Bradley Cooper is an American actor you may recognize from The Hangover. He later starred in Limitless, and Silver Linings Playbook. He also was in American Sniper, a Clint Eastwood movie who gained international acclaim.
But we’re not here to talk about his movie career. What’s interesting about Bradley Cooper is the fact that he speaks French. He spent six months in Aix-en-Provence, France, as an exchange student in college.
In this post, we’re going to see him speaking French during an interview. I’m going to show you what betrays him, and what he can do to improve his accent.
At 0’29, when Bradley says “salut”, his “u” sounds weird. We can hear and understand him clearly, but his “u” doesn’t sound natural.
At 1’00, he says “université” and there’s something odd with the “r”. It’s too strong.
At 1’11, in “pour tous les trucs”, we can’t hear the letter “r”. It also seems like his “ou” in “pour” is too low.
At 2’00, we can hear “s’il y a un” with an emphasis on the letter “n”.
How to correct his mispronunciations
The sound /y/ appears in “salut” with the letter “u”. It’s a tricky sound, especially for English speakers, as it doesn’t exist in English. Yet, there’s a simple way to make this sound. Start with a sound “ee”, as in “bee”. Then, round your lips, without moving your mouth, tongue or jaws. Keep everything in place, except your lips. That’s how you make the sound /y/. It’s just a rounded “ee” (denoted /i/ in IPA). If it doesn’t come natural to you, practice going from /i/ to /y/ (and vice versa) with this exercise (rounding your lips). Do it for several minutes, everyday. Drill, baby, drill!
Now, with “université”, it’s a little more complex. There’s one letter “r” in French. But it comes with several sounds (at least two, depending on the regions and people). The one he says in “université” is too strong. It should be lighter, weaker. It’s hard to really explain the difference. But you can look at the weak r as an intermediate between the strong r and an aspired English h. Listen to native French speakers saying the word “université” on Forvo.
On the contrary, in “pour”, Bradley’s r is too weak! It has too be stronger, just like the one he made in “université”. Listen to native French speakers saying the word “pour” on Forvo. If the strong r doesn’t come naturally to you, then clear your throat. Force it and exaggerate! Practice using this r in different French words. It doesn’t matter if it comes unnatural and too forced at the beginning. With time you’ll get better at this if you keep practicing daily.
Also, in “pour”, his “ou” is too low. **I’m not sure though, it’s not clear enough, and it might be that the r thing mislead me; but it’s a common mistake anyways so it’s interesting to talk about it here** In English, there are two similar vowels that sound the same to a French ear. I’m talking about the vowels in “good” and “you”. They are denoted /ʊ/ and /u/ in IPA. But in French there’s only one: the /u/. The American and the French /u/ are pretty similar, but, again, it depends on the dialects, regions and people. Anyways, if you speak French, merge /ʊ/ and /u/ to have only /u/.
And finally, we have one of the most common mistakes foreigners do when speaking French. It’s a beautiful language, the French language, sure, it sounds romantic. But its spelling system is a b*tch! Other Romance languages (like Spanish or Italian) are phonetic languages. That means words’ pronunciation and spelling are the same (except for a few exceptions, as always with languages). Yet, it doesn’t work with French. There are TONS of silent letters. Or letters that are here to influence vowels preceding them. Just like in “un”. The “n” is here to indicate that you won’t be saying a normal u but a nasal vowel. So you don’t pronounce the letter n. Hear the word “un” pronounced by natives here on Forvo.
That’s why I think it’s vital to learn a language mostly relying on audio. Don’t guess the pronunciation of a word when you see it for the first time. Ask a friend, or go to forvo.
Now, you might be wondering how to make nasal vowels. With the r, they are the trickiest sounds of the French language. Start with the vowel in “vest” (English word). Maintain this sound, and push air through your nose as well. You might not succeed the first time. Or even the first day. Or the first week. But keep practicing. Again, really exaggerate at the beginning.
Bradley Cooper speaks good French, and he’s not afraid to try. He did the entire interview in French when it would be so easy for him to fall back on english. So, for that, congrats. You can find other videos of him speaking French during interviews or live on French national radio.
What we saw in this post is just the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to take your French pronunciation seriously, take a look at the wikipedia page of French phonology. You can also go deeper with this video and try to spot other pronunciation mistakes.
And no, this post wasn’t sponsored by Forvo. It could seem like it, but no. Forvo is just a incredible tool to practice and correct your pronunciation. There are thousands of native pronunciations for many languages. And it’s completely free!
Thanks for reading until the end. Let me know in the comments if you have any question.