The minefield of French pronunciation

Some things take longer to sink in than others. While I may now be able to speak the lingo with a reasonable level of confidence in some departments (grammar, fluency and vocabulary for example). I still lack the experience to ensure the words come out as intended, or as they should.

Successful pronunciation of an unfamiliar French word depends a great deal on having heard it before, much in the same way it does in English. Simply reading the word in black and white is no guarantee that the subsequent attempt at verbalisation will be anything close to the word that French ears would expect to hear.

There are of course rules to follow, and you can more often than not grasp shape of the word in your mouth proficiently enough for a native Francophone to understand what it is you are trying to say, and hopefully correct you.

Bizarrely until recently I had managed to go some five years pronouncing the word for alcohol entirely incorrectly without anyone bothering to point out that I had got it subtly, but evidently, completely wrong.

Now the word gets fairly regular usage. For example a friend might call up and ask if I was available to go out for a drink, my reply quickly coming:

I’m always up for some alcohol!

Now the word for alcohol is written “alcool” and pronounced much in the same way except, importantly, without the “oo” sound. So something along the lines of “al-col” sound-wise. I, on the other hand, had been giving it an anglophone twang – and leaving in the “oo”.

This meant that what I was saying sounded remarkably similar to “au cul” … which in French means “up the arse”.

I can’t think why no-one bothered to point this out to me, but it certainly explains the frequent coughing and spluttering and “pardons” on the other end of the line!

1 Comment

  1. Ha ha! You were lucky – I only found that out after 20 years of speaking French and with a degree in the language. The joys of language learning…

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