The sounds of French Language

Like any language, French is written or spoken. It speak French, you use 37 speech sounds (called phonemes) .
There are 37 phonemes: 16 vowels, 18 consonants, and 3 semi-vowels.
They are represented graphically through transcription.

En français, il y a 37 (trente-sept) phonèmes : 18 (dix-huit) consonnes, 16 (seize) voyelles et 3 (trois) semi-voyelles ou semi consonnes.

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Tour Eiffel, Paris 

1. Les consonnes: the consonants sounds
[p] in letter p: papa, parler, police
[b] in letter b: bonjour, bien, boulevard
[t]: in letters t, th: Très bien, merci! tomate, train, théâtre
[d] in letter d: deux, danser, déjà-vu, David
[k] in letter c followed by a consonant : crayon, classe
in letter c followed by vowels a, o, u : café, cola, culte, comment tu t’appelles?
in letters ch : just in a few words like : christabel, chrétien, chaos, orchestre
in letter k: kaki, kamikaze, kangourou, karaté, kérosène, kilo
in letters qu: quatre, qualifier, qualité
Qui a un kilo de cola? (Who has a kilo of kolanut?)
[g] in letter g followed by a consonant: grand, glace,
in letter g followed by vowels a, o, u: garçon, Gabon, goyave, golfe, mangue, argument
in letter c from all words deriving from seconde: second, seconde, seconder, secondaire
in letter x followed by a voiced sound: examen, exemple
[f] in letters f, ph: finir, final, photo, phrase, pharaon
[v] in letter v : vous, ça va, vagabond , voilà
[s] in letter s starting a word: samedi, salsa, système, soldat
s together with another consonant: système, assister, persister
ss between 2 vowels: poisson, boisson, assister, assemblée, assassin
x followed by a voiceles sound : expliquer, excellent, excès
c followed by the 3 vowels (suivi des 3 voyelles) e, i, y: cécile, ciseaux, ici, cycle
ç with the other 3 vowels (avec les 3 autres voyelles): a, o, u : ça va, garçon, reçu
[z] in letter z: zèbre, zéro, zigzag
in letter s between two vowels (s entre deux voyelles): poison (poison), vous choisissez (you choose)
in letter x followed by a voiced sound: examen, exemple
[ʃ] it is pronounced like sh in the English word shop; but in French (en Français), the sound is obtainable through the combination of the following letters:
ch: chance, chancellier, chanter, chat, changer
sch: schéma (diagram, outline).
[ʒ] it is the same as in the English word (le mot anglais) ‘pleasure’ /plεʒə/. It is obtainable in the following letters (dans les lettres suivantes):
j: janvier, je, bonjour
g followed with vowel e, i or y: manger, je mange, agir (to act), gymnastique
[l] l, ll: la ville (the town), village
[R] r, rr: race, arriver
[m] m : manger, malade
[n] n: non, nom, prénom (no, surname, first name)
[ɲ] gn: like a y in ‘yes’ pronounced through the nose: Agnès, igname, gagner
[ŋ] it’s purely an English sound as obtained in ng : parking, jogging, smoking

2. Les voyelles: the vowels
Il y a deux types de voyelles: les voyelles orales et les voyelles nasales.
There are two types of vowels: the oral vowels and the nasal vowels
ORAL VOWELS (les voyelles orales)
[a] a, ail: ça va? Go go go allez allez allez, halô, travail (work)
enne, emme: solennel /sכlanεl/, femme /fam/ (woman)
oi, oy: moi /mwa/, toi, bon voyage /vwajaʒ/, choisir /ʃwaziR/
NB: there is a second type of /a/ sound, but it shall be better explained at a conversation class.
[i] i, y: fini /fini/, cycle /sikl/, silence
[e] it’s like the sound ‘ay’ in the word ‘may’. However, one should avoid gliding to the ‘i’ sound as it is in the diphthong /ei/: you can find it in the following:
é: été (summer), étudiant, péché, café
er of infinitive verbs: manger, danser,
danger
ez : nez (nose), vous mangez, vous dansez (you eat, you danse)
ed : pied (foot)
ai endings like in the future tense: je mangerai (I will eat), je danserai
[ε] like the sound in the English word ‘to bless’: You can encounter it in the following cases:
è: père, mère, frère, un mètre (father, mother, brother, a meter)
ê: être, fenêtre (to be, window)
e suivi de 2 consonnes: elle s’appelle, estimer (her name is, to estimate), Esther
e avant une consonne finale prononcée (before a final pronounced consonant): mer, quel /kεl/, bel, avec, chef, (sea, which, handsome, with, chief)
et at the end of a word: filet, juillet (net, July)
[o] o as the last sound of the last syllable of a word: mot /mo/ (word)
au : au revoir, restaurant, mauvais, pau vre
eau : eau, gâteau, bateau, (water, cake, ship/boat), beauté
ô : hôpital, hôtel, chômage,
[כ] o before pronounced sounds like in the English word ‘boy’: os, or, robe /Rכb/ (bone, gold, gown)
some au: aube (dawn)
[u] same sound as in the words ‘put, you’. In French, it is found in letter combination ou as in: où habitez-vous? Where do you live?
aou: août /ut/ (month of August)
[y] A typical French sound; not available in English. However you can get the pronunciation right by trying to pronounce these 2 sounds in 1: /u/ and /i/. In French, it is represented by letter u like in the words: tu, vu, lu, pu, culture, cultiver.
[ə] is like /e/ sound, but pronounced weakly. You find it in letter e: je, te, me, que, le, département, gouvernement
[Ø] in letters eu, œu as the last sound in a word : deux, je peux, je veux, des œufs (eggs), un vœu (a wish)
[œ] in letters eu, uei, œi followed at least by one pronounced consonant: quelle heure est-il ? beurre /bœR/, le fauteuil, un œil /œj/, un œuf /œf/ (an egg)
NASAL VOWELS (les voyelles nasales)
[ɑ̃] an, am, en, em, ean, aon: Jean, l’enfant de l’ambassadeur, embrasse le paon (John, the son of the ambassador hugs the peacock)
[ɛ̃] in, im, yn, ain, ein, aim : intelligent, imparfait, lymphe
[œ̃] un, um, eun : un parfum brun (a brown perfume), jeun
[ɔ̃] on, om, eon: bonjour, bombe, nom et prénom, pigeon (pigeon)

3. Les semi-voyelles: the semi- vowels
Semi-vowels are sounds that are in-between vowels and consonants:
[j] Between y like in the English word yes and /i/ sound the sound is found in:
y: yahourt /jauR/ (yoghourt), yoga
i followed by a vowel : bien /bjɛ̃/, action /aksjõ/
ill: fille, bille /fij/, /bij/
eil: accueil /akœj/ (a welcome)
[w] oui: oui /wi/, Louis /lwi/
oi, oy : moi, toi, loi, noyer /nwaje/, voyager /vwajaʒe/
qu with a Latin derived words : aquarium /akwaRjכm/, aquatique, aquaculture
[ɥ] The sound must be joined while writing and it sounds like /y/ and /i/ and together or in letters ui or u followed with a vowel: lui (him), huile (oil)

by Dr A. Souleymane

 

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