French Pronunciation: Advanced Tips

Learning how to speak French can be accomplished with dedication, hard work and practice. However, learning how to speak French fluently, like a native, requires knowledge of nuances to the French language the most natives acquire over a lifetime of speaking french. Below we'll explore several tips that will help you improve your French accent, pronunciation and start speaking like a native.

The subtle difference between "é" and "ais/ait/et"

Although difficult to discern to new speakers (and even some veteran non-native speakers), there is a slight difference in sound between the é sound and the ais/ait/et sounds. Consider the example below.

I walked
Je marchais
I had walked
J'ai marché

On the surface, one would think that marchais and marché would sound identifical (i.e., "marsh-ay"). However, the pronunciation "marsh-ay" is only accurate for the word marché. The -ais in marchais, on the other hand, is pronounced similarly to the e in the English word "let." Thus, the more accurate pronunciation for marchais would be along the lines of "marsh-eh." This is applicable to any word ending in -ais and -ait, as well as the word et (and).

Dropping the "L" in the pronouns "il" and "elle"

Another subtle difference between the way that native speakers and French learners speak is in the way that il and elle are pronounced. Native speakers will often drop the L's in these two words, which greatly eases the flow of speech in many cases. See one example below.

There is; there are
Il y a
Standard pronunciation: "eel-ee-yah"
There is; there are
Il y a
Native pronunciation: "ee-yah"

This change occurs particularly in fast-paced conversations. You can see some other examples below.

Do you want some?
Tu en veux?
Do you want some?
T'en veux?

Is there any bread?
Est-ce qu'il y a du pain?
Is there any bread?
Est-ce qui y a du pain?

The letter "d" before the letter "i"

Yet another subtle difference in French occurs when the letter "d" is followed by the letter "i". In this case, a very subtle "z" is pronounced, making it sound like "d[z]i."

to say

"ce que" becomes "skeuh"

Often, the common phrase "ce que" (seuh-keuh) can be simplified to "skeuh." For example, the question starter "est-ce que" can be simplified by pronouncing it as "ess-keuh."

Are you eating?
Est-ce que tu manges?
What does that mean?
Qu'est-ce que cela veut dire?