French speakers need to pay special attention to the suffix-derived stress patterns of English. This includes the pattern that words that include the -tion, -sion, or -ic suffix are stressed one syllable before the suffix. Once you understand that, don't forget that many -tion, -sion, and -ic suffix words can also have -al and -ally added to them and the stressed syllable does not move. So classic can become classical or classically. The stress always falls one syllable before the -ic. The -ate and -ity suffix-derived stress patterns are usually a little more difficult to grasp because these words are stressed three syllable from the end. All of these patterns are very worthwhile for native French speakers to understand.

#2: While the first part of understanding English rhythm is getting syllable stress correct, the second part of rhythm is learning to reduce unstressed syllables. Sorry French speakers, but this is also something that you tend to have a lot of trouble with. This means that you need to pay extra-special attention to schwa as well as the syllabic consonants. Syllabic consonants include the syllabic n, syllabic l, and schwa+r. There is no vowel sound in a syllable that has a syllabic consonant.

Again, I'll link to all the lessons on Pronuncian.com to help you learn more about syllabic consonants, schwa, and the -tion/-sion, -ic, -ity, and the -ate suffix-derived stress patterns from this episode's transcript page.

Enough about rhythm, let's talk about vowels sounds.

#3: Native French speakers substitute the short i sound with the long e sound. The short i sounds like (short i) and and the long e sounds like (long e). This is the difference between the words still and steel and lick and leak.

#4: The short a is usually troublesome for native French speakers, especially if you've had a lot of British influence during your English language learning. The short a sounds like (short a), and is in the words cat, fast, and class.

#5: Native French speakers also have trouble differentiating between the other u ( (other u) as in put) and oo sound ( (oo sound) as in soon). Some minimal pairs that can help with this issue are:

pull, pool
hood, who'd (Who'd is the contraction of who had or who would.)
look, Luke (Luke is the name L-u-k-e.)

#6: Finally, the aw sound (aw sound) can also cause problems for native French speakers. Be careful with words like the following:


It is also good if you can differentiate between the aw sound (aw sound) and the short o sound (short o). Notice the difference between the words caught/cot and stalk/stock.

Now, switching to consonants.

#7: Native French speakers have trouble with both the voiced and unvoiced th sounds. Most other languages that have problems with these sounds substitute the d sound for the voiced th (so then is pronounced den) and the t sound for the unvoiced th (so think is pronounced tink). French speakers, however, often use a z sound in place of the voiced th and an s sound in place of the unvoiced th. This means that then is pronounced zen and think is pronounced sink. This less common substitution makes the French accent distinctive among the non-native accents of English. Also, since it is not a common substitution, it can fatigue your listeners a bit more since they need to use more effort to translate the sound into the appropriate word.

#8: Native French speakers tend to drop the h sound off of words, replacing it with a glottal stop. For instance, the sentence, "I had some," will become "I 'ad some." Learning to produce just enough h sound take a lot of practice, but it is do-able and can soften your accent quite a lot.

#9: English has two sounds that are affricates: the ch sound and the j sound. To properly create an affricate, the tongue must be used to completely stop the air for a tiny amount of time. The air is then released with friction. The release of the ch sound is like an sh sound, and the release of a j sound is like a zh sound. French speakers tend to create just the released sound and not the entire affricate. This means that the word chip is pronounced as ship.

#10: French speakers also need to be careful with making clear, accurate r sounds in English. Again, if your English background has been British English, you may have been taught to not include the r sound after vowel sounds. In American English, the r sound is pronounced. So not only do French speakers learning American English pronunciation need to remember to include the r sound, they also need to learn to pronounce it using the English r sound (r sound). We have included r-controlled vowel lessons and lists with our Pronuncian material to help those of you who have learned British English and now want to be able to also use a more American accent.

I know that sounds like a lot of issues, but with practice you can make dramatic improvements in how much your listeners understand without needing to ask you to repeat yourself. A French accent is one of those accents that native English speakers often like to hear, so keeping some accent does a favor to those of us who find listening to it to be very beautiful. You can play with your speech and learn what level of English pronunciation perfection provides the balance between still sounding like a native French speaker, and being easier to comprehend when you're speaking English.

As I said before, I'll link to all the Pronuncian.com lessons that can help you with these issues from this episode's transcript page. Just go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast; Pronuncian is spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening, and good luck!