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Understand Spoken French Pronunciation & Modern French Language – w/audio

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis - updated on Jan 7, 2021
spoken French pronunciation

I’ll explain in details the differences between today’s modern spoken French pronunciation, vocabulary, sentence structure… vs traditional French and point you to a medium way of speaking which should greatly improve both your understanding and pronunciation of the contemporary spoken French language.

This article comes with audio. I’ve recorded the French examples for you: please press on the audio player to hear the recordings.

1 – Spoken French Vs Classic French

Many students learn French pronunciation in school: although this has been changing lately, French language classes traditionally have a strong focus on grammar, written French and literature, with a few chances to speak French in conversations.

French is an evolving language, and even more so than in English, there is nowadays a huge difference between:

  1. written French,
  2. traditional French like it’s taught in textbooks, most French learning methods or spoken by most politicians or intellectuals, TV newscasters etc…
  3. the French everybody (I insist, everybody: me, my mom, my daughter…) speaks when we are in a relaxed environment.

The way we speak French in France today affects the French Pronunciation, the French language vocabulary and even the French grammar and the sentence structure.

In this article, I will give you many example of modern spoken French sentences, and will point out the modern French pronunciation.

But first, let’s see why modern spoken French is not traditionally taught in schools (although this is starting to change).

how to learn french quote

2 – Why is “Real” Spoken French Pronunciation not Taught in Classrooms?

Modern Spoken French pronunciation is usually not taught in classrooms simply because it is considered “poor” French.

Lots of scholars look down on the evolution of a language, and deeply believe that any evolution is actually a retrogression, and weakens the language.

Even if they wanted to teach modern spoken French, French teachers would face a big problem since they have to cover a strict curriculum in a limited amount of time. Once the poor French teachers are done explaining the French verb conjugations, there is hardly any time left anyway!

Most teachers actually complain that their (often imposed) French curriculum concentrates too much on written French. Actually, if the French teachers could focus more on French pronunciation, students would realise speaking French is not as complicated as they think it is – speaking French is definitely easier than writing French!

I won’t enter the debate of whether spoken French should be told in schools. All I know is that modern French is a reality, and if you want to understand real French people or aim at sounding French yourself, you need to study spoken French and prepare your ear for the modern French pronunciation.

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3 – Today’s Spoken French Language Pronunciation

The modern French language pronunciation is quite far from traditional French.

Just like in English you’d write: “I am going to give”, but would say: “I’m goin’ to give” or even say: “I’m gonna give”, French people will glide over some words in a lighter or a stronger way.

Modern French pronunciation is not set in stone. However, everybody uses some kind of gliding, at some level .

I may say: “jeun say pas” (gliding over the “ne” of “je ne sais pas” = I don’t know) in one instance, and then say “shaypa” (doing a stronger gliding) five minutes after. Why? “Shaypa”!!

Please press on the link next to the headphones to hear my recording of this sentence.

Je ne sais pas = [jeun saypa] = [shaypa]

Spoken French pronunciation depends a lot on the context, the person you are talking to, your and their age, regional accents, whether you are trying to sound smart or cooooool…

Age is also a big condition: young people tend to apply more glidings and use more slang when they speak than adults.

Modern spoken French is not considered “pretty”. Especially by people who love French, linguists, teachers, people from higher social classes… But it is the reality of French today.

I suggest to my French students that they learn “the middle” way; some glidings, but not total street French. “I’m goin’ to”, not “I gonna”.

However, it’s important that you understand both modern French and traditional French pronunciation, therefore also train with “full glidings” to understand the French when they speak in the street, or in movies.

This is why all of French Today’s audiobooks are recorded at several speeds and levels of enunciation. Nobody else does this.

  1. You will find recordings of French people speaking among themselves. Full blast. It’s way too complicated for a beginner or intermediate students.
  2. Most French audio methods will feature traditional French pronunciation, with actors enunciating very clearly every single word in the sentence. This is not the reality of French today. Nobody speaks like that anymore!

French Today’s audiobook method is the only French learning method to teach both traditional and modern spoken French pronunciation, and still provide level-adapted grammar structure to gradually prepare to successfully interact with French people.

