English Pronunciation Guide for French Speakers

French speakers speaking English tend to encounter some predictable challenges when it comes to pronunciation. From common consonant and vowel errors to mastering stress and intonation, this comprehensive guide outlines everything you need to know to perfect your American accent as a native French speaker.
November 5, 2023
Ron Carlos
Ron Carlos
Speech & Accent Coach at BoldVoice
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Embarking on the journey of mastering English pronunciation as a native French speaker is an exciting endeavor. While French and English share some linguistic similarities, they also present a host of distinctive challenges. From the subtle nuances of individual sounds to the intricacies of stress patterns and intonation, bridging the gap between these two languages requires dedication and practice.

This comprehensive guide is designed to be your trusted companion on this linguistic adventure. We will explore the primary challenges faced by French speakers when pronouncing English sounds, uncover the correct mouth and tongue positioning for challenging phonemes, and provide valuable tips and activities to enhance your pronunciation skills. From understanding word stress to navigating the complexities of diphthongs, we've got you covered.

So whether you're a beginner aiming to refine your pronunciation or an experienced speaker looking to fine-tune your skills, this guide will equip you with the tools, techniques, and knowledge to learn how to speak English like a native speaker with confidence and clarity.

Check out this video introduction for an overview about the most common pronunciation challenges for native French speakers.

Differences between English and French Consonants

Let's now examine the nuances of consonants in American English and how they compare to French consonants. Consonants play a significant role in achieving clear and precise American English pronunciation, so we'll navigate through this intricate realm to offer valuable guidance for refining your consonant sounds.

‘H’ Sounds

French speakers often grapple with the English 'H' sound, frequently omitting it when required or inserting it where unnecessary. This challenge arises from 'H' being one of the silent letters in French pronunciation, and the absence of certain sounds in the French accent that demand 'H' in English. To conquer this hurdle, it's crucial to discern when 'H' is needed and adopt the right mouth and tongue positioning for its correct pronunciation. To articulate the 'H' sound correctly, maintain a slightly open mouth, gently exhale without vocal cord vibration, and keep your tongue still.

Watch the 'H' sound being made in this video lesson.

Another key to tackling this issue lies in recognizing when to pronounce 'H' in English words. 'H' is generally present at the beginning of words like "house" or before vowels as in "hotel." It also appears in common phrases such as "hold on" or "have fun."

By mastering the fundamentals of the 'H' sound, you can refine your English pronunciation and speak with confidence.

'Th' Sounds

For native French speakers, mastering the English 'th' sounds, both voiced and unvoiced, presents a notable pronunciation challenge. In the French language, these sounds are absent, leading to common substitutions like /z/, /d/, or /s/ instead of 'th.' This can result in pronunciations like “dis” or "zis" for "this," as well as pronouncing "sink" in place of "think."

For instance, listen to how French Canadian singer Céline Dion pronounces the words “the” and “them” in this interview. Although her accent in English is quite advanced, she still pronounces these words as “duh” and “dem.”

The 'th' sounds in English, both voiced and unvoiced, require precise mouth positioning. To produce them correctly, follow these guidelines:

Voiced 'Th' (as in "this")

  • Position the tip of your tongue against your upper front teeth.
  • Engage your vocal cords to create a gentle vibration.
  • Exhale softly while maintaining tongue-to-teeth contact.

Unvoiced 'Th' (as in "think")

  • Similar to the voiced 'th,' place the tip of your tongue against your upper front teeth.
  • However, refrain from engaging your vocal cords; keep them silent.
  • Exhale gently while preserving tongue-to-teeth contact.

To enhance your pronunciation of the 'th' sounds, you can incorporate minimal pairs activities into your language learning routine.

Minimal pairs consist of words that differ by only one sound, making them an effective way to practice and distinguish between similar sounds. Here are some pairs to help you refine your mastery of the 'th' sounds:

  • There/Dare: Differentiate between the voiced 'th' and the French-like 'd' sound.
  • Think/Sink: Practice distinguishing the unvoiced 'th' from the French-like 's' sound.
  • Three/Tree: Work on pronouncing ‘th’ sounds when they occur in consonant clusters.

