Leçon de Prononciation

🇺🇸 🇫🇷 Purrrrrfect Your French Accent with Tongue-Twisters

By 28 December 2017 No Comments

Good news, everyone! The French language isn’t just about grammar rules and complicated conjugations. It’s also a language rich with sounds and words you can play with!

With the Staircase, you’re already practicing vocabulary, spelling, conjugation, and French grammar rules. Thanks to the audio, you can listen to the French pronunciation and train yourself to speak. If you’re wondering how to get better at pronunciation in a non-boring way, tongue-twisters (virelangues) are the solution you’re looking for!

Every language has some! By the way, the French word is actually a direct translation of the English term. “Virelangue” is made out of “virer” – which  in this context has the same meaning as “twist” – and “langue” which is the French for “tongue”.

In France, it isn’t rare for pupils to learn a few at school when growing up. The most famous French virelangue is probably this one:

« Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse, sont-elles sèches ou archi-sèches ? »

(Are the archduchess’s socks dry or super-dry?)

Try and repeat this several times in a row… It’s not easy, is it? Another one, pretty well-known:

« Un chasseur sachant chasser sait chasser sans son chien. »

(A hunter who knows how to hunt, knows how to hunt without his dog). Even as a native speaker of French, I must admit that it’s no piece of cake.

Working on sounds

Have you noticed what these two tongue-twisters have in common?

The sounds! The two sentences both play with the “s” and “ch” sounds, which are two of the most difficult sounds in the French language. When a consonant or a group of consonants are repeated like this, it is called alliteration. It is very common in poetry, as well as in plays. Here is for instance one of the most famous verse of the French language:

« Pour qui sont ces serpents qui sifflent sur vos têtes ? », Racine, Andromaque, acte V, scène 5. (For whom are these serpents which are hissing on your heads?)

Here, alliteration is imitating the hissing of a serpent. For literary translators, alliterations are quite the challenge! They have to translate both the content and the style.

But, as we say in French, revenons à nos moutons. (literally, “let’s get back to our sheeps”). (Weird, right?) Tongue-twisters are first and foremost a fun way to explore the sounds of the French language. And there are more than you can count!

Sharpen Your Tongue

Some sounds are particularly challenging for English-speaking learners. You’ll find below a few exercises which target the trickiest sounds of the French language. If you want to get there, you really have to ar-ti-cu-late.

 « s » [s] as in « salut » and « ch » [ʃ] as in « chocolat »:

« Un chasseur fit sécher ses chaussettes sur une souche sèche »

« Natacha n’attacha pas son chat Pacha qui s’échappa. Cela fâcha Sacha qui chassa Natacha. »

It might help you pronounce these every day phrases too.

« J’ai une question » (I have a question).

« Elle est patiente » with an [ s ] (she is patient) «  Elle est pas chiante » with an [ ʃ ]  (she’s not annoying)

« u » [y] as in « vu » and « ou » [u] as in « cou »:

« As-tu vu le tutu de Lulu ? »

« Juste juge ! Jugez Gilles, jeune et jaloux. »

It might help you pronounce these every day phrases too.

« Une belle vue » (A nice view)

« Tu as vu ce film ? » (Have you seen that movie?)

« C’était réussi !» (It was a success) 

« r » [ʁ] as in « roux »:

« Dis-moi gros gras grand grain d’orge, quand te dégros gras grand grain d’orgeras-tu ?»

It might help you pronounce these every day phrases too.

« Je me rappelle » (I remember) 

« Il est tard » (It is late)

« C’est pratique » (It’s useful) 

The silent « h » as in « homme »:

« La pie niche haut, l’oie niche bas. Où niche l’hibou ? L’hibou niche ni haut ni bas ! »

It might help you pronounce these every day phrases too.

« en-haut » [ão] (upstairs, on top of it) 

« là-haut » [lao] (up there)

« l’homme » [lɔm] (man)

 « eu » (/ø/) as in « peu »:

« Un vieux pieu. Un vieux pneu. »

It might help you pronounce these every day phrases too.

« Je veux sortir avec eux » (I want to go out with them) 

« Je peux te revoir ? » (Can I see you again?)

« C’est mieux » (It’s better)

« Les cheveux bleus » (blue hair) 

 The liaison :

« Je veux et j’exige d’exquises excuses. »

« Je veux _z’et j’exige d’exquises _z’excuses. »

It might help you pronounce these every day phrases too.

« C’est leur enfant » (It’s their child)  ≠ « C’est leurs_z’enfants » (It’s their children) 

« Il arrive » (He’s coming) ≠ « Ils_z’arrivent » (They’re coming)

« Ils sont passés » (They came, they stopped by..) ≠ « Ils_z’ont passé » (They spent something)

Try and say them very slowly at first. Then, when you’re feeling more confident, you can try and repeat them as fast as you can.

Come on, keep going! C’est en forgeant qu’on devient forgeron ! (practice makes perfect!)


Léa & Iza



Author Iza

Contributor & Staircase Cheerleader

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