The French accent

Publié le par Sam


« Stéréotype, n.m. : Expression ou opinion toute faite, sans aucune originalité, cliché. Caractérisation symbolique et schématique d'un groupe qui s'appuie sur des attentes et des jugements de routine. »


C'est de cette manière que le Larousse 2013 définit un stéréotype. "Sans aucune originalité" affirme-t-il ; pourtant on en entend des stéréotypes originaux. C'est d'autant plus vrai lorsque l'on vit à l'étranger, tout du moins au sein d'un environnement international, puisque les stéréotypes les plus communs et les plus persistants sont les stéréotypes nationaux – ou régionaux. Les Allemands seraient rigides, les Belges idiots, les Italiens des Dom Juan machos, les Russes des bûcherons alcooliques, les Corses fainéants, etc.

On remarque d'ailleurs que la plupart des stéréotypes sont péjoratifs. Ce n'est en effet pas toujours une bonne idée pour l'estime nationale de demander à un étranger ce que lui et les siens pensent de nous...

En voici quelques exemples sur les Français. À l'étranger, nous sommes souvent considérés comme chauvins, arrogants, râleurs, butés. Quel joli tableau ! Tout cela doit venir de nos grèves et de la fierté que nous en tirons. N'avons-nous pas été les premiers à obtenir des congés payés dès 1936 ? où nous avions obtenu autant de jours que les Américains ont encore en 2013 soit dit en passant... Les Français sont aussi considérés comme les plus mauvais touristes au monde, radins et râleurs, d'après une étude menée auprès de restaurateurs et responsables hôteliers en 2009 : Ah oui ! nous détestons les frais additionnels et préférons les prestations au contenu clair et complet, au grand damn des astuces marketing mondiales.

Mais tout n'est pas toujours si noir. Les Français sont aussi considérés comme romantiques, cultivés, jouissant d'un pays aux paysages uniques et d'un terroir riche. Ah ! nos falaises bretonnes, nos champs de lavande provençaux, nos Quais de Seine, notre Tour Eiffel, nos artistes, notre passion pour la mode, notre charcuterie, nos pâtisseries...


Le monde entier nous adore et nous déteste. Peut-être sommes-nous adorables et détestables à la fois. Peut-être sont-ils uniquement jaloux et ne le vivent pas très bien.

Et c'est sur une illustration de cette interrogation que je continue cet article, de cette notion du bon et du mauvais, du ni bon ni mauvais, du parfois bon parfois mauvais : notre accent en anglais. Notre accent pas toujours compréhensible mais séduisant. Cet accent que l'on nous envie, mais que nous détestons. Les Français ne savent pas (ou pas vraiment) parler anglais, mais ça plait aux filles. Les étrangères nous aiment, et leurs copains nous détestent pour ça.

Je vais tenter d'aider nos amis anglophones (en anglais ci-dessous...) à imiter notre accent, pour se la jouer cultivé. Ou pour se la jouer cool en soirée.




My English speaking friends, Hello!

For your information, the introduction I conducted above to my fellow Frenchies is that we, French people, are stereotypically not loved so much around the world. Quite a lot of foreigners will say good things about France, but much less about the people. There are apparently not too many good things to remember about us as a people – which is weird, because we're awesome! Not too many things, except maybe our accent when we speak English.


This is by the way something we just don't get: we do know for a fact our accent is extremely bad. We know that natives notice we're French after half a second, even if from time to time some politely wait an additional couple of them before showing it. Just a “Hello”, even a warm and sincere one, is enough. Let me tell you a quick story. I have seen once a French person being congratulated for having a great English accent. It took as long as one minute to the drunken man he was talking to to figure out the “hidden Frenchness” behind that accent. Well, good for that French person! If he dyes his hair blond, he might be able to fake being Swedish for as long as one whole minute. How fun! He has in fact been congratulated of having a great English accent “for a French”.


While we all agree on the fact our accent is far from perfect, I feel the need to group us into two kinds of French people: the ones who try unsuccessfully to improve their English, and the ones who think they have already made way too many efforts to learn a second language even though French should be spoken by and to everyone in the world. (Thanks to the Olympics for reminding the world once every four years)


Unfortunately for our reputation, even the French accent does not win unanimous support in terms of likeability level. Depending on whom, depending on their mood, reactions vary. I've personally faced situations like waitresses in restaurants asking “Hey! You're French, awesome! Where abouts?”; acquaintances ordering “For God's sake, speak English! If you want us to understand...”; girls requesting “Speak French, tell me anything! It's so sexy, you're so sexy”; friends begging me “Stop babbling about your French accent, we do not care”.


As you have noticed on your own, a basic but nonetheless accurate analysis to explain this French accent phenomenon is: girls love it; and boys are just jealous of it. Then, it is using a very logical causal link reasoning that we all come to the same conclusion: Giving you the keys to faking the French accent is in fact giving you the keys to your own ladies! (Author's note: here, my friends, is the French arrogance you were waiting for)

So, foreign guys all around the world, I figured I owed you one. I figured I should try my best to make the world a better place where English natives have a clearer understanding of the French accent. I figured I should stand up and help you out. This is my gift to you, an apology for every time we French people are up to the bad image you have of us.


