Improving my oral French

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Bonjour! During this time in isolation (and especially now that my thesis has been sent to my readers, so I don't have much to do) I decided that it would be productive to seriously tackle the task of resurrecting, and hopefully improving, my thoroughly rusty high school French. I have a textbook, but since it's mostly geared to written French (most useful for my program) it lacks any real conversational component. So I decided to seek out some pointers here.

I've created a short audio file containing a bit of a preamble that I wrote, followed by six short practice sentences from my textbook. I very much welcome any criticism/corrections (concerning either the preamble or the sentences). :)

The six sentences are:

1. Il sort du théâtre.
2. Je prends le parapluie.
3. Ils font souvent des fautes.
4. Ils connaissent des touristes américains.
5. Cendrillon met la chaussure à son pied.
6. Ces conditions créent des difficultés pour les élèves.

Merci beaucoup!

Callaina :)
 

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Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Hi,

Your pronunciation is good enough that it's easy to understand. Now, unsurprisingly, your accent is definitely recognizable as that of an English speaker (just as mine is recognizable as that of a French speaker when I speak English).

For a start, I'll point out a few general issues, which are often problematic for English speakers:

- Your Us. That French "u" sound, which is like the German "ü" and the ancient Greek upsilon, and doesn't exist in English, you don't seem to have quite mastered. Now, as a matter of fact, that sound used to exist in Old English, and it was in an Old English textbook that I read a trick for forming that sound: say "ee" and, while saying it, round your lips, as you do when you pronounce an English or Latin "u" or "o": the mixture should create the French "u".

- You tend to diphthongize some of your És, AIs, etc, for instance in "français". You pronounce it much like the diphthong in English "day", which is natural enough since the sounds are close. However, while the sound in "day" is a diphthong, /eɪ/ in IPA, the French version is only the first part of that diphthong, /e/. So if you could contrive to drop the second part of the diphthong, it would be great. Probably easier said than done, but well. Alternatively, and I must credit Imperfacundus for this idea, you could replace it with the short "i" sound like in English "sit". This is not perfect, just a rough approximation, but I've heard it done and it doesn't sound very wrong. So, again, not quite right, but if you can't do it entirely right, this is one of the best ways to do it wrong, I guess. :D I also guess it might help towards managing the actual correct sound to know that the two sounds are close.

- You also seem to use that "ay" diphthong in some places where we actually have a sound more like in English "bell". You did it in the word "aide".

- I think I heard you schwa-ize some vowels, e.g. the "o" in "connaissent". While in English, pretty much any written vowel can stand for a schwa, French vowels are almost always given their full quality, except "e", which stands for schwa in some words (for instance in "le" and "de").

- You Rs aren't quite that, but this is a rather difficult matter...
 
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Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
This is very helpful -- particularly the trick with the "ee"/rounded lips! I'd never mastered that sound in German either. This helps. :)

Is this better for "français"? (Note: I say it twice, and the quality of the vowel is just slightly different the second time, so is either of them right, or are both equally close?)
 

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Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
The first one is as I would say it — with the same "e" as in English "bell", or at least it sounds that way to me. People from France, though, or at least some parts of it, would use the "é" sound there instead (i.e. the sound that's like "ay" without the second part of the diphthong).

The second one is somewhere in between both sounds, maybe, but the difference is barely audible. I think both versions would pass muster with most listeners...
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Great! Thanks. I'll definitely be posting more recordings as I advance through the textbook. :)
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Good.

The "e" sound you made in your first version of "français" (the one I said was like my pronunciation) might not sound as good in a word where both sorts of French "e" aren't acceptable — like, say, in an infinitive or past participle like "manger" or "mangé" — but well, in any case you'll be understood.

Vowels can be a pain to get exactly right. I'm sure some of my English vowels are little more than good-enough approximations, too. :D French has a few mighty weird sounds, but not as many as English. :p I also discovered relatively recently that German has one hell of a weird vowel, like some kind of schwa but just a little closer to a Latin/French short "a"... I tried a bit but didn't quite manage to nail the difference between it and a regular schwa (remember, @Bitmap ? :p ).
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
The "e" sound you made in your first version of "français" (the one I said was like my pronunciation) might not sound as good in a word where both sorts of French "e" aren't acceptable — like, say, in an infinitive or past participle like "manger" or "mangé" — but well, in any case you'll be understood.
Sorry, I'm a bit confused by this. What exactly do you mean by "both sorts of French "e""?

Vowels can be a pain to get exactly right.
I find them harder than anything (except in Latin, of course, where they're incredibly easy).
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Sorry, I'm a bit confused by this. What exactly do you mean by "both sorts of French "e""?
There's the one that sounds like the English "e" in "bell" and is often written "è" in French, and there's the one, usually problematic for English speakers, that sounds like the diphthong in "day" minus the second part of the diphthong and is often written "é" in French.

