I'll first explain how to pronounce a vowel alone, when it is not next to
The letter 'a' is pronounced like in pinyin, like 啊.
The letter 'e' can we pronounced in two different ways. I don't think there's a precise rule to know which way to pronounce it, but this is how I'd put it:
Examples: a, la, le, ma, me, ne, ta, te, sa, se, il, va, bébé, belle, domino, si, piano, bu, lu, su, du, vu, pu, fumé, allumé, volé, vélo, canapé, sofa, poli, bol, connu, menu, cinéma, papa, miel, ciel, collé, né, dé, nul, tenu, ami
Sometimes, when several vowels are together, they form another sound than
just the two sounds together.
'ai' and 'ei' are pronounced like the English 'e' in 'let'.
'au' and 'eau' are pronounced like the 'o'. (If you want to know more precisely, it is more like the English 'aw', like in "saw", "lawn", "awful".)
'eu' is a specific French sound. It sounds a bit like the English 'er' like in "her", or like the pinyin 'e' in 了, 么, 的, 呢, but in both cases, the mouth has to be less open. It also sounds a bit like the pinyin 'ü'.
'ou' is pronounced like the pinyin 'u' in 木, 如, 服, 不.
Not very important: 'oe' and 'oeu' are pronounced like the pinyin 'e' in 了, 么, 的, 呢.
In those examples, vowels were pronounced together to form one sound. There is one case when two vowels don't form a single sound, but a diphtongue: 'oi'. 'oi' is pronounced like the pinyin 'wa', like in 哇.
Examples: aimé, peiné, au, eau, étau, plateau, beau, bateau, mou, fou, coucou, cou, foi, moi, toi, soi
French is a language with many nasal vowels. In Chinese you have nasal
sounds when a word ends with 'n' or 'ng'. I have read that Xiangxiang
Chinese had a particularly rich amount of nasals too (here
). For all the sounds I am going to teach you, you should try to pronounce
the sound without saying 'ng' or 'n' at the end.
'on' sounds like the pinyin 'ong', but trying not to pronounce the 'ng' sound at the end, as I said. 'an' and 'en' sound like the pinyin 'ang' (without the 'ng').
'in' and 'un' sound alike to a French speaker. 'in' sounds like the pinyin 'an' in 眼, 面, 边. 'un' is less frequent. Many people pronounce it just like the 'in'.
Actually the correct pronunciation is slightly different, even though some people don't know it. It sounds more like the pinyin 'an' in 元, 卷, 全.)
There can be more than one vowel letter to form a nasal vowel sound:
'ain' and 'ein' are pronounced like 'in'.
'ien' sounds like 眼, or like the pinyin 'ian' in 面, 边, 先.
The diphtongue 'oi' can also be transformed into a nasal vowel: 'oin' is pronounced as a pinyin 'w' and a French 'in'. So it sounds a bit like 万.
Examples: mon, ton, son, bon, lion, élan, panda, menton, pantalon, Canton, pendu, vendu, vin, un, lapin, sapin, pain, copain, main, sein, mien, tien, sien, bien, loin, coin, foin
Not so important for a beginner: When reading a text in French, you may see some of these nasal vowels, with an 'm' instead of the 'n', and a consonnant right after. You will normally notice that this consonnant is a 'b', 'm' or 'p'. In this case the grapheme (group of letters) with an 'm' has to be pronounced like the corresponding nasal vowel with an 'n'. Ok, you'd better have a look at examples:
"bambou": Here you can see the nasal 'an' with an 'm' instead of the 'n',
and then the consonnant 'b'. So here, 'am' must be pronounced like the nasal
"accompli": You can see an 'om' and then the consonnant 'p'. So the 'om' must be pronounced like the nasal 'on'.
"emmené": You can see an 'em' and then the consonnant 'm'. So the 'em' must be pronounced like the nasal 'en'.
"aima": You can see an 'aim' but then there is the letter 'a', not a consonnant. So here there is no nasal vowel.
Note that every time there was a nasal with 'm', the following consonnant was either 'b', 'm' or 'p'. In fact, there is a writing rule that says that the 'n' of a nasal vowel must be replaced with an 'm' before 'b', 'm' and 'p' (but there are some exceptions).
French has four accents, which can be put over vowels. But their meaning is
totally different from the pinyin accents. They do not modify the pitch of
the sounds. They can have different functions.
The accute accent '´' (accent aigu in French) can only be put over the letter 'e': 'é'. It is used to indicate that the 'e' must be pronounced like the pinyin 'ei'.