By mastering the precise mouth positioning for 'th' sounds and regularly engaging in minimal pairs exercises, you can significantly improve your English pronunciation. Don't be discouraged by initial challenges; with consistent practice, you'll build the confidence and proficiency to articulate these sounds accurately.

'R' Sound

For many French speakers, the English 'R' sound can be a source of considerable difficulty. The challenge lies in the fundamental differences between the French and English 'R' sounds. In French pronunciation, the 'R' sound is generated at the back of the mouth, while in English, the 'R' is made near the front of the mouth. This substantial contrast between the two languages often results in French speakers struggling to replicate the English 'R' sound. 

To correctly pronounce the English 'R' sound, you must adjust your mouth and tongue positioning accordingly:

  • Begin with a slightly open mouth.
  • Lift the front part of your tongue towards the bumpy gum ridge right behind your upper front teeth.
  • While your tongue is close to this ridge, it should not touch it. There should be a small gap, allowing air to flow through.
  • Engage your vocal cords to create a subtle, voiced vibration.
  • As you produce the 'R' sound, exhale gently and maintain the tongue position.

For more guidance, check out this clip of a video lesson on the 'R' sound.

To refine your English 'r' pronunciation, try the following activities:

  • Word Repetition: Practice saying words containing the 'R' sound and focus on pronouncing it accurately. You can start with simple words and progress to more complex ones.
  • Minimal Pairs: Create minimal pairs contrasting words with and without the 'R' sound, like "rat" and "at."
  • Shadowing: Listen to English speakers and repeat what they say, attempting to mimic their pronunciation of the 'R' sound.
  • Tongue Twisters: Work on tongue twisters that contain the 'R' sound,  like the sentence ""Rita's rather rare red roses really radiate remarkable beauty." This will help you improve your articulation and fluency.
  • Individual Coaching: Consider seeking the help of a private accent coach who can provide personalized guidance through one-on-one coaching sessions.

Mastering the English 'R' sound is undoubtedly challenging for French speakers, but with persistence and targeted practice, you can overcome this obstacle. By understanding the correct mouth and tongue positioning and engaging in pronunciation activities, you'll be on your way to achieving a clear and confident English 'R' sound

Final 'S' Sounds

Another common pronunciation challenge for French speakers is the tendency to omit final 'S' sounds in English words. This stems from the fact that, in the French language,  /s/ and /z/ at the ends of words are not usually pronounced, making it a habitual oversight for native French speakers.

To rectify this, it's essential to practice /s/ and /z/ endings in connected speech, particularly if you are a French native speaker.

Here are some activities to help you improve your ability to pronounce final 'S' sounds accurately.

  • Sentence Building: Construct sentences or phrases that contain multiple words ending with /s/ or /z/. For example, "She enjoys reading books" or "They have two cats and three dogs." Repeat these sentences to build confidence in pronouncing final 'S' sounds.
  • Listening and Imitation: Listen to native English speakers in movies, podcasts, or songs. Pay close attention to how they pronounce final 'S' sounds and try to imitate their pronunciation.
  • Minimal Pairs: Create minimal pairs that contrast words with and without final 'S' sounds, such as "cats" and "cat" or "dogs" and "dog." This exercise will help you distinguish and pronounce the 'S' sounds more accurately.
  • Tongue Twisters: Engage in tongue twisters that include final 'S' sounds. Practice saying them at a moderate pace, focusing on clarity and precision. For instance, try saying, "Six snails, seven slugs, and sixty snakes ate sweets.”
  • Storytelling: Narrate stories or recount experiences that incorporate words with final 'S' sounds. By doing so, you'll naturally incorporate these sounds into your speech.
  • Peer Conversation: If you have English-speaking friends or language exchange partners, engage in regular conversations where you intentionally use words with final 'S' sounds. This will provide you with real-life practice and helpful feedback.

