A simple guide to French pronunciation with IPA

Pronouncing French is one of the major barriers to learning French for English speakers. Many text and phrase books use strange English transliterations that try to mimic how French sounds though writing in English. So we get something like ZHUH PAHRL for je parle (I speak).

This kind of simple transliteration from French to the Latin letters used in English is problematic on several levels. Firstly, the pronunciation of letters in English is very inconsistent. For example, the letter ‘c’ can sound like a ‘k’ (cat) or an ‘s’ (cease) depending on the word. Also there are quite a few French phonemes (sounds used when talking) that do not exist at all in English. For example the ‘an’ (ɑ̃ in IPA) in croissant, and ‘eu’ (œ in IPA) in neuf (nine) – neither of these sounds are used in English.

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a written system of phonetic notation that was devised as a way to represent every spoken sound of every language in the world. And it is very useful for students of foreign languages, including French.

While using a less technical transliteration scheme (such the ZHUH PAHRL we saw above) as it appears less daunting, all these seeming simpler schemes are either wholly unsuited to the French language, and/or they required as much ‘learning’ as the IPA. It very much worth the student’s effort to learn the subset of 39 IPA symbols required to perfectly describe the pronunciation of all French words.

One extra symbol that you will encounter is the liaison undertie . In French a silent final consonant may be pronounced, in some syntactic contexts, when the following word begins with a vowel or non-aspirated ‘h’. Many words with silent final consonants have utterly lost them, i.e. neither the ‘n’ in million nor the ‘t’ in art are ever pronounced regardless of whether the follow word begins in a vowel. A liaison should not be made just because a word ends in a silent consonant and the next one starts with a vowel. In the IPA transliteration scheme the undertie appears between words where liaison is happening.

The table below sets out the 39 IAP symbols required to precisely pronounce French.

Consonants

IPAPronunciation guide
bthe “b” in boy, baby and rob
kthe “c/k” in can, speaker and stick
ʃthe “sh” in she, station and push
dthe “d” in do, ladder and bed
fthe “f” in food, offer and safe
gthe “g” in get, bigger and dog
ʒthe “s” in measure, television and beige
hthe “h” in happy, ahead
ɲthe “gn” sound in lasagne or espana.
 lthe “l” in lie and ply
mthe “m” in make, summer and time
nthe “n” in no, dinner and thin
ŋthe “ng” in singer, think and long
pThe “p” in put, apple and cup
rthe “r” in run, far and store; tends to be raspy and rolling.
sthe “s” in sit, city, passing and face
tthe “t” in top, better and cat
vthe “v” in very, seven and love
xthe “ch” in Scottish loch and the German ach or ich
zthe “z” in zoo and buzz

Vowels

IPAPronunciation guide
athe “a” in aren’t – pronounced at the front of the mouth.
ɑsay “pas” with your lips rounded – it is that “a” sound.
ethe “er” in her
ɛthe “e” in ever, head and get
əthe “uh” sound in suspense
œa bit like the “ur” in “urn; the German “ö” in schön
øa “ue” with pursed lips; “ur” in urgent
ithe “e” in eat, see and need
othe “o” in ostrich
ɔthe “or” sound in all, or, talk and saw
u“oo/ou” in ooze, food, soup, sue; front of the mouth with pursed lips
y“ye” in yes, onion

Nasal vowels and semi vowels

IPAPronunciation guide
ɑ̃a nasal “on”; the “an” in croissant
ɛ̃a nasal “a”
õa nasal “o”
œ̃a short nasal “u” in under
j“zh” or “jer”
ɥ“we” with pursed lips and tongue at rear
wthe “w” in wear and away


If you are interested in a fun and effective way to practice the foreign language you are learning, give the Phrases app a try.

Immerse yourself in the language you are learning with ‘Phrases’ — using repetition, reenforcement and memorization to develop an intuitive feel for the language.

The languages available include French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. And more are coming soon.

Give it a try and download here : iPhone and iPad and Android.

Bootstrap Russian Grammar

We are delighted to announce the release of Bootstrap Russian Grammar – a book and mobile app combo.

Bootstrap Russian Grammar is a new way to learn Russian grammar. Starting from the beginning, the idea is progress in small self-contained steps (called ‘topics’). Each topic builds on the last, by incrementally adding new grammatical patterns, new vocabulary and lots of useful examples.

In total there are 200 grammar topics and over 3,000 examples phrases.

Each topic includes a thorough explanation of the grammar and then lots of examples that illustrate the grammar. Each example includes an English translation, as well as notes highlighting how each example illustrates that topic’s grammar, as well as the meanings of new Russian words.

