It's the enemy of many a French student. When spoken, the mouth moves in a completely different way to how it would in an English word. Rouge, sucre, frère – it's a slightly raspy, throaty sound, slightly more akin to those in the German language.
To get your Rs just right, actively associate the letter with the back of the mouth. In English, the letter R is produced in the center of the palate, while in French it's made in the same place as the English letter K, except with the tongue forming a concave, not convex, shape.
Close your throat, say the letter K a few times, note where the sound is made, and then tense to produce the sound again, pushing air and speaking out through the small gap in your throat. You'll likely produce a rasped, guttural sound that sounds as if you were to pronounce "hroh" in English (but with the front and middle of the tongue being completely still): the French R.
Nasal sounds are typically French, and so crop up all the time when speaking the language, but it's the "en" and "an" sounds in conversational French that often cause trouble, commonly being confused with the "in" sound by learners.
If pronouncing the letter combinations "en" and "an", start out by speaking the English word, "long". Here, the "on" portion of the word is the sound that you should try and replicate – leave out the "ng" closing of the throat and you'll be able to pronounce words such as cent and grattant (making sure to leave out the silent T, of course).
For "in" words such as gratin, clin and éteint, then speak out the English word, man, leaving out the "n". This more open pronunciation is the correct one, and the same sound that should be used for "ain" and "eint" French sounds too.
Another particularly annoying letter for learners to get their heads round is U. Forget the English sounds "you" and "uh" for this one: the French sound U has no English equivalent, but after you've produced the sound a few times, it's surprisingly easy to remember.
Used in the words musique, jus and tu, U, whether it's spelt on its own, with an accent, circumflex, or tréma, is a little like an English E, O and U rolled into one.
Say "oo" a number of times, noting the pursing of the lips. Keep producing the sound, bringing the tongue further forward to the point at which you would if pronouncing an "ee" sound. Finally, combine the two, shortening the production of the sound so you create a tensed "oo" that's not dissimilar to "ee". You've just spoken a French U.
Compared to "ou" sounds, as in vous, joue and tout, the U is far quicker a sound, produced with a tongue pushed forward towards the teeth.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention one of the fundamentals of French pronunciation that often challenges new learners: silent consonants.
Many consonants at the end of words - especially "c"s and "t"s are phonetically silent.
The French letter é is a perfect example of a French sound that students often confuse with another – in this case, the sounds ais, ait, and et. Conjugations such as parlé and parlais will regularly be pronounced in the same way by learners – an "ay" sound – but in reality the two are rather different.
Practice makes perfect, and the best way to hone your French pronunciation is to actually speak the words you're learning and get feedback about how you're doing.
When you are considering the best way to master French pronunciation, keep in mind that Rosetta Stone offers the best French speech recognition engine (actually, the only one of its kind: it's patented) on the market.
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