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Pay attention to the start of French words

In the first of her weekly guides to learning, speaking and understanding French, language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis advises paying attention to the beginning of words, rather than their often silent endings...

Most French learning methods would tell you to pay attention to the ending of the words: the verb conjugations, the plural S, the feminine… It is true of course, but many of these endings are silent. As a beginner, you need to focus on the beginning of the words!

Words starting with a vowel or a silent H are likely to have what is called “une liaison”: a French pronunciation rules that says that when a word starts with a vowel or a silent H, the last consonant sound of the word that comes before may start the following word.

The rule may sound complicated, but it’s not. With practice, you will get your liaisons right. You probably know several already:

Comment allez-vous ? = how are you? (formal) – the T of the “comment” glides into the “allez” so that it sounds like “tal-ay”.
So, why is that so important? These liaisons don’t show in written French and will tremendously change the way a word is pronounced.

For example, the word “homme” = man (pronounced “om”). However, “homme” will never actually be pronounced “om”… it will be pronounced "lom", "nom", "zom", or "tom", depending on the word which comes before it…
- L’homme = the man (pronounced lom)
- Un homme = one, a man (pronounced nom)
- Les hommes = men (pronounced zom -the final S of hommes is silent)
- Cet homme = this man (pronounced tom)

My last example is particularly interesting. If you heard “cet homme”, it’s very likely you’d understand “c’est Tom” = it’s Tom, and wonder why we are suddenly talking about your friend Tom …

In my many years of teaching, I’ve seen so many advanced French students who still are not saying these liaisons correctly, because school books hardly explain them. However, if you don’t say your liaisons, you will never have a good French accent! The flow of the language would be totally different without them.

So, make sure you always train with audio, even for verb conjugations, and pay attention to the beginning of the words. As usual, repetition and practice is the key!

Camille Chevalier-Karfis
French audiobook method &
blog writer, founder of FrenchToday.com 

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