Most of the sounds used in French are also used in spoken English, so it should not be that difficult to learn French pronunciation, though there are a few sound combinations you should spend some time perfecting:
- The French “r”: This is probably the single most distinctive difference in phonetics from English. Visualize the English “r” moving back and down your throat, instead of being said at the very front of your mouth.You may never get it perfect, but at least making an attempt will make you much easier to understand by a native French speaker.
- Rounded vowels: This is going to pertain more to American English speakers, who tend to use vowels that are flatter and choppier. For example, for Americans, the “a” in grande should be pronounced much more like the a in “taco” (toh-ko) and not the a in “bad.” It might help to imagine speaking French with a British accent.
- Some specific endings aren’t pronounced – these can be overwhelming to remember at first, but there are relatively distinct French pronunciation exceptions- most fall into a specific pattern.
- For example, the infinite form of -er verbs (nager, manger, danser) is pronounced “ay” – no “r” sound.
- The third person plural “ils/elles” verb conjugation of forms that use the -ent ending is not pronounced. E.g., Ils dansent is pronounced the exact same way as il danse.
- In general, plural endings like “s” and “x” are not pronounced, unless the following word begins with a vowel, in which case the final sound gets “liasoned” over to the beginning of the next word. For example, Ils ont is pronounced like “Il zon.”
- Specific letter pronunciations:
- G’s are soft and pronounced almost like j’s. The si in “vision” best reproduces the correct sound.
- H’s at the beginning of a word are rarely pronounced, and usually can be treated as if the H isn’t there at all (liason should usually be used).
As in any language, there will be exceptions to the pronounciation rules, but generally much fewer pronunciation anomalies than there are in French. For more on the precise phonetics of French, Wikipedia has a thorough explanation of the topic.
For French pronunciation audio samples, the Larousse online French dictionary has audio clips of every word.