Sometimes one of the hardest aspects of learning French isn’t remembering the right words to use – it’s remembering how to pronounce those words correctly.

As we discussed last month, it’s understandable that non-native speakers have difficulties with pronunciation. The French language is full of silent endings, liaisons, and unfamiliar accents. Your lips, mouth and tongue have to move differently to pronounce these words as French natives do. And you have to learn to hear it when you’re not pronouncing a word properly.

Why French Vowels Seem So Hard

French vowels present a particularly difficult challenge for most foreigners, especially English speakers. Unlike in English, all French vowels are pure. This means that they only contain one sound as you pronounce them and that sound is short. Even though French vowels only contain one sound, however, one vowel might have different sounds in different words (e.g., example, de rien). What’s more, the vowel sound may become more nasal when followed by a consonant like M or N.

By contrast in English, many vowels sounds contain more than one vowel sound (e.g., “time”) or a long sound (e.g., face). To produce these sounds, English-speakers must move their tongue and mouth more than is usually necessary in French – a habit that causes problems when trying to replicate a French accent.

French Vowel Pronunciation Chart

This vowel pronunciation chart will help you learn the correct the French vowel sound and the mouth/tongue movement you need to produce it. Whenever you’re preparing for a French lesson or know you’re going to have a conversation in French, spend 5-10 minutes reviewing this chart – aloud, naturally – and we bet you’ll notice an improvement in your pronunciation.

[column col=”1/4″]Vowel

a à

 

e

 

e

 

e

 

é

 

è, ê

 

 

i, ï, î, y

 

 

o

 

 

o, ô, eau, au

 

 

u

 

 

ai

 

 

eu, oeu

 

 

oi

[/column] [column col=”1/4″]English Sound

ahh (father)

 

uh (above)

 

eh (best)

 

ay (may)

 

ay (may)

 

eh (pair)

 

 

ee (police, ski)

 

 

ohh (october)

 

 

oh (hello, go)

 

 

Similar to “ew”

 

 

eh (pair)

 

 

uh (sir)

 

 

wa (one)

 

 

[/column][column col=”1/4″]French Example

quatre, madame

 

le, ne

 

merci, example

 

parlez

 

café

 

Pêre, fête

 

 

merci, dîner, typique

 

 

olive, octobre

 

 

gros, hôtel, beau

 

 

une, du

 

 

lait, s’il vous plt

 

 

leur, soeur

 

 

bonsoir

[/column][column col=”1/4″]Movement

Open your mouth wider than in English, drop your jaw farther

Purse your lips and keep tongue against lower teeth

Keep mouth opening small, tongue against lower teeth

Keep mouth opening small, drop your jaw a little bit

Keep mouth opening small, drop your jaw a little bit

Keep mouth small, tongue against lower teeth

 

Stretch mouth into a near-smile, but keep the sound short

 

Round lips slightly, keep mouth opening small

 

Keep lips round; keep sound short

 

Say “oo” ; while lips are in that position, try saying “ee”

 

Keep mouth small, tongue against lower teeth (same as è, ê)

 

Keep mouth opening small, drop your jaw a little bit with (same e)

 

Start with rounded lips,then stretch lips back slightly[/column]

 

 

If you have any questions about French vowel pronunciation, ask us in the comments below or contact us!