7 Recognising ‘u’ and ‘ou’ sounds
You have just been practising your spoken French by listening carefully and copying what you hear. You may have also relied on reading a short script to make sure you got it right.
However, if you rely too much on reading you’ll tend to allow the influence of your own language to take over and your pronunciation will be affected. Copying what you hear without looking at a ‘script’ is a very good idea when learning new phrases and expressions so aim to do that before reading the words, if you can, even if you don’t understand every word.
You can also concentrate on individual sounds by learning and practising words or phrases that contain those sounds. One pair of sounds that is often challenging, for English speakers in particular, is ‘u’ and ‘ou.’ You have already heard the ‘u’ sound in ‘salut,’ and the ‘ou’ sound in ‘vous.’
Listen to the recording; there are six words which contain either the ‘u’ sound or the ‘ou’ sound. As you listen to each word, pay careful attention to the sound. You can look at the words at the same time, if that is helpful, by clicking on ‘Transcript’.
‘u’ and ‘ou’sounds appear very frequently in French. It is important to be able to make the distinction between them, in both listening and speaking. You have just been listening to some examples; you could try repeating these many times to copy exactly what you hear. You may need quite a lot of practice to get it just right. As you practise, think about how you shape your mouth and where your tongue is when you make the sounds. These tips may be helpful:
- the sound u, as in ‘salut’, is pronounced with closely rounded, protruding lips, while the tip of your tongue is raised at the front of your mouth. (You might find it helpful to practise by saying ‘oo’, then switch to ‘ee’ without changing your lip position.)
- the sound ou, as in ‘vous’, ‘tout’, ‘bonjour’, is pronounced with the same lip position, but with the middle part of your tongue raised at the back of your mouth. It’s a bit like the sound ‘oo’ as in ‘zoo’ in English.
Try saying them one after the other and note the changing position of your tongue.
Now listen to the next recording, where you’ll hear pairs of words containing these two sounds. Many of these words will be new to you but don’t worry about understanding what is being said. The important thing, at this stage, is for you to hear the difference between the two sounds, and to copy it as accurately as you can. You can look at the words at the same time, if that is helpful, by clicking on ‘Transcript’.