“Why don’t you want to take French?” I asked my friend. “It’s too difficult to pronounce!” she responded. Does this conversation sound familiar? Lots of people are intimidated by French for fear of butchering the language. Yes, there are times when the French language is not the easiest language to master orally. There are the complicated vowel combinations and the famous throaty “rrrrrr” that, as an American, may sound like you are trying too hard. For those that study the language, we are willing to be misunderstood or embarrassed a few times (or more….) to fully participate in the French experience.

This week we’ve rounded up a list of often difficult words for American English speakers to pronounce in French. What do you think? Can you pronounce these words?

English translation: Squirrel
Listen to the French here

The squirrel- it’s such a common animal we see in the US, frolicking in the parks or just outside your house. But it sometimes feels presque impossible to pronounce in French! The “euil” looks particularly intimidating but try thinking of it like the French word for eye, “oeil”.

English translation: Psychologist/Psychiatrist
Listen to the French here

These words are like English, right? Well, almost. Don’t forget to add the inconspicuous “p” to the beginning pronunciation to these French words! Hint: it sort of sounds like you are telling a secret (“psssss”).

English translation: coming from Nice (a town in France)
Listen to the French here

Next time the salade niçoise is on the menu, you’ll know how to impress your waiter! While many may be tempted to make the “c” hard, the accent mark (the cédille) makes this “c” soft, like a double “s”. Don’t forget to pronounce the “s” at the end of the word like a "z".  

English translation: girl, daughter
Listen to the French here

Attention ! Don’t pronounce the double “l” as simply “l”. The double “l” here has more of an “ee” sound or “ya” or “ye” sound.

English translation: yogurt
Listen to the French here

Yikes- lots of vowels next to each other! This one was always hard for me when learning French, but it helps if you move your mouth more than you think you need to in order to articulate all the sounds. Make sure to separate the "a" from the "ou" and pronounce the "ou" as "oo".

English translation: This is the name of a town in France
Listen to the French here

This is an important town to know if you like champagne. To an American English speaker it almost looks like this word should be pronounced “reems” but it sounds more like the French translation of “rince” (rince).

La mort versus l’amour
English translations : La mort = death; L’amour = love
Listen to the French here and here

These are two very different words that have very similar pronunciations. With mort, your jaw is dropped lower when pronouncing the “o” sound and the lips purse together more when pronouncing “amour”.

Liaisons, Enchaînement et les h’s !

A liaison is a pronunciation technique where one connects the consonant sound of one word with the vowel sound or h muet (silent h) of the next word.

What makes the liaison different from the enchainement (linking) is that in a liaison you pronounce a consonant sound that you normally would not pronounce if the word did not precede a vowel or silent h.

Liaison: vous avez (voo zah vay) ; deux enfants
Enchainement: avec elle (You would pronounce the “c” whether or not there was a vowel sound that follows or not); elle est

The liaison technique especially comes in handy when we talk about the silent h (h muet) and the aspirated h (h aspiré). The h aspiré does not allow for liaisons but the h muet does.

Here are some common "h" words to keep in mind next time you are speaking French:

H aspiré (no liason!)
Les héros (heroes)
Les Halles (popular market place in Paris)
Les homards (lobsters)
Les haricots verts (green beans)

H muet (make the connection!)
Les heures (hours)
Les hivers (winters)
Les huîtres (oysters)
Les hôpitaux  (hospitals)

What French word is hardest for you to pronounce?

Natalie Collet

Former Membership Manager

From the Midwest, Natalie is a Francophile at heart. Her interest in French started when studying ballet and​ the language and culture entranced her through her student years.​ She became involved with the - Alliance - in the suburbs of Chicago after she spent an unforgettable year teaching English in a French high school near Bordeaux. She is happy to join the team in Boston and work with the members to provide them with unique opportunities​, ​quality programming​, and a community through French!

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