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How to Fake a French Accent

Learn how to sound French while speaking English


Fake a French accent
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I love the beautiful accent that the French have when they speak English, and it can be fun or even useful to imitate it. If you're an actor, comedian, or grand séducteur - or even if you just have a French-themed Halloween costume - you can learn how to fake a French accent with this in-depth look at how the French speak English.*

Please note that my pronunciation explanations are based on American English; some of them won't sound right to British and Australian ears.

French-infused vowels

Nearly every English vowel is affected by the French accent. French has no diphthongs, so vowels are always shorter than their English counterparts. The long A, O, and U sounds in English, as in say, so, and Sue, are pronounced by French speakers like their similar but un-diphthonged French equivalents, as in the French words sais, seau, and sou. For example, English speakers pronounce say as [seI], with a diphthong made up of a long "a" sound followed by a sort of "y" sound. But French speakers will say [se] - no diphthong, no "y" sound. (Note that [xxx] indicates IPA spelling.)

English vowel sounds which do not have close French equivalents are systematically replaced by other sounds:
  • short A [æ], as in fat, is pronounced "ah" as in father
  • long A [eI] followed by a consonant, as in gate, is usually pronounced like the short e in get
  • ER at the end of a word, as in water, is always pronounced air
  • short I [I], as in sip, is always pronounced "ee" as in seep
  • long I [aI], as in kite, tends to be elongated and almost turned into two syllables: [ka it]
  • short O [ɑ], as in cot, is pronounced either "uh" as in cut, or "oh" as in coat
  • U [ʊ] in words like full is usually pronounced "oo" as in fool
Lesson: French vowels

Dropped vowels, syllabification, and word stress

When faking a French accent, you need to pronounce all schwas (unstressed vowels). For reminder, native English speakers tend toward "r'mind'r," but French speakers say "ree-ma-een-dair." They will pronounce amazes "ah-may-zez," with the final e fully stressed, unlike native speakers who will gloss over it: "amaz's." And the French often emphasize the -ed at the end of a verb, even if that means adding a syllable: amazed becomes "ah-may-zed."

Short words that native English speakers tend skim over or swallow will always be carefully pronounced by French speakers. The latter will say "peanoot boo-tair and jelly," whereas native English speakers opt for pean't butt'r 'n' jelly. Likewise, French speakers will usually not make contractions, instead pronouncing every word: "I would go" instead of I'd go and "She eez reh-dee" rather than She's ready.

Because French has no word stress (all syllables are pronounced with the same emphasis), French speakers have a hard time with stressed syllables in English, and will usually pronounce everything at the same stress, like actually, which becomes "ahk chew ah lee." Or they might stress the last syllable - particularly in words with more than two: computer is often said "com-pu-TAIR."

Lessons: French rhythm | Affective accent | Tonic accent

French-accented consonants

H is always silent in French, so the French will pronounce happy as "appy." Once in a while, they might make a particular effort, usually resulting in an overly forceful H sound - even with words like hour and honest, in which the H is silent in English.

J is likely to be pronounced "zh" like the G in massage.

R will be pronounced either as in French, or as a tricky sound somewhere between W and L. Interestingly, if a word starting with a vowel has an R in the middle, some French speakers will mistakenly add an (overly forceful) English H in front of it. For example, arm might be pronounced "hahrm."

TH's pronunciation will vary, depending on how it's supposed to be pronounced in English:
  1. voiced TH [ð] is pronounced Z or DZ: this becomes "zees" or "dzees"
  2. unvoiced TH [θ] is pronounced S or T: thin turns into "seen" or "teen"
Letters that should be silent at the beginning and end of words (psychology, lamb) are often pronounced.

Lesson: French consonants

More French flavor

If you can master all of the above, you'll have a pretty good French accent. But for authenticity, you also need to work on some grammar and vocabulary.
*Si vous êtes français, ne m'en voulez pas ! J'ai écrit cet article parce qu'il s'agit d'un sujet intéressant et potentiellement utile. Franchement, j'adore votre langue et j'adore également votre accent quand vous parlez la mienne. Si vous voulez, vous pouvez utiliser ces tuyaux pour réduire les traces de français dans votre anglais. Mais, à mon avis, ce serait dommage.
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