Learn French from scratch!
Leçon 1

Lesson 1

French Alphabet

А а
В b
C c
D d

Е е
F f
G g
H h

I i
J j
K k
L l

M m
N n
O o
P p

Q q
R r
S s
T t

U u
V v
W w
X x

Y y
Z z

Attention! The french alphabet is given to you in the first lesson only for a quick acquaintance because you will have to learn many french sounds first. That is what we are going to do during the next 12 lessons, and then we go back to the alphabet. These 12 lessons are called the introductory phonetic course. They do not include grammar which starts from lesson 13.

In the introductory course we will examine the French sounds, giving their approximate sound correspondence in the English language, if possible, and showing what French letters or letter combinations are used for each sound.

Sounds [а], [р], [b], [t], [d], [f], [v], [m], [n]

French sound Similar English sound French letters and letter combinations Notes
vowel [a] like “ah” in English А, а
À, à
The sign ` (a accent grave) is used to distinguish some words in writing, for example: а — to have; à — to (preposition) and other meanings. The capital letter À is more often denoted as A.
consonant [p] [p] as in the word park Р, p Similar to English, except that in French, it’s not aspirated (no air is expelled) when it’s at the beginning of a word.
consonant [b] [b] as in the word bar В, b  
consonant [t] [t] as in the word table T, t
Th, th
Similar to English, except that its place of articulation is dental rather than alveolar.
consonant [d] [d] as in the word debt D, d Similar to English, except that its place of articulation is dental rather than alveolar.
consonant [f] [f] as in the word fact F, f
Ph, ph
 
consonant [v] [v] as in the word vase V, v
W, w
The letter W, w is rarely used, but it is pronounced as [v] in some loan words, for example, in the word warrant.
consonant [m] [m] as in the word mother M, m  
consonant [n] [n] as in the word nine N, n  

Exercise 1. Read aloud:

[ра — ba — ta — da — fa — va — ma — na].

Exercise 2. Write the transcription for a letter or a letter combination. Check yourself using the table above.

Example:
D [d]
Th [t]
T [] f [] t [] F []
d [] p [] à [] a []
A [] B [] b [] ph []
D [] Ph [] n [] V []
M [] N [] Th [] P []
m [] v [] th []  

Like in English, consonant sounds at the end of words remain the same (unlike some other languages).

Exercise 3. Read aloud contrasting the final sounds:

[dap — dab], [рар — pab], [fat — fad], [tap — tab], [mat — mad].

If a word ends in the sound [v], then any stressed vowel
before it usually lengthens, for example [pa:v].
Colon in the transcription indicates the length of the vowel.

Exercise 4. Read aloud distinguishing the final [f] and [v]:

[paf — pa:v], [taf — ta:v], [baf — ba:v].

The letter е at the end of words. Stress in French. Clarity of french vowels

The letter е at the end of words in most cases is not pronounced, for example:
dame [dam] — lady, arabe [a'rab] — Arabic.

The stress in the French words falls on the last syllable, for example: papa [pa'pa] — dad. That is why it is not written in dictionaries and we will not write it in our transcription.

Unlike English, all the French vowels sound equally clear in both the stressed and the unstressed position, for example: panama [panama] — Panama [ˌpænə'mɑː].
All three French [а] are pronounced the same way, unlike English where we see three different “a”.

Exercise 5. Read aloud. Remember that the stress in French words always falls on the last syllable:

  banane [banan] — banana papa [papa] — dad
  madame [madam] — madam, ma'am, Mrs. Nana [nana] — Nana
  panama [panama] — Panama (female name)

Double consonants

Double consonants are pronounced as one sound, like in English, for example:
Anne [an] — Anna, batte [bat] — bat.

Exercise 6. Read aloud:

date [dat] — date patte [pat] — paw
datte [dat] — date (palm) panne [pan] — breakdown
nappe [nap] — tablecloth fade [fad] — tasteless; dull
natte [nat] — plait, braid bave [ba:v] — spit, drool

Sound [r]

French sound Similar English sound French letters
consonant [r] [r] as in the word red R, r

The sound [r] in Parisian pronunciation is considered to be one of the most difficult French sounds for English speakers. However, Paris is not the whole of France. The French “r” is a sound made in the back of the throat. In some cases it’s rather harsh and in others it’s softer, depending on the word and region of France. There is no shame if you are going to pronounce the French “r” like English “r”. You can learn French for fifteen or twenty years and still not quite get it. This shouldn’t be your primary focus when learning French.

In order to get your French “r” better, you need to lift up the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just between your hard palate and your soft palate. It’s quite similar to the way you’d place your tongue to pronounce the sound [g] — so, you can start with that sound first. Then place a small “gargle” sound instead of the [g]. Your tongue might move back just a little bit. Remember, it’s the back of your tongue that should stick up! Not the front, like you do with the English “r.” The feeling is similar to gargling mouthwash, clearing your throat, or coughing up some... stuff... It’s better to practise.

Exercise 7. Read aloud:

rate [rat] — spleen rame [ram] — oar
arme [arm] — weapon, arm parade [parad] — parade
If a word ends in [r], then any stressed vowel before it usually lengthens, for example:
bar [ba:r] — bar, amarre [ama:r] — mooring rope.

Exercise 8. Read aloud:

barbare [barba:r] — barbarian phare [fa:r] — headlight
radar [rada:r] — radar rare [ra:r] — rare
mare [ma:r] — pond, pool avare [ava:r] — miserly