A companion mobile application is now available called “BootStrap Russian Grammar“. The app contains all the content contained in this book – including 200 grammar topics and over 3000 example phrases. And in additional, there is high quality Russian native-speaker audio for every example.

The book and mobile app are easy to coordinate using QR codes. Just scan the QR code at the beginning of any chapter in the book with the app and it will take you straight to the topic where you will find all the examples with the high-quality audio matching the chapter in the book.

So if you prefer to have the grammar set out in book form but would also like to be able to listen to the example sentences, then the book/app combination is perfect for you.

FREE sample of the first 10 topics of the book is available here: https://www.declansoftware.com/russian/brg_SAMPLE.pdf

The complete 535-page book is available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0646861433

The App is available on the iOS App Store here: https://apple.co/3wVybhY. The first 10 topics are also free.

The Android version is coming soon.

Bootstrapping Russian: Grammar Lesson Two: Formality in Russian: Вы and Ты

Russian Grammar Lesson 2: Formality in Russian: Вы and Ты

  • The Russian word for ‘you’ (the second person) depends on who is being addressed.
  1. вы is used when addressing someone formally or politely.
  2. Ты is used when talking to friends and family.
  • Grammatically вы behaves just like the second person plural (‘you guys’, ‘ya’ll’).
  • So when first using вы imagine you are talking to two people.

EXAMPLES:

Ты учитель? (Are you (informal) a teacher?)
[ты is the informal ‘you’.]

Ты уже здесь? (Are you (informal) here yet?)
[ты is the informal ‘you’; уже means ‘yet’ or ‘already’.]

Вы профессор? (Are you (formal) a/the professor?)
[вы is the formal ‘you’.]

Вы русский? (Are you (formal) Russian (male)?)
[вы is the formal ‘you’; русский is the male adjective for ‘Russian’.]

Когда вы дома? (When are you (formal) at home?)
[вы is the formal ‘you’; когда means ‘when’.]

Вы всегда дома. (You (formal) are always at home.)
[вы is the formal ‘you’; всегда means ‘always’.]

Когда ты здесь? (When are you (informal) here?)
[ты is the informal ‘you’; когда means ‘when’.]

Ты никогда здесь. (You (informal) are never here.)
[ты is the informal ‘you’; никогда means ‘never’.]

Почему ты здесь? (Why are you (informal) here?)
[ты is the informal ‘you’; почему means ‘why’.]

Вы иногда там? (Are you (formal) sometimes there?)
[вы is the formal ‘you’; иногда means ‘sometimes’.]

Вы часто там? (Are you often there?)
[вы is the formal ‘you’; часто means ‘often’.]

Bootstrapping Russian: Grammar Lesson One: Personal pronouns. And the verb ‘to be’

Russian Grammar Lesson 1: Personal pronouns. And the verb ‘to be’

  • The Russian personal pronouns are: *я* (I), *он* (he), *она* (she), *мы* (we), *вы * (you, plural), *они* (they).
  • The pronoun ‘you’ (singular second person) depends on formality. This is introduced in the next topic.
  • The Russian verb ‘to be’ is omitted in the present tense. This might seem strange at first.
  • In phrases like ‘A is B’, when both A and B are nouns, a dash ‘—’ is used in place of the verb ‘to be’.

NOTE : Russian has no concept of articles like ‘a’ and ‘the’. We rely on context for this.

EXAMPLES:

Я учитель. (I am a/the teacher.)
[The article could be ‘a’ or ‘the’ from the context.]

Я русский. (I am Russian (male).)
[русский (masculine adjective) means ‘Russian’ .]

Кто он? (Who is he?)
[Кто means ‘who’; Note that the word order here is flexible – Он кто? is equally acceptable.]

Он Сергей. (He is Sergei.)

Он там. (He is (over) there.)
[там means ‘over there’.]

Кто онa? (Who is she?)

Она Ольга. (She is Olga?)

Онa здесь. (She is here.) [здесь means ‘here’.]

Они где? (Where are they?) [где means ‘where’]

Они дома. (They are at home?)
[дома mens ‘at home’ from the word дом which means ‘house’ or ‘home’]

Сергей и Ольга дома? (Are Sergei and Olga at home?)
[и means ‘and’.]

Да, они дома. (Yes, they are home?)
[да mean ‘yes’.]

Виктор — водитель. (Victor is a driver.)
[Notice the use of a dash ‘—’ when using ‘to be’ with two nouns (and no pronoun).]

Ольга — профессор. (Olga is a professor. )
[Notice the use of a dash ‘—’ when using ‘to be’ with two nouns (and no pronoun).]

