French is spoken in France, but also in many different countries and continents. Of course, there are various French accents, with big differences, even across France itself.
1 – Who Speaks French?
French is widely spoken internationally: 29 countries list French as one of their official languages!
So French is the language spoken in France of course, but French is also one the official languages of Belgium, Switzerland, Québec, Ontario, New-Brunswick, Louisiana, Maine, Vermont…and many African countries : Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Zaïre, Burundi, Rwanda, Cameroon, Gabon, Niger, Burkina Fasso, Tchad, etc…
There are many countries that also used to be under French influence, or welcomed lots of French speaking migrants, and where a lot of people still speak French like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Russia, Qatar, Israël…
More info about the way French is spoken internationally on wikipedia.
Of course, all these people speak French. Real French. No French version is “better” nor “purer” than the other. It’s all French.
But the French they speak may vary a bit, the same way English spoken England will vary from English spoken in Australia, or in the US.
I love this video of different English accents, it perfectly illustrates my point… only in English :-)
2 – What is the Standard French Accent?
The French accent varies inside France itself, between the different regions, periods of time, social class and also personal habits!
Each person’s accent and voice is unique: age, formal education, social class will change the way one speaks. Travels and years spend abroad may also influence the accent of a person, or their parent’s origins.
The context may be a changing factor: someone will enunciate more in a formal environment, and use more slang and “slur” among friends…
Some people hide their regional accent too. But revert to it among family.
I hope now you understand why there is such a wide variety of accents in France. If you think about it, there must be many different regional accents in the country you are from, no? And a French person speaking your language may still show a French accent, right? So it’s the same in France.
On French Today’s French blog articles with audio and in my audiobooks to learn French, you will find my own rendition of the French accent: an upper-middle class, middle-age, Parisian female accent.
My accent is pretty standard, close to what has been chosen to represent “International French”.
3 – What is International French?
International French represents how educated francophone should speak…. I know, it’s not very PC! You’ll find more info about standard French on wikipedia.
Although the language structure is the same, vocabulary and mostly French pronunciation vary tremendously worldwide.
So before choosing a French tutor, or learning from a French learning method, you should inquire to see where the main speaker is from. If you are Caucasian American for example, it may sound strange if you end up learning French from someone with a strong Senegalese accent. If you want to move to Montreal, you may want to learn French from someone in Québec rather than someone with a strong Southern French accent…
4 – Regional French Accents
Within France, we speak different languages: Basque and Breton might be the most intricate and are still very much spoken nowadays in these regions.
But in the old days, each region had its own dialect: occitan, gallo, gascon, provençal, corsican, aslacian …
All these dialects, sometimes called “patois” in French, have influenced the regional French accent and sometimes even the vocabulary used to this day in these regions.
In some regions, older folks still speak these French dialects… See this picture? It shows the different traditional costumes of France… a good way to show you visually there are many difference among French regions.
5 – Listen to Many Regional French Accents – Audio
If you want to know more about this, there is an amazing site: they’ve recorded a classic poem from Aesop in the various French dialects: just click on the cities on the map to hear the poem in each different dialect. It’s simply amazing. Here is the link
Paris would feature “international” French. And yes, the difference is such that I wouldn’t be able to understand the poem in most of these dialects.
Below is the poem’s text in “international” French, as read if you click on “Paris”. It’s the French I use in my French Audiobooks, and it’s likely to be the French you are learning as an international student.
La Bise et Le Soleil (Ésope) – French Text
La bise et le soleil se disputaient, chacun assurant qu’il était le plus fort, quand ils ont vu un voyageur qui s’avançait, enveloppé dans son manteau.
Ils sont tombés d’accord que celui qui arriverait le premier à faire ôter son manteau au voyageur serait regardé comme le plus fort.
Alors, la bise s’est mise à souffler de toute sa force mais plus elle soufflait, plus le voyageur serrait son manteau autour de lui et à la fin, la bise a renoncé à le lui faire ôter.
Alors le soleil a commencé à briller et au bout d’un moment, le voyageur, réchauffé a ôté son manteau.
Ainsi, la bise a du reconnaître que le soleil était le plus fort des deux.
La Bise et Le Soleil – English translation
The wind and the sun were arguing, each asserting that he was the strongest when they saw a traveler walking towards them, wrapped in his cloak.
They agreed that whoever would be the first to manage to have the traveler remove his coat would be considered as the strongest.
Then, the wind began to blow with all its strength but the more it blew, the more the traveler clutched his coat around him and in the end, the wind gave up.
Then the sun started to shine and after a while, the traveler, now warm, took off his coat.
Thus, the wind must admit that the sun was the stronger of the two.
4 – Various French Accents of the World – Videos
I thought it would be interesting for you to hear the various French accents you’ll find across the world.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the personal connections to record many different accents – and I’m terrible at mimicking accents myself!
So I searched the web far and wide, and this is the best I could find. Enjoy!
(You may have to wait a bit for the ad to go by first… Or press a button to skip the ad). Turn the CC for subtitles… but they are auto-generated so there are a lot of mistakes!!
Different African French Accents
This is a comedian who mimics the different French accents you’d find through Africa. I was told she did a good job.
6 – Tips To Improve Your French Accent
Because there are so many different French accents, it’s important students of French listen to different sources, so different French speakers, so you can become familiar with the various French accents.
Then, find a couple of voices you like, and would like to sound like, and train with these to refine your own accent.
Do pay attention to the region: what are your reasons to learn French ? Where are you going to use your French most ? Do you want to sound like a Parisian, or someone from Québec or Provence ?
Don’t forget that it is OK if you don’t sound exactly like a French person. You are a foreigner after all, and it’s OK if you keep a bit of your own accent. French people are quick to correct foreign speakers, and I think it’s too bad since actually, a foreign accent is often considered sexy in French!
I wrote a whole article with 9 precise steps to improve your French accent, I suggest you check it out for more tips.