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Intermediate French: Understanding spoken French
Intermediate French: Understanding spoken French

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6.1 Franz and pronunciation practice

Franz is a good model for you to ‘shadow’ as you study the way words and phrases are connected in French speech.

Activity 29

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Listen again to Franz. Pause the recording when you hear the words:

mes études

douze ans

qui est à présent

mes amis

je suis un être

How many syllables does each phrase contains? How are the syllables separated in speech? Do the syllables tend to end with vowel or consonant sounds?

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Answer

mes études = 3 syllables > sounds like me/zé/tudes

douze ans = 2 syllables > sounds like dou/zans

qui est à présent = 5 syllables > sounds like qui/es/tà/pré/sent

mes amis = 3 syllables > sounds like me/za/mis

je suis un être = 4 syllables > sounds like je/sui/zu/nêtre

You will notice that syllables in connected speech tend to end in vowel sounds. This is called open-syllabification and is typical of spoken French.

Activity 30

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Listen again to Franz, pausing the recording and paying particular attention to the words:

le hongrois

sens de l’humour

l’harmonie

and to Franz’s two pronunciations of

navetteur

What do you notice?

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Answer

The letter ‘h’ is never pronounced in spoken French. It is to all intents and purposes treated as a vowel and therefore the words ‘le’ and ‘la’ before it are reduced to ‘l’, as in ‘l’humour’ and ‘l’harmonie’. However, in certain words (such as ‘hongrois’) the letter ‘h’ is known as ‘h aspiré’, and ‘le’ and ‘la’ are not reduced to ‘l’’, hence ‘le hongrois’. If you look at words starting with ‘h’ in your dictionary, ‘h aspiré’ is signalled by an asterix before the word, so you will find *harem, *hareng, *haricot and *hongrois among others.

In words like ‘navetteur’, where the letter ‘e’ is sandwiched between two consonant sounds, the sound [ә] tends to disappear, thereby turning ‘navetteur’ into ‘nav-tteur’. This is known as elision.

Activity 31

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Remembering what you have learned about liaison, open syllabification, h aspiré and elision, play the recording of Franz with the subtitles and shadow-read along with him.

Franz, as befits his profession as an interpreter, speaks very clearly and carefully. The elements of his connected speech such as liaison, open syllabification, the absence of the contraction of ‘le’ and ‘la’ before ‘h aspiré and the elision of the sound [ә] when the letter ‘e’ occurs between two consonants are not ‘carelessness’ but, in fact, features of good spoken French which you should try to imitate. One advantage of using authentic video recordings is that they can sensitise you to features of natural connected speech and give you an excellent model for your own spoken French.