(There's actually also a third one, written without any accent, which sounds like a schwa, but this one wasn't relevant to the discussion of your pronunciation of "français". And there's "ê", too, but it wasn't relevant here either. The latter, for me, is much like a longer version of "è", but people in France often pronounce "è" and "ê" just the same, so you can make your life easier by doing it as they do.)
 
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Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
So when you have an "e" without accent, like "manger", it's the second sort of "e"?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
In "manger", the whole "er" sounds like the second sort of "e" (i.e. "é", like in "day" without the second part of the diphthong). The "r", as you probably know, isn't pronounced except when you choose to make a liaison with a following vowel.

Unfortunately, however, an "e" without an accent can represent several different sounds. More often than not, it stands for a schwa, but there are words where it sounds like "è" or "é". The main situation that I can think of where you shouldn't be too quick to assign a schwa sound to an accentless "e" is when it's followed by two consonants (this includes the letter "x", which actually represents two consonant sounds, "ks" or "gz"), as there's a convention, for some reason, that accents aren't used in those positions. So, for instance, the underlined Es in "il existe" and "ça m'intéresse" are NOT schwas (the one in "existe" sounds like "é" or "è" depending on regions, and the one in "intéresse" always sounds like "è" in my experience).
 

Bitmap

Civis Illustris
This is very helpful -- particularly the trick with the "ee"/rounded lips! I'd never mastered that sound in German either. This helps. :)
It also works with the German ö, which is simply a closed /e/ with rounded lips.
French has a similar sound in /oe/ (like in soeur), but that's the rounded version of the more open e. (/ε/, the German ä)

I also discovered relatively recently that German has one hell of a weird vowel, like some kind of schwa but just a little closer to a Latin/French short "a"... I tried a bit but didn't quite manage to nail the difference between it and a regular schwa (remember, @Bitmap ? :p ).
It's essentially a schwa with your mouth a bit more open (unless you pronounce it like someone from Central Germany, in which case you also swallow it up).
 

Etaoin Shrdlu

μεσσηγυδορποχέστης
Could someone give some examples of the German hell of a weird vowel? I'm not sure what we're talking about.

You Rs aren't quite that, but this is a rather difficult matter..
There's no need to get that personal.

On a more serious note, I found it interesting that that letter alone made it clear that Callaina was not only an anglophone but a North American. I was going to take issue with Pacifica's comment about the number of weird sounds in English, but if you look at R and the vowels, with all their regional variants, it's probably right.

(This is not meant to imply that my own manglings of the French language are any better. I'd like to think that although they sound awful to the French ear, it isn't all that easy to work out where I'm from, but I may be deluding myself.)
 
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Bitmap

Civis Illustris
Could someone give some examples of the German hell of a weird vowel? I'm not sure what we're talking about.
I think it mainly concerns vocalised Rs (e.g. how there is a difference between Börden and Böden), but Pacifica's main problem was with the vocalised final r as opposed to a Schwa, e.g. the difference between Bänker and Bänke.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
It also works with the German ö, which is simply a closed /e/ with rounded lips.
French has a similar sound in /oe/ (like in soeur), but that's the rounded version of the more open e. (/ε/, the German ä)
I think the sound in "eux" is like the German one.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
It also works with the German ö, which is simply a closed /e/ with rounded lips.
Tried it just now and was astonished at the result. It's like magic!! Why did nobody ever explain this to me before?? So many years of frustration...
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
A couple more quick questions:

1. Are all u's in French pronounced in this way?

say "ee" and, while saying it, round your lips, as you do when you pronounce an English or Latin "u" or "o": the mixture should create the French "u".
2. On a similar note, are all i's in French pronounced like "ee" (as my textbook says)?

Of course I mean single vowels and not those involved in a diphthong or the like.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
1. Are all u's in French pronounced in this way?
As far as I can think of right now, yes, except in some foreign borrowings (e.g. "sudoku").
2. On a similar note, are all i's in French pronounced like "ee" (as my textbook says)?
Same answer as above, plus they're also sometimes consonantal (in words like "mystérieux", "canadien"...).

If you want to be really exact, many French Is are kind of a shorter version of "ee" — for instance, the one in "dire" is long for me but the one in "il" is shorter — but well, I guess this is really a subtlety.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Oh, and, in fact, some Us are consonantal too. E.g. "intuitif".
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Ok -- here's another audio file with six more sentences:

1. Une fille heureuse
2. Des fruits frais
3. Les sciences humaines
4. Après la campagne présidentielle
5. Dans une terre inhospitalière
6. Par des exploits militaires

Thanks in advance for your help :)
 

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