Consistent practice, awareness, and engagement in these activities will gradually help you overcome the habit of omitting final 'S' sounds in your English pronunciation. With time and effort, you'll become more proficient in pronouncing these sounds, contributing to clearer and more accurate English speech.

Comparing English and French Vowels

Vowels are pivotal in achieving clarity and precision in American English speech. We'll guide you through this intricate landscape, providing valuable insights to refine these sounds and understand the differences between English and French vowels.

Tense and Lax Vowels

In the journey of English pronunciation for native French speakers, another challenge lies in mastering tense and lax vowels. Tense vowels are often longer in duration and generally found in stressed syllables. In English, examples of tense vowels include the vowels in words like "beat," "boat," "bite," and "boot."  Lax vowels are shorter in duration and often occur in unstressed syllables. Examples of lax vowels in English can be found in words like "bit," "bet," "bat," and "but."

French possesses fewer lax vowels than English, leading to potential mispronunciations such as substituting the lax vowel 'IH' or /ɪ/ with 'EE' or /i/.

For example, listen to how these Parisians pronounce their vowel sounds in English and keep an eye on the subtitles which highlight the mispronunciations. Right at the start of the video you can hear “bit” pronounced as “beet,” and “little” pronounced as “leetul.”

To pronounce tense and lax vowels accurately, it's essential to know the correct mouth positioning for each. Review examples from each category below.

Tense Vowel: 'EE' or /i/ as in "seat"

  • Begin with your mouth mostly closed but lips slightly spread.
  • Elevate the front part of your tongue close to the roof of your mouth.
  • Engage your vocal cords to produce a clear and vibrant sound.

Lax Vowel: 'IH' or /ɪ/ as in "sit"

  • Open your mouth slightly, keeping your lips relaxed.
  • Place your tongue in a more central and lower position in your mouth.
  • Keep your vocal cords in a more relaxed state to create a softer sound.

Practicing minimal pairs is an effective way to distinguish and perfect tense and lax vowels in English. Incorporate pairs like seat/sit, fleet/flit, and leave/live into your pronunciation practice to work on differentiating between tense and lax vowels in your speech.

By mastering the correct mouth positioning for tense and lax vowels and regularly engaging in minimal pairs exercises, you can overcome the challenge of mispronouncing these sounds. Consistent practice is key, and with dedication, you'll develop the skills and confidence to pronounce these vowels accurately and communicate fluently in English.


In the realm of English pronunciation, diphthongs present a unique challenge for French speakers. Diphthongs are combinations of two vowel sounds that glide together within a single syllable. They can be found at the beginning, middle, or end of words in English, adding complexity to pronunciation. 

French speakers often need to learn how to transition smoothly between the two vowel shapes, which can involve significant movement, particularly for diphthongs such as 'EY' or /eɪ/ and 'OH' or /əʊ/. These sounds may be influenced by the speech sounds of French, making it essential to grasp the proper mouth positioning and engage in specific activities for their mastery.

Correct mouth positioning is vital for producing diphthongs accurately, as they involve transitioning from one vowel shape to another. Here's a brief guide to the mouth positioning required for a couple of common English diphthongs:

'EY' or /eɪ/ (as in "play")

  • Begin with a more open mouth and a tongue closer to the front of your mouth, producing the 'EH' or /ɛ/ sound.
  • Gradually glide towards an 'EE' or /ɪ/ sound, with your tongue moving closer to the roof of your mouth and your lips slightly spread.

'OH' or /əʊ/ (as in "coat")

  • Start with a more open mouth, as you would for 'uh' or /ə/.
  • Glide towards an 'U' or /ʊ/ sound by rounding your lips and moving your tongue slightly backward in your mouth.

