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Get ready for beginners’ French
Get ready for beginners’ French

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5 Accent, stress and rhythm

If your first language is English, you will be used to emphasising at least one sound in each word (whether or not you do this consciously). Learners of English have to study the stress pattern of each word and commit them to memory. For example, they have to learn that in the word ‘English’, it is the first sound ‘en’ which is stressed.

One of the reasons English speakers often exhibit a ‘foreign’ accent – at least during early French studies – is because they transfer the stress patterns of English words across to similar words in French. The good news here is that word stress is much more regular in French than it is in English. In French, the norm is for the emphasis to be placed at the end of words. There are of course exceptions, and it gets more complex than this, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow when you start learning French.

This means that the rhythm of the French language feels a little more ‘monotonous’ than the rhythm of English. To demonstrate this, it’s useful to compare the pronunciation of cognate words (remember from Week 2 that cognates are words that are identical, or almost identical, in two languages) in English and French.

Play the following audio clips to compare the way the cognates are pronounced in English and French. For the English words, the main word stress is identified in the caption.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 14 tele
Audio 14 television (stress on ‘vi’)
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 15
Audio 15 télévision
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 16 ca
Audio 16 cathedral (stress on ‘the’)
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 17
Audio 17 cathédrale
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 18 in
Audio 18 intelligence (stress on ‘tel’)
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 19
Audio 19 intelligence
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 20
Audio 20 opera (stress on ‘o’)
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 21
Audio 21 opéra
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Activity 5 Practise French pronunciation

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Now you can have a go at some French pronunciation. Play the model audio for each word below, then record yourself and listen back for comparison. Try them each a few times until the pronunciation feels familiar.

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Guest users do not have permission to interact with embedded questions.
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Guest users do not have permission to interact with embedded questions.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
Guest users do not have permission to interact with embedded questions.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
Guest users do not have permission to interact with embedded questions.
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