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4 – Modern Spoken French Pronunciation Examples

Now, let’s see what some common spoken French glidings are.

This is not an easy lesson to write, because French pronunciation evolves all the time, and there are no rules per say. But I’ll give you some examples.

A -Subject Pronouns – Modern Spoken French Pronunciation

Please press on the audio player to hear my audio recordings.

  1. Je becomes kind of a “sh” sound.
    Je suis = shui
    Je parle = shparl
  2. Tu becomes t in front of a vowel
    Tu es d’accord ? té dacor
    Tu imagines = timajin
  3. Il, elle (singular), ils and elles (plural) become i and è + a consonant (not a vowel)
    This is quite an extreme gliding and I don’t encourage you to do it, but you need to understand it.
    Elle regarde = èrgard
    Ils parlent = iparl

B – The Ne Disappears in Modern French Pronunciation

The “ne” of the negative glides with je, tu, nous and vous.

  1. Je ne parle pas = jeun parlpa
  2. Tu ne parles pas = tun parlpa
  3. Nous ne parlons pas = noon parlonpa
  4. Vous ne parlez pas = voon parlépa

This is a medium gliding. Actually in French nowadays, it would be extremely rare to pronounce the ne without gliding it a bit.

So, I strongly encourage you to apply this medium gliding.

Now, in reality, most of the time in spoken French, the “ne” and even the “n’” totally disappear.

This is very, very common in spoken French now. If I add this to what I explained above about modern spoken French, let’s see how the verb “parler” in the present indicative negative would be pronounced in a very glided spoken French.

Please press on the audio player to hear:

  1. the overly enunciated pronunciation like you probably learned it in school or with a traditional French learning method,
  2. then the medium glided pronunciation like I encourage you to speak,
  3. the common modern French pronunciation like you’ll hear it in France today.

My beginner level French method features a realistic story recorded 3 times to feature overly enunciated, normal and modern French pronunciation.

  1. Je ne parle pas = jeun parlpa – shparlpa
  2. Tu ne parles pas = tune parlpa – tuparlpa
  3. Il ne parle pas = een parlpa – iparlpa
  4. elle ne parle pas = ènn parlpa – èparlpa
  5. Nous ne parlons pas = noonparlonpa – nooparlonpa
  6. Vous ne parlez pas = voon parlépa – vooparlépa
  7. Ils ne parlent pas = een parlpa – iparlpa
  8. Elles ne parlent pas = ènn parlpa – èparlpa

C – “Se, ce, te, me, que, de, ne, me” – spoken French pronunciation

The pronunciation of the short French words ending in “e” differs a lot in spoken French and traditional French.

Se, ce, te, me, que, de, ne, me… They all glide in spoken French.

  1. Il te parle = itparl
    The “il” and the “te” both glide becoming “it”
  2. “Que” becomes a K sound that starts the following word.
    Je veux que tu lui parles = shveu ktu lui parl
  3. When followed by an S sound, the “que” and the following word combine to sound like an X sound
    Je n’ai pas que ça à faire = jé paxa-a fèr
  4. “Qu’est-ce que” is pronounced Kèss
    Qu’est-ce que tu fais = Kèss tu fay
  5. The “ce” part of “est-ce que” always glides.
    You will hear “S keu”, or “S kil”, “S Kèl” when followed by “il(s)” or “elle(s)”
    Est-ce qu’il fait beau = S kifèbo
  6. The “de” often glides or even disappears
    Pas de problème – pad problem
    Tout de suite – toot suit

5 – Common French Expressions Pronunciation

A – What’s the Pronunciation of”Il y a”?

“Il y a” is probably the common French word where the modern French pronunciation is the most blatant. And this often comes to a shock to poor students of French who were never prepared for that!

Please click on the audio player to hear my recording.

  • Il y a = ya
  • Il n’y a pas = yapa
  • Il y en a = yan na
  • Il n’y en a pas = yan napa
  • Il y aura = yora
  • Il y a eu = ya u

B – Object pronouns Spoken French pronunciation

The pronunciation of French object pronouns is very different in spoken French : le and la totally disappears, lui glides.

