Group: Romance language.
- Not a phonetic language. A lot of silent letters! Be careful. And pay attention to contractions and liaisons:
- Contractions: Spoken French tend to compress words and to eliminate syllables. Example: je mange (I eat) is very often pronounced j’mange. Je is usually contracted in just the sound j (without saying the letter e) when you speak.
- Liaisons: New sounds appear when some words are followed by some other words. It’s nebulous, I know. Let me give you an example: Un is French for a with masculine nouns. It has a unique sound (it’s a nasal vowel) that you can hear most of the time, such as in un trou (= a hole). But, when followed by a vowel, the sound n appears. Such as in un avion (= a plane), which can be read as un navion. It’s impossible to create an exhaustive list of all the liaison rules. And it would be super boring to learn them as a list. Instead, use songs, videos, dialogues, and pay attention. French is a very NON-phonetic language.
- Nasal vowels. When air needs to come out of your mouth AND your nose.
- Guttural r. This greasy French r, coming from the throat. If you’re having trouble with this sound, learn how to spit. It has to come from your throat. As if you wanted to get something nasty out! And exaggerate the whole process. Practice with simple words like trop (read tro), or très (read trè). Really really force it at the beginning.
- The combination gn, which can be seen as a n followed by the sound y (as in you). Practice by saying something like n-you.
- The combination li, which can be seen as a l followed by the sound y (as in you). Practice by saying something like l-you.
- Intonation: French can seem pretty monotonous compared to English. There’s no simple stress pattern. One thing I noticed with English speakers learning French is that sometimes they are too intense, like they put too much emphasis on some syllables. So here’s an actionable tip: Keep your voice steady. With a fall in pitch on the last syllable of a sentence. It may make no sense at all for you right now. But, again, pay attention when you start listening to songs, videos, or dialogues, and that’s something you will absorb naturally. The too-much-emphasis-on-a-syllable can actually be very cute, and it’s not a problem for communicating.
- Some accents in several parts of Metropolitan France. But it’s only minor, and shouldn’t cause any communication problem.
- Different accents (and even dialects) in Canada, Africa, and the islands.
Gender: Yes, two genders: Masculine, and feminine. No precise rule. But most words ending in -tion are feminine.
Cases: No declensions.
Negation: Ne…pas is used for the negation. However, it’s formal. Ne is usually omitted when you speak (or even when you write, like texting or online). You only need to add pas (pronounced pa) after the verb. Example: Je mange becomes je ne mange pas, or je mange pas.
Question: There are several ways to do this. As a beginner, the simplest way is to raise your pitch at the end of a sentence. It works with most sentences.
Plural: You add the letter s at the end of a singular word. Note that this letter s is silent in this case. There are some exceptions (of course!) with words ending in -x, or even completely changing, such as oeil (eye) and yeux (eyes).
Miscellaneous: Again, half the written language is silent. Beware!