In this article, I present to you the top 5 most frequently heard pronunciation errors that contribute to the “sexy French accent.” Oui oui 🇫🇷
1. /h/ or no /h/, that is the question
The /h/ sound does not exist in French. Often, French speakers will either omit the /h/ (e.g., “ee” for “he”), or add an /h/ to words that begin with a vowel (e.g., “hair” for “air”). So “blowing hot air” can very well be produced as “blowing ot hair.”
2. This weather is making me thirsty
Granted that the vast majority of English learners have difficulties with the “th” sounds (there are actually two “th” sounds), so French-speakers are far from alone in this challenge. The “th’s” are rare sounds and are frequently transformed to either /s/ /z/ or /t/ /d/; so “thanks” may be produced as “tanks” or “sanks.”
3. Are you “living” here or “leaving” here? The short /I/ vowel
The short /I/ vowel (as in “live”) does not exist in French, so the long /i/ vowel (as in “leave”) is often used to substitute, therefore saying “seat” for “sit,” “leave” for “live,” or “feet” for “fit.” Once again, this is a very common error for all English-leaners, not just French speakers. Watch this video if you’d like to learn and practice the difference between the short /I/ and the long /I/.
4. Let’s focus! The diphthong /oʊ/
The /oʊ/ vowel (as in “low”) is a diphthong, a combination of two single vowels or monophthongs. French speakers often will transform this diphthong into the monophthong /ɔ/ (as in “law”). This vowel transformation is the reason behind one of the most embarrassing pronunciation errors at work – instead of saying “focus” with a diphthong /oʊ/ on the first syllable, many French speakers will say “fock us” with a /ɔ/, which just sounds too much like an invitation to do something NSFW.
5. Stressed about stress? Vowel stress and reduction
French vowels are always fully produced, and equal emphasis is given to each syllable. French speakers, hence, tend to produce all the vowels in English fully. English, however, only has one stressed vowel per word. All other vowels are either unstressed or reduced to the schwa (/ə/), which makes the “uh” sound.
Syllabic stress and reduction are one of the most important features of English pronunciation. Take the English word “photography” and the French word “photographie.” All the vowels are produced as written in the French word. In contrast, the English word has the stress on the second syllable, “phoTOgraphy,” which means that the second “o” is louder, longer, and higher in pitch than the rest of the vowels. In addition, the first and third vowels are reduced to the schwa /ə/ – “phuh-TO-gruh-phy.” For more on stress/reduction and the schwa, refer to this video.
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