  1. Most of the glidings happen with “je”and “le”.
  2. The “il and ils” become “i” and “elle and elles” become “è”.
  3. “Tu, nous and vous” don’t glide too much (except with “le”).

I let you follow the link to an article about the modern glided pronunciation of the French object pronouns le, la, les, lui, leur (this article comes with audio).

C – Politeness expressions – modern French pronunciation

The modern pronunciation of French politeness expressions will probably surprise you.

  1. Je t’en prie – shtan pri (you’re welcome using tu)
  2. S’il te plaît – ste plé (please using tu)
  3. Il n’y a pas de quoi – yapad koi (it’s nothing using tu)
  4. Non – nan (a common way to say no in French)
  5. Oui – way (for ouais – a common way to say yes in French)

6 – Do YOU Need to Speak Modern French?

In my opinion, a student of French could lean towards a more enunciated, classical way of speaking French.

This being said, you absolutely need to understand modern French since it is the reality of how most people speak French today.

Sometimes, you’ll even see spoken French in writing. It’s the case for French comic books and texting in French (yet another kind of French language but highly based on spoken French pronunciation).

Let me give your an example:

picture from a French comic book

In the picture above, you’ll see good examples of French that would totally stumble French students.

The little girl says: “Ben Lanfeust, ça va pas ?”
The boy answers: “Nan!”

“Ben” is a common French sound, something you’ll hear a lot like “hum”, “well” in English. It doesn’t translate and usually isn’t featured in classical textbooks. French students don’t know what is means – or that actually it doesn’t mean anything!

“Ça va pas ?” No “ne”. No inversion or “est-ce que”.
Lanfeust is a “cultural reference”… It’s the name of the boy who is the hero of a huge series – actually several series – of French comic books.
“Nan” instead of “non” – a common way to say no in French.

This image comes from a popular French comic book “Gnômes de Troy” (link to Wikipedia).

Now that we’ve talked in length about the modern spoken French pronunciation, let’s see the French vocabulary used in spoken French.

7 – What Is French Slang?

French is alive: through times and fashion, it keeps evolving.

Of course, there is a strong base of French vocabulary which is unlikely to change much.

But then, there is also fashion: an adjective may be used by a generation, then forgotten by the other. Like “swell” in English which was popular in the fifties and is no longer used.

Let me be clear: modern French is not limited to slang. Slang is a small part of modern French, but for example I speak a current, modern French language and I use modern spoken French pronunciation, but I don’t use much slang!

On top of the traditional French slang, called “l’argot” French students now have to cope with a new type of spoken French vocabulary.

I invite you to first read the examples and then listen to them with my audio recordings (at the bottom, after #D)

A – Examples of modern French slang

“Le parler d’jeunes”: the brand new French slang – new expressions are added every year!
Spoken French: Comme je me suis mangé la gueule !
Man, I totally wiped out!
Formal French: Ah la la, je suis vraiment tombé fort!
Gosh, I fell hard!

B – What is verlan?

“Le verlan” is a common French practice consisting of inverting the order of syllables in a word.
Spoken French: Z’y va.
Go for it!
Formal French: vas-y.
Spoken French: Cimer.
Formal French: merci (click her for more ways to say thank you in French). 

C – What is franglish?

“Franglish” is a mix of French and English words used with a more or less correct accent and meaning in French.
Spoken French: On a brainstormé toute la journée au bureau.
We brainstormed all day at the office.
Formal French: On a bien réfléchi ensemble toute la journée au bureau.

D – French slang based on foreign words

Other foreign languages influence the French language, in particular Arabic.
Spoken French: Je la kiff.
I’m attracted to her.
Formal French: Je la trouve très attirante.

So there are definitely several layers to mastering French Vocabulary!

8 – Are You Learning The Right French Vocabulary?

It’s important that students get a feeling for the vocabulary words they are learning.

Lots of people like to listen to French songs and learn some new vocabulary this way. It’s fine, but be aware that if you are in your fifties, you may not want to sound like a twenty year-old rap singer…

On the other hand, I hear too many students who learn French with traditional French literature from the 19th century and use words or expressions that are absolutely outdated now.

