How to Deal with your Accent in French (4 Easy Tricks)
Let’s talk about accents. Now personally, I loooooove accents. Besides just being totally cool in their own right I believe accents add colour, depth, and personality to one’s speech. But as a language learner myself, I understand the feeling of wanting to sound more natural when speaking a foreign language. And part of that comes with at least some level of accent adjustment.
To start off, let’s picture a (probably) familiar situation.
You’re learning French and you feel pretty confident with what you know. But despite your level of confidence, you are highly aware that you have an accent. When you speak, you hear it right away, even if what you’re saying is grammatically correct and perfect.
Now, there tends to be two types of students:
- Students who don’t care about their accent and care more about proper pronunciation.
- Students who are convinced that if they don’t have a “native” accent, they are simply not good enough.
Which group do you belong to?
If you’re part of group #1, bravo. Any language teacher will tell you that pronunciation is way more important than having a ‘perfect’ accent. The goal of speaking a language is to communicate and to be understood. That’s where proper pronunciation (along with vocabulary and grammar, obviously) comes into play.
But that’s probably not why you’re reading this article…So if you consider yourself to belong to category #2, no worries. I got you covered. After 15 years of teaching French as a second language, I’m going to share with you some tips and secrets to help you with your accent.
First of all, these are the false beliefs you need to get rid of right away:
- Your accent will never disappear. Well, technically your accent won’t ever go away permanently but you can learn a new one. So if you’re keen to get rid of your accent (or, more accurately — put your accent away temporarily to make space for another one when you speak French), it is totally doable.
- Accent reduction classes are bullshit. They are false-promise touting money traps. Okay, let me clarify myself here. Accent reduction classes are the real deal. Because accents can be learned and added to your repertoire (just like languages) and even native francophones attend accent reduction courses. Why? If you’re a native French speaker and you’re seeking a career in the public space such as an actor or journalist, you may need to take an accent reduction course. Yep. In France, anyways, being a public figure or in any sort of representation job, will probably entail that you be asked to work on your accent. Recently though, accent discrimination has been made illegal in France, which will hopefully encourage different regional accents in the media and reduce accent bias.
- Your accent is embarrassing. Well, you knew this was coming. As a lover of accents and learning languages, it makes me sad when people become ashamed of their accent. Seriously. Your accent is unique and beautiful. So don’t carry shame for it.
- There is only ONE perfect French accent. Well, this is totally wrong. The French accent you’re probably most familiar with is the Parisian one — the one that news presenters usually have. But the fact of the matter is, there are many regional accents all over France. And not to mention other French-speaking countries and places (Quebec, Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, etc.)! It all depends on which accent you want to adopt.
- Speaking like a native francophone is the only way to be bilingual. This is a really damaging false belief. It’s dead wrong. What counts is not about speaking like a native but having a good pronunciation so you’re understandable. How many people have you encountered in your native language (or English) that have an accent but are bilingual (and totally understandable)? Probably a lot.
Now that we’ve got those out of the way, you might be thinking: Okay, yes, I get it … but how do I improve my French accent now?
As promised, here are 4 quick tips to improve your French accent.
- Listen, listen, listen. There’s no way around it. The only way you can adjust your accent is by immersing yourself in the sounds of the language. Listen to native French speakers, do audio drills and exercises, and consciously pay attention to the sounds.
- Record yourself speaking. This is super important, even if you feel slightly silly doing it — you need to record yourself and listen to how you sound. You can either talk to yourself or read a passage from a book or news article. It’s a great way to track your progress.
- Practice difficult sounds with tongue twisters. Tongue twisters or virelangues are frustrating phrases that even native French speakers find difficult. So why do I recommend you practice them? Not to torture you, but to expose you to difficult and similar-sounding words that will force you to consciously pay attention to your speech.
- Read aloud. Next time you’re reading un journal en français ou une livre — read out loud. If you record yourself, even better. This might not be the most efficient or fastest way to read — but if you pause to check any proper pronunciation with Google Translate (yes, Google Translate is great for this!) you’ll kill two birds with one stone. While you read try to focus on fluidity and natural cadence.
I’ll leave you with this quote to mull over…
“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery” — Amy Chua
What’s your take on accents? Are you self-conscious of your accent in French, or do you embrace it? Let me know in the comments below.