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How to pronounce the French words Connexion readers find hardest

From bouilloire to déshumidificateur, we explain how to say some of the trickiest words in French

Pronunciation in French usually goes against your English-speaking instincts Pic: Fizkes / Shutterstock

If you are learning French, you will be no stranger to pronunciation problems. 

There are a whole host of words that are very difficult for English speakers - many are composed of sounds we just do not have! 

For many, the French “ou” sound is difficult and often confused with the “u” (eg. tu). 

A good exercise to practise these different sounds is to repeat the phrase “Où habites-tu?”

When you come across a word that is tricky to pronounce, look it up on WordReference and listen to the pronunciation. Once you have heard a sound enough times, you will start to instinctively know how to pronounce words.

We asked you last week if there are any French words you particularly struggle with. Lots of Connexion readers wrote in with their most problematic pronunciations. Below, we have tried to explain how to say them correctly. 

Foulque (Coot)

Pronunciation: Foo-l-k 

SC wrote to say that he finds the word “foulque”, English for the bird “Coot”, difficult to pronounce. 

“Describing what I had seen at a nature reserve, I had problems with ‘Foulque’,” he said. “My French friends tried to help by offering seal, so all I heard was ‘phoque, phoque, phoque’; there was no way that I could carry on!”

Foulque is certainly a difficult one! 

You need to take the word fou (crazy) to start with. The “ou” sound can be very difficult for English speakers to pronounce so it is important to focus on making the shape with your mouth. The “l” is not silent, and finally the “que” should be pronounced like it is on its own, like a small “k” in English. 

Bouilloire (Kettle) 

Pronunciation: Bu-oui-wahr

SH and FP both wrote in to suggest “bouilloire”, which means kettle.  

For a word that is so ingrained in everyday life, kettle is undoubtedly very tricky to say in French.

As is often the case with French words, there are a lot of different parts to pronounce here. The “bu” and “oui” sounds are pushed together so the sounds almost merge, before adding the “wahr” sound at the end. 

Read also: ‘To master the French language, grasp how it differs from English’

Grenouille (Frog)

Pronunciation: Gre-nou-y

This is always a difficult one to pronounce as highlighted by SK, RK and LH.

Use the French pronunciation of “e” for the first part - “gre”. The second part of the word is pronounced like the French word for “we” - “nous”. Finally, the “ille” is pronounced like a small “y”. 

Déshumidificateur (Dehumidifier)

Pronunciation: Des-hu-mid-if-i-cat-eur 

TR said he found “déshumidificateur” tricky. 

The huge number of syllables to be pronounced in this word can make it seem almost impossible, but the trick is to go against the general rule of French and say exactly what you see. 

Puissance (Power)

Pronunciation: Pu-oui-ssance

BV wrote to propose “puissance” meaning “power”. 

She said: “It's so easy to say PWEEsance, when in fact the French seem to say (very rapidly) PU- EE- SSANCE.  Someone once told me off for pronouncing it the first of these two, and pointed out that there is no W in the word!!!!”

Again, the “pu” and “oui” sounds are pushed together so that they almost become one sound. 

Aiguille (Needle) 

Pronunciation: Ay-gu-oui

For MW, “aiguille”, meaning needle, causes problems. 

The syllables are all sounded out but then pushed together which can make it hard for non-natives to pronounce. 

Feuille (Leaf/Page) 

Pronunciation: feu-y 

RG wrote to suggest “feuille” meaning “leaf” or “page” in English. 

The first part of the word is pronounced like “feu”, the French word for “fire”. Meanwhile, the “ille” part is pronounced as a small “y”. 

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