The grave accent '`' (accent grave in French) can be put on the 'a', the 'e' or the 'u'. On the 'e' ('è'), it means that the 'e' must be pronounced like the English 'e' in "tell", which sounds a bit like the pinyin 'ai'. On the letter 'a' or 'u' ('à' and ù), the grave accent does not change the pronunciation. It is only used to differenciate words from one another.
The circumflex accent '^' (accent circonflexe in French) can be put on any vowel (maybe not the 'y'). It changes their pronunciation a little. Generally, I would say that it makes the vowels slightly longer. The 'ê' is then pronounced like the 'è'. (If you want more precision about the sound change, here you go. For the 'â' the mouth is more open than for the 'a', like in the English 'ar'. For the 'ô', the mouth is less open than for the 'o', a bit like an English 'aw'.)
Not important: The French tréma '¨' can be put on any vowel. It is used to indicate that the vowel has to be pronounced separtely from the previous vowel. Examples: The word "maïs" is pronounced as 'ma' + 'is', which is different from "mais". The word "noël" is pronounced like 'no' + 'el'.
Examples: père, mère, à, là, déjà, voilà, où, même, pâte, pôle, sûr
Not so important for a beginner
At the end of a word, 'y' is pronounced like 'i', just like in English, for example in "happy". Before a vowel, it is pronounced like in English, for example in "yes".
For the rest of the lesson, let's note <v> a vowel. The grapheme '<v>y' is pronounced as '<v>i' + 'y'. For example "royal" is pronounced as 'roi' + 'yal'.
Example: lys, papy, yoga, yeux, loyal, payé, appuyé, moyen
The letter 'z' has the same pronunciation as in English, that is, a sort of 's' with your vocal chords vibrating. Try not to say 'd' before the 'z'.
The letter 's' is basically pronounced as the pinyin 's'.
However, when you see an 's' between two vowels: '<v>s<v>, it has to be pronounced as a 'z'.
So, how do we do to produce the sound 's' between two vowels? We simply write '<v>ss<v>'.
The letter 'k' is very easy. It is pronounced like in English, like in pinyin.
The letter 'c' is basically pronounced as the 'k'.
However, when it is followed by an 'e', an 'i' or a 'y', it is pronounced as 's'.
'ch' is pronounced as the English 'sh' (not like the English 'ch').
The letter 'c' can be modified to be pronounced 's' in cases when it would normally be pronounced as 'k'. This modification is a cedilla (cédille in French): 'ç'. It looks like a little '5' at the bottom of the 'c'. The letter 'ç' is always pronounced 's'. Note that you can only find it before an 'a', an 'o' or a 'u'. With every other letters it is not needed because the 'c' is already pronounced 's'.
The letter 'q' is always followed by a 'u', except at the end of a word. The
grapheme 'qu' (or only 'q' at the end of a word) is pronounced as 'k'.
Examples: qui, que, quoi, quel, cinq, coq, pique, pastèque
The letter 'j' is like English 's' in "pleasure", "measure", "leisure", "vision". Try not to say 'd' before the 'j'. It is not like the English 'j' in "major", "age", "joke", "journey". In Chinese, the closest sound to the French 'j' is not the pinyin 'j' but rather the pinyin 'r'. So, if you can't manage to pronounce the French sound 'j', just say a pinyin 'r'.
The letter 'g' is basically pronounced as the pinyin 'g'.
However, when it is followed by an 'e', an 'i' or a 'y', it is pronounced as 'j'. (This should remind you something, right? With the letter 'c'?)
'gn<v>' is pronounced like the pinyin 'ni<v>', that is, the sound 'n' followed by the sound 'y' (pronounced as a consonnant).
The grapheme 'gu' followed by an 'e', an 'i' or a 'y' is pronounced as 'g'. So you don't pronounce the 'u'. This rule makes it possible to say 'g' + 'i' for example, whereas 'gi' would be pronounced as 'j' + 'i'. Note that 'gua' for example is still pronounced as 'gu' + 'a'.
The grapheme 'ge' followed by a vowel is pronounced as 'j'. Again, note that you can only find this before an 'a', an 'o' or a 'u', like the 'ç'.
Some consonnants can be mute at the end of words.
The letter 's' at the end of a word is generally mute.
Unimportant: But there are exceptions: "lys", "bis", "os", "fils".
Take away this final mute 's', and then there can still be one mute
consonnant at the end of the word:
The letter 't' ("lit", "lits", "fait")
Unimportant: There are some exceptions like "but", "zut", "brut", where the 't' is pronounced.
