This article features audio recordings. Click the blue text next to the headphone to hear me say that word or sentence in French.
Note that when applicable, I used a modern spoken French pronunciation.
“Écureuil” (squirrel), “Serrurerie” (locksmiths), “chocolat“… These French words are typical examples of French words that are difficult to pronounce for an English speaker.
Why? I would venture to say there are three major reasons:
Difficult French Word Pronunciation Problem Number 1
The French word is just difficult to pronounce
Some French sounds are typically difficult to pronounce for an English speaker.
The French “u” sound, the French “r”, the difference between “é” and “è”…
So, saying something as common as “une rue” (a street) can be quite a challenge.
Words such as “une serrurerie” (locksmiths), “l’aurore” (dawn), “la fourrure” (fur), “une huitre” (oyster), “un truc” (a thingy) or the name “Hélène” all fall under this category.
Difficult French Word Pronunciation Problem Number 2
The French word is difficult to read
With so many silent letters and no strong tonic accent, what often puzzles English speakers is how to sound out a French word. In other words, they have a hard time linking the written letters to their correct pronunciation.
This is the case of the words “en haut” (upstairs), “un pneu” (tire), “une feuille” (leaf), “l’eau” (water) or the city of “Rouen“.
They are all very easy to pronounce once you don’t let all the letters fool you!
Mix these two reasons and you’ll get the nemesis of English speakers: “une grenouille” (frog) and “un écureuil” (squirrel)
Difficult French Word Pronunciation Problem Number 3
The French word resembles an English word
Many English speakers have a hard time with “chocolat” which they pronounce “tchocolayt” when in French it’s “shocola“. It’s not difficult to say “shocola” for an English speaker. So it’s not the sounds themselves that are difficult. It’s just that their brain automatically links the letters in “chocolat” to the English pronunciation.
French and English share a lot of words, but their pronunciation sometimes differs a lot from English to French. English speakers should be prepared to make an extra effort to pronounce these words the correct way in French.
So, how can an English speaker get these words right? Here are my solutions to be able to pronounce difficult French words.
Difficult French Word Pronunciation Solution Number 1
Learn the rules of French pronunciation.
Most students just “wing” their French pronunciation. They try to mimic the French, and mostly guess how to read French.
However, there are very clear French pronunciation rules which will be a tremendous help to read / pronounce French.
Like an “s” between two vowels becomes a “z” sound. To keep a “s” sound, you double the “s”: poison (Z – poison) versus “poisson” (S – fish).
Difficult French Word Pronunciation Solution Number 2
Learn how to place your mouth, tongue, lips for the difficult French sounds.
Many English speakers have a hard time with the French “R” sound. They just try to mimic what they hear, but it’s not always enough.
But the secret often is knowing exactly how to place your mouth, tongue and lips!
The secret to a perfect French R is your tongue position.
There’s a 2 step process before you make that sound: follow exactly these instructions (take your time…)
- Step one: press your tongue all the way against the roof of your mouth.
- Step two: lower only the tip of your tongue and press it hard against your bottom front teeth.
Your tongue will form like a curvy slide.
Now open your mouth and create a vibration in your throat: it may take some practice, but that’s how you’ll produce a French R.
This is exactly the kind of things I explain in my French pronunciation audiobook, with plenty of examples and pronunciation drill exercises. Check it out!
In-depth audiobook covering the foundations as well as the difficulties of today’s French pronunciation
Or you can roll an R like in Spanish, or gargle, then press your tongue firmly against your LOWER front teeth.
Your tongue will make kind of a slide: it will be high and rounded towards the throat area, and flat/a bit curled up on your front teeth.
Try it! Say “Paris“; make sure the tip of your tongue presses firmly against your lower front teeth. Let me know in the comment section how this is working for you!
Difficult French Word Pronunciation Solution Number 3
Learn French with audio first.
A lot of French words are actually easy to pronounce for English speakers. More often than not, it’s the way the word is written which fools the students of French into a wrong pronunciation.
For example, “l’eau” (water) is pronounced “lo“. It “looks” much harder than it sounds!
So, first, learn the correct French pronunciation with audio. Then learn the way French is spelled.
Now, for your convenience I’ve recorded all the words above so you can repeat them and train. Press on the audio player!
You enjoy this lesson and my voice? Check-out my audiobooks to learn French.