So, it’s important that you learn not only French vocabulary, but also the context in which it is best used. To achieve this, there is nothing better than learning French within the context of a story.

And this is only for the vocabulary part…. Now let’s see how French grammar changes when we speak French.

9 – Spoken French – Questions & Grammar

Many grammatical constructions such as asking questions also change in modern spoken French.

  1. Comment vous appelez-vous ? Vous vous appelez comment ?
  2. Pourquoi allez-vous en France ? = vous allez en France pourquoi ?
  3. Qu’est-ce que tu fais ? = tu fais quoi ?

In modern street French, it’s very, very rare to use inversion. Instead, it’s the tone of your voice that shows we are asking a question: we just say the statement, then we raise our voice.

  • Il habite en France ? Does he live in France?

If we are using an interrogative expression (why, when, who, at what time etc…), the expression will be placed at the end of the street French question.

  1. Tu commences à quelle heure ? At what time do you start?
  2. Vous travaillez avec qui ? With whom do you work?

This is particularly confusing for students of French who often never studied this way to ask a question in French class, and are totally confused by the word order and therefore freeze when they need to answer in French.

French Today’s audiobook “Secrets of French Conversation” explains in depth all the different ways of asking questions in French, including street French, all with audio recordings and plenty of exercises.

Now let’s see how even the classical French word order gets affected when we speak French.

10 – Spoken French Word Order

Something else that changes in spoken French is the the typical word order: I can’t really explain it, but we either use pronouns to reinforce the subject, for example:

  • Your answer is great
    Spoken French: Elle est top ta réponse !
    Formal French: Ta réponse est très bonne

Or we feed the info in chunks, without many linking words, as to feed the brain the most important facts first. For example:

  • When does the cleaning lady come exactly on Monday?
    Formal French: Quand exactement la femme de ménage vient-elle ce lundi ?

    Spoken French: La femme de ménage, lundi, elle vient quand
    exactement ?

See how in spoken French, you got the key info very clearly:

  • “la femme de ménage”
  • “lundi”
  • “vient quand”.

I could also have said “la femme de ménage vient quand exactement lundi”, “elle vient quand exactement lundi, la femme de ménage ?” “elle vient quand exactement la femme de ménage lundi ?”… There are several possibilities!

It would be extremely hard to teach a French student to mimic these constructions, as there are no rules per se. It’s our French ear that would tell us if it’s possible or not. Yet, the word order is not totally random: I couldn’t move the “word blocks” in many different ways…

So, here again, I don’t suggest you speak this way necessarily. But you need to be able to understand it and therefore learn with a Frenchmethod which shows this to you.

11 – Test Your Spoken French Understanding

Because so many students are in denial (they think they understand French but they don’t actually understand modern spoken French) I actually designed a unique test especially to test your spoken French understanding.

My French test is entirely audio based: all the questions will be presented to you as a recording, and then after each question, you’ll have an answer which I’ve also recorded.

Take my free Spoken French test now!

Unique Audio-based Modern French Level Test

20 Questions to REALLY test your modern French comprehension. All audio-based with full explanations. Completely free, no signup required.

12 – Spoken French Language And French Mistakes

Unfortunately, some French grammar mistakes are also very common in spoken French.

Believe it or not, but the French Subjunctive is actually hard for French people as well. Nowadays, it’s quite common to hear Subjunctive mistakes. Same goes for past participle agreements.

Some grammatical constructions are also affected. For example, it’s common to hear “la copine à ma soeur” instead of “la copine de ma soeur” (my sister’s friend).

I’m sorry if I sound like a snob, but I think the info is important: there is a difference to be made between:

  1. the modern French way of asking questions, which everybody uses in spoken French when in a relaxed environment, considered by some linguists to be poor French,
  2. and French mistakes, which are… well, not just poor French, but simply real mistakes!

Voilà, I hope you now understand more the difference between modern spoken French – the French you’ll actually hear when you go to France and in modern French movies – and the overly enunciated “textbook” French that you’re likely to have studied with traditional French learning methods.

Both are part of the reality of French today.

I suggest you check out my French audiobook method to learn French the smart way today.

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