Татьяна русская? (Is Tatiana Russian (female)?)
[русская (feminine adjective means ‘Russian’ ); No dash is required when a noun is used in combination with an adjective.]

Где Иван? (Where is Ivan?)
[Note that где can come either before or after the subject; Note that the word order here is flexible – Иван где? is equally acceptable.]

Вот Иван. (Here is Ivan.)
[вот means ‘here is’ – like the French ‘voilà’]

Музей там./Там музей. (The museum is (over) there.)

Вы где? (Where are you (plural)?)
[Note that the word order here is flexible – Где вы? is equally acceptable.]

Philip Crowther – fluent in six languages

This is a truly impressive multi-lingual achievement by a British-German–Luxembourgian journalist reporter called Philip Crowther.

Apparently he speaks fluently in six languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, German, and Luxembourgish.

He was born in Luxembourg to a British father and German mother. At home, his father always spoke English and his mother answered in German.

He explained that he learned to speak Luxembourgish with his friends, and learned French very early, at school. In college, he added Spanish and Portuguese.

Growing up in Luxembourg, he said that young people there usually speak four languages, including French and English, taught from the age of 10 and 12 respectively. “Most of us speak four languages ​​perfectly by the time we finish school.”

From the age of 14, he started to learn Spanish and became fluent when he moved to Barcelona at 20. The following year, upon entering a university in London, he decided that it would be a good idea to learn Portuguese. He graduated in Hispanic Studies from King’s College London.

Having studied and lived in Spain, Paris and England for extended periods and this has of course helped learning with immersion. Though it didn’t all go smoothly for the him: “For me, French was the most frustrating because it was the first language learned outside the home and with a grammar that isn’t very logical.”

The ‘Phrases’ App – Learning 1000s of Phrases in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese

We are happy to announce the launch of the Phrases app on the Apple AppStore.

The new app complements our existing ‘Words’ app that focuses on teaching vocabulary. Not surprisingly, Phrases focuses on phrases – lots of phrases!

The languages available include French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. And more are coming soon.

The idea is to expose users to hundreds and hundreds of common colloquial phrases, thereby developing familiarity and a feeling for the language. This is facilitated by exercises that emphasise memorisation through reiterative exposure to each phrase, and most especially repeated immersive exposure to the sound of each phrase. This helps to develop an intuitive feel for the language.

‘Phrases’ features hundreds and hundreds of common colloquial phrases organised into topics and all with native speaker audio pronunciation. Language acquisition is re-enforced with exercises that emphasise reiterative exposure to each phrase, and most especially repeated exposure to the phrase’s pronunciation.

The app content is designed so that learners can build mental templates of the language’s most common structures. And based on these patterns the learner can themselves construct and create new phrases. And recognise new combinations when listening and interacting in the language.

The core theoretical principle employed by ‘Phrases’ in facilitating adult language learning is ‘immersive exposure’. Immersive exposure is the key to effective language learning. It’s a proven method called ‘contextual immersion’. The app facilitates immersion through reiteration, repetition, memorisation and re-enforcement of over a thousand commonly used colloquial phrases – all with native speaker audio and contextual notes.

Audio Review Mode

There is a strong emphasis on listening in the app. A new feature that facilitates this is the “hand off” Audio Review Mode.

Using voice commands, the user can progress through all the phrases in a topic, repeat them, listen to the at a slower speed and even have the meaning read out.

A record function is also available that allow the user to record and listen back to their own pronunciation of the phrase so to compare with the native speaker pronunciation.

There is also an auto-play feature that automatically cycles through the topic phrases – ideal for when you are exercising or in the car and you want to repeat and repeat again the phrases until they are well and truly embedded and familiar.

Immersion is not submersion:

The immersion approach is a far better way of learning when compared with the submersion approach. Immersing yourself into a language means that you’ve got tools, tips and tricks to support you when it comes to learning the language and culture. Submersion, on the other hand, would plunge you in at the deep end with no resources or support. While submersion is effectively how children learn to speak, adults progress more quickly and efficiently if they have other resources to inform and support their learning. These include explanations of grammar and lessons that are structured.

While the ideal language learning scenario would be attending a language school while living in country surrounded by the culture and language 24 hours a day, this is often not practical for most of us, particularly for the length of time it usually take to go from zero to proficient. So regular and repeated use of the app is recommended so that you surround yourself with the essence of the language.

Here are several references if you are interested in knowing more about the most effective way you can master a foreign languages – by leveraging contextual immersion:

Cummins, J (2009) Bilingual and Immersion Programs, in Long, M and Doughty, C (Eds) The Handbook of Language Teaching, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

DeKeyser, R (2012) Age effects in second language learning, in Gass, S M and Mackey, A (Eds) The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition, London: Routledge, 442–460.