The letter 'r' is generally not mute, except for the verbs ending with 'er'. In this case, 'er' is pronounced as 'é'.
Unimportant: When it is a noun that ends with 'er', is sometimes pronounced like 'é' ("calendrier", "pommier", "boulanger"), but sometimes as 'è' + 'r' ("mer", "ver", "cher").
The same rule applies for the letter 'z'. So when a verb ends with 'ez', the 'ez' is pronounced as 'é'. The same applies for other words ("chez", "rez").
Unimportant: In other cases the 'z' at the end of a word is generally pronounced ("gaz"), but in "riz", it is mute.
When a word ends with 'aux' or 'eux', the final 'x' is mute.
Not important: Generally, the final 'x' of a word is mute ("flux", "voix", "doux"), but in "six" and "dix", the 'x' is pronounced like 's'.
Other letters can also be mute in some words:
The letter 'c' in "blanc", "vainc", "accroc"
The letter 'd' in "dard", "mord", "résoud", "bord"
The letter 'f' in "clef"
The letter 'l' in "pouls", "fils"
The letter 'p' in "trop", "drap", "beaucoup"
Sometimes, when a word ending with a mute consonnant is followed by a vowel,
we pronounce it. It's called a linking (liaison in French). This rule
doesn't work for all letters, but it does at least for these three:
The letter 's': The 's' in "les" is normally mute. But now, "les enfants" is pronounced as if we wrote "lesenfants", so the 's' is pronounced like 'z'. You can see the only difference is that we removed the space ' ', that's why we call it a linking.
The letter 'x' works just like the letter 's'. At the end of a word, if the following word begins with a vowel, the 'x' is pronounced like 'z'. For example, the 'x' in "beaux" is normally mute. Now, "beaux yeux" is pronounced like "beauzyeux".
The letter 'n': Actually, the 'n' at the end of a word is not really mute, but it can be part of a nasal vowel. In that case, we pronounce both this nasal vowel and the 'n'. For example, "mon ami" is pronouced like "mon" + "nami".
The letter 'z': "allez-y", "prenez-en"
There exists linkings with other letters but they are less common and people generally don't use them. They can even sound somewhat formal. Here they are:
The letter 't': "ils sont intelligents" (The 't' of "sont" is pronounced.)
The letter 'p': "trop aimable"
The letter 'r': "aller à"
The letter 'd': "il prend un" When we make a linking with 'd', it is pronounced like 't'.
The letter 'h' is not pronounced in French.
Not important for a beginner:
At the beginning of a word, some 'h' are called aspiré and some are called muet.
The 'h' aspiré prevents linkings. For example in "les haricots", "en haut", "un hasard", "un huit", "un héros", you don't pronounce the 's' of "les" or the 'n' of "un" and "en".
The 'h' muet allows linkings. For example in "mes habits", "des herbes", "les histoires", "un homme", the 's' in "mes", "des", "les", and the 'n', in "un" are pronounced.
In the grapheme 'ill', the two 'l' are pronounced like a 'y' (pronounced as
a consonnant). For example in "fille", "bille" and "quille", the 'ill' is
pronounced like 'iy'.
Less important:There are some excpetions: "mille", "ville", "Lille" are pronounced with a normal 'l'.
In 'eill', 'aill', 'ouill', 'euill' (or 'eil', 'ail', 'euil' at the end of a word), the 'll' (or 'l') is also pronounced like a 'y'.
Example: Camille, grillon, briller, bouteille, vieille, taille, mouillé, feuille, sommeil, ail, portail, écureuil, oeil, réveil, abeille, soleil, fauteuil
The letter 'r' is pronounced a bit like the pinyin 'h' but with your vocal
cords vibrating. You can manage to pronounce the 'tr', 'pr' and 'cr' quite
easily as they sound a bit like the pinyin 't', 'p' and 'k' but, again, with
your vocal cords vibrating while blowing air. Above all, you must keep in
mind that the French 'r' is totally different from the Chinese 'r'.
In the grapheme 'ti<v>', the 't' is pronounced like 'ss'. Example: spatial, patient, action, attention, potion, audition
Not important: There are some exceptions: pitié, sentier, métier, nous mettions. Here, the 't' is pronounced normally.
The grapheme 'ph' is pronounced like 'f', like in English: "photo",
The letter 'x' is sometimes pronounced like 'ks' ("axiome", "fixe", "exception", "maximal"), and sometimes like 'gz' ("exemple", "exact", "exister", "xylophone"). There is no systematic rule to know which pronounciation is the right one.
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