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Everyone is terrified of French.  It is a language of exceptions (and so many vowels for one sound!).  But, with a few hard and fast rules, a trustworthy dictionary, and a network of people to reach out to, it becomes manageable.  Once one finds where it lives in the mouth, it becomes a wonderful language to sing due to its inherent legato, and text colors.

A few things to talk about before we look at symbols and sounds.  As far as word stress is concerned, for our intents and purposes, there isn’t any!  Similar to Italian, and German, all vowel sounds are pure, without any diphthongs. Also, just like German, mixed vowels must occur simultaneously as one sound, and our open vowel choices live in a brighter and higher space in the mouth than English. Finally, we have the addition of nasal vowels in French.  The best advice I have ever been given concerning nasal vowels is they must be vowels before they are nasal.  Meaning, the vowel does not change with the addition of nasal color. 

Finally, Additionally, there are four diacritical marks in French.  The accent grave (è), accent aigu (é), accent circonflexe (ê) and the diérèse (ë).  We’ll discuss how the first three effect pronunciation when we discuss individual sounds.  But the diérèse doesn’t affect vowel quality.  It only requires one to pronounce two successive vowels individually (example: naïf [naif] versus aimes [ɛmə]).  The diérèse basically replaces the need for specific diphthongs in French.

Click here for a basic discussion of IPA symbols and sounds.

Sounds and Symbols

Beginning with what we already know, here are the sounds that remain constant.


[a] [ɑ]

[e] [ɛ]

[i] [o]

[ɔ] [u]


[ø] [œ]


Plosive & Fricative

[b] [p]

[d] [t]

[g] [k]

[v] [f]

[z] [s]

[ʃ] [ʒ]

Nasal and Glides







Now that we've discussed three languages already, the only new symbols and sounds are the nasal vowels and one glide.  If you need a review of mixed vowels, click here.  Nasal vowels are pure vowels with added nasal color.  So all that changes is the vowel has a tilde [ɑ̃] written over the top.  The four nasal vowels are [ɑ̃], [ɛ̃], [õ], [œ̃] (all four occur in the phrase “un bon vin blanc” [œ̃ bõ vɛ̃ blɑ̃]). 

We also add the glide [ɥ].  Listen to the recording of the sound.  It sounds like a combination of [y] and [j] and lives in the same space where you whistle (I can’t whistle but this still works for me).

To examine each sound individually, click the applicable category below.  And again, especially with French, one should always have a trusty dictionary, complete with IPA.  If you're unsure, always look it up.

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