Kinginger, C (2011) Enhancing Language Learning in Study Abroad, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 31, 58–73, doi: 10.1017/S0267190511000031.

Robson, A L (2002) Critical/Sensitive Periods, in Salkind, N J (Ed.) Child Development, Gale Virtual Reference Library, New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 101–3.

Vanhove, J (2013) The critical period hypothesis in second language acquisition: a statistical critique and a reanalysis, PLOS ONE 8 (7): e69172, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069172.

Wilkinson S (1998) On the Nature of Immersion During Study Abroad: Some Participant Perspectives, Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 4 (2), 121–138, doi: 10.36366/frontiers.v4i1.65.

How did Bradley Cooper learn French?

Following on from the popularity of our blog post on how Bald and Bankrupt so successfully learned Russian, we are going to do a series of post on other (famous or otherwise) people have learned to speak a second language as adults. We kick off the series with the American actor and filmmaker Bradley Cooper.

Bradley Cooper is an excellent example of an adult who decided to learn a language and by investing the time and effort became pretty close to fluent according to reports.

Apparently he was motivated to learn French after watching the movie Chariots Of Fire. He said, “There’s a scene where a guy was speaking French and I thought, ‘Man, that sounds so cool.’”

While doing a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Georgetown University, Bradley took extra courses in French language. He also spent six months as an exchange student in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, living with a host family.

Here is video of him speaking French in an interview on French TV, answering fans’ questions:

It is clear that he isn’t exactly fluent – he does make lots of little mistakes and his accent, while very good, isn’t perfect – you can tell it’s an American speaking French. Indeed he once admitted that his grammar is débile (‘feeble’ or ‘weak’). But he is very good, especially his confidence, relaxed demeanour and his use of colloquial phrases. He doesn’t take it too seriously and you can see he is having a great time being able to engage his audience in their native language.

The key to his success seems to be that while he does make mistakes, it doesn’t phase him – he just ploughs ahead. This is a key strategy to language learning – not being afraid of making mistakes in front of other people – especially native speakers. Speaking to native speaker should be seen as an opportunity to learn. Native speakers don’t think you are stupid or that you are making a fool of yourself if you don’t quite get things perfect. And if you don’t understand something they ask, it is natural that they rephrase the question until you do understand.


Ready to learn French Grammar step-by-step?

Bootstrap French Grammar

A 550-page book and accompanying mobile app.
🇫🇷 Step-by-step introduction to French grammar in 224 topics.
🇫🇷 Over 4,000 annotated examples.
🇫🇷 High-quality audio pronunciations via the app.

‘Phrases’ Language Learning App – Looking for Beta Testers

We are looking for people to help BETA TEST our brand new **Language Learning App** for iPhone and iPad.

The app is called ‘Phrases’ and so far it’s available for French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.

BETA TESTERS will get 90 days free and complete access to all the app features including 100s upon 100s of phrases.

The idea behind ‘Phrases’ is to expose users to hundreds and hundreds of common colloquial phrases, thereby developing familiarity and a feeling for the language. This is facilitated by exercises that emphasise memorisation through reiterative exposure to each phrase, and most especially repeated immersive exposure to the sound of each phrase.

The app content is designed so that learners can build mental templates of the language’s most common structures. And based on these patterns the learner can themselves construct and create new phrases. And recognise new combinations when listening and interacting in the language.

The core theoretical principle employed by ‘Phrases’ in facilitating adult language learning is ‘immersive exposure’. Immersive exposure is the key to effective language learning. It’s a proven method called ‘contextual immersion’. The app facilitates immersion through reiteration, repetition, memorisation and re-enforcement of over a thousand commonly used colloquial phrases – all with native speaker audio and contextual notes.

If you are interested please follow this link:

https://declansoftware.com/phrases/beta

We would very much welcome your comments, suggestions and corrections.

Please feel free to share with your friends, family and fellow students. The more testers the merrier!

New features in version 1.4 of Declan FlashCards

We are constantly improving Declan FlashCards. In version 1.4 have added a couple of new features!

In the word review view you now have the option to play the pronunciation audio at 60% speed to get a really good listen to the native speaker’s pronunciation. Just tap the tortoise in the pronunciation bar!

The second new feature – and we think you’ll find this one really helpful – is a hands-off audio review feature. You can now listen to all the word pronunciations in a topic, one after the next, using voice commands like “Play”, “Slow”, “Next” and “Meaning” (which reads the word’s English meaning). You can also record your own pronunciation attempts to compare with the native speaker’s.

We really hope you’ll find this innovations helpful and fun!