To conquer the intricacies of diphthongs in English, consider the following activities:

  • Listen and Imitate: Find audio recordings or videos of native English speakers pronouncing words with diphthongs and practice imitating their pronunciation.
  • Minimal Pairs: Create minimal pairs with diphthongs. For instance, compare 'EY or [eɪ] with 'ai' or [aɪ]. Try saying "rain" vs. "ripe" and "gate" vs. "bite." Can you hear the difference?
  • Sentences with diphthongs: Create or find sentences that contain words with different diphthongs. For instance, "The loud crowd found a brown house by the beach." Practice saying such sentences, focusing on the correct articulation of the diphthongs in each word.
  • Memorize English pronunciation rules: Diphthongs are often formed by specific vowel combinations. For instance, the "oa" in "boat" represents the 'OH' or /oʊ/ diphthong, and the "oi" in "coin" represents the 'OY' or /ɔɪ/ diphthong. Learning these English pronunciation rules will greatly increase your speech confidence.

These activities will help you become more proficient in navigating the complexities of English diphthongs, enabling you to pronounce them accurately and fluently.

Stress and Intonation in English versus French

Another crucial aspect to learn the American accent as a French speaker is understanding the disparities in stress patterns and intonation between the two languages. Stress patterns refer to the emphasis placed on specific syllables or words in a sentence, while intonation pertains to the rise and fall of pitch when speaking. These differences can significantly affect the way your English is perceived and comprehended.

Stress Patterns

In English, stress patterns often follow specific rules that determine which syllables or words should receive emphasis. These patterns can vary depending on the context and meaning of a sentence. English typically employs stress on content words, such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives, while function words like articles and prepositions are often unstressed.

For instance, consider the English word "record." As a noun the stress is on the first syllable, so it's pronounced "RE-cord." However as a verb the stress shifts to the second syllable, making it "re-CORD." In contrast, French generally employs a more even distribution of stress across syllables, with less emphasis on specific words.

To improve your English pronunciation, pay close attention to stress patterns when listening to native speakers. Practicing stress in your speech will make your English sound more natural and fluent.


Intonation in English involves the rise and fall of pitch during speech, which helps convey meaning and emotion. The intonation patterns in French and English differ significantly. English speakers use intonation to signal questions, statements, commands, and emotions like surprise or emphasis.

For example, English typically employs a rising intonation at the end of a yes-or-no question, as in "Did you see that movie?" In contrast, French often uses a falling intonation in questions. Understanding and mastering these intonation patterns is vital for effective communication in English.

Check out this clip for more guidance on using when asking questions in English.

To work on intonation, listen to native English speakers and mimic their pitch patterns. Pay attention to the rise and fall of their voices, and practice using the appropriate intonation for different sentence types.

By becoming proficient in English stress patterns and intonation, you'll not only improve your pronunciation but also convey your intended meaning and emotions more accurately. These linguistic nuances are a vital part of language comprehension and effective communication.

How to Elevate Your English Pronunciation

As we wrap up this journey through English pronunciation for French speakers, it's evident that mastering the intricacies of a new language takes commitment and the right tools. While this guide has provided you with valuable insights, mouth positioning tips, and engaging activities, there's one resource that can accelerate your progress even further: BoldVoice.

BoldVoice is your ally in the quest for impeccable English pronunciation. It offers comprehensive lessons, interactive exercises, and invaluable feedback to enhance your speaking skills. The power of technology combined with expert guidance from Hollywood speech coaches can catapult your language proficiency to new heights.

Don't let language barriers hold you back. Whether you're advancing your career, connecting with people from different cultures, or simply pursuing a passion for language, BoldVoice can be your trusted companion. It's time to elevate your English pronunciation and make your voice heard with clarity and confidence. Start your free trial and see the difference it can make on your path to fluent English.

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Ron Carlos
Ron Carlos
Speech & Accent Coach at BoldVoice
About the author
Ron Carlos is a Hollywood voice, speech, and dialect coach based in Los Angeles, California. He received his Master’s in Voice and Speech at Harvard University, and taught speech and dialects at the Yale School of Drama. Ron has coached performers on productions including Netflix, Marvel, and Broadway. Ron is a Head Coach on the BoldVoice app.
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