You should now open your eyes widely , take out a pen and notebook, switch off the TV and radio, tidy up your desk, take a few minutes of profound meditation, and...



Get ready for the Ten Commandments

  1. Thou shalt have no other tones than the flat one

  2. Thou shalt adapt thy consonants

  3. Thou shalt adapt thy vowels

  4. Thou shalt adapt thy nasal sounds

  5. Thou shalt not refrain from babbling “euh”

  6. Thou shalt maximize the use of “of”

  7. Thou shalt care about the adjective's position

  8. Thou shalt use more precise grammatical tenses

  9. Thou shalt be aware of false friends

  10. Thou shalt convert French expressions into English



  1. Thou shalt have no other tones than the flat one

  2. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to recite a poem, recite a poem. But if you want to speak, just speak. Do not mix these up, this is confusing for us, and prevents us from taking you seriously.

    When you speak, do not stress any part of your words, never ever. Just go for a flat tone, always. If you wonder what part to stress, remember the answer is easy: none.
    The only tones we use are to end a sentence, and are definitely not inherent to the word itself.

    She is /biutiful/ instead of being /'bjuːtɪfəɫ/


  3. Thou shalt adapt thy consonants

  4. There is no /h/ sound in French. It might come from the fact that we have never wanted to share morning breath. Smell the difference between a morning /hɛˈloʊ̯/ and a morning /ɛlo/ and you'll be convinced to put your /h/s in a tray.

    You can also forget both /θ/ and /ð/ (the “th”s respectively in “nothing” and “brother”). These two sounds do not exist in French either. Making us pronounce them the English way would just make us spit in your face. And remember we do not want to spit in your face, usually. So let's make no one uncomfortable and replace them respectively by /s/ and /z/ (or /f/ and /v/ as some people do)

    We'd then say /bʁozøʁ/ instead of /ˈbɹʌðɚ/


    Last consonant, but not the least of them: “r”. There is no real French accent without learning how to pronounce our “r” /ʁ/ sound. Be careful, this is neither the Spanish “j” or “r”, nor is this the German “r”. It will take months of practice, of hearing and repeating, again and again. A tip for you: take the German “r”, soften it by half, and you'll be close enough.
    Note that if you are one of the guys who still have difficulties pronouncing the /ʁ/ sound, you can do a /w/ instead. It will sound like a French who is trying. The three words “white”, “write” and “right” would then be pronounced the exact same way: /waɪt/.


  5. Thou shalt adapt thy vowels

  6. Funny vowels like the Near-close near-back vowel/ʊ/ arefrom another planet as well. When you want to express to your friends the need to get going to the next party, say /lɛtsgo/ instead of /lɛtsgoʊ/, it would otherwise be /okwaʁd/ (and not /ɔkwɝd/)

    This Commandment is a bit similar to the First, as you have to repress any singing spirit when you speak (because you're speaking and not singing).



  7. Thou shalt adapt thy nasal sounds

  8. /ɑ̃/ in “avant”, /ɛ̃/ in “pain”, /ɔ̃/ in “bon”, /œ̃/ in “un” are important, try to import them into your pronunciation. Although you should think twice before applying this rule when you have a cold, as experience told me nasals sound way less sexy in such a situation. We'd talk about an /ɑdvɑ̃tyʁ/ and not about an /ədˈvɛntʃə/


  9. Thou shalt not refrain from babbling “euh”

  10. When you're looking for the right word, fill in the awkward silence with a long, flat “euh” /ø/ coming from the middle of your vocal cords. Even if you're not looking for any word, as you're obviously more than fluent in your mother tongue. Just make her think you are, specially before telling her how beautiful her eyes are. If you use “euh” and a charming smile together in a smart way, be assured you'll win everything.

    /juʁajzaʁ.øøøøøø.biutiful/ instead of /joʊɹaɪzɑɹˈbjuːtɪfəɫ/


  11. Thou shalt maximize the use of “of”

  12. A real French would never talk about “Julie's astonishing body” in public. Not because he is a gentleman and a gentleman never says things like that. But because he would talk about “the astonishing body of Julie”, as this is how we use the possessive mark in French.

    You can be sure this trick makes it OK to say anything out loud about her bottom as well.


  13. Thou shalt care about the adjective's position

  14. This morning, you started your sentence with “look at the blue...”. In the half second you're preparing to say the rest of the sentence, my brains already started to think about how much I missed the blue sky, how much I'd love to admire it again, and how badly I'd like you to say “look at the blue sky outside, it's beautiful”. You're making me hope that getting out of the bed way too early in the morning is actually worth it today. At that moment, I love you for this.

    Que nenni! You were just teasing me using your English weird positioning of the adjective to say “look at the blue umbrella I found yesterday as it was just starting to rain”. Classic you!


    Sometimes – do not overuse it, have a few adjectives put right after the qualified noun. This will definitely make you become closer to a professional French accent faker.


  15. Thou shalt use more precise grammatical tenses

  16. French is often referred to as a precise language. The main reason is we have 22 different grammatical tenses to express all subtleties within the verb. Look at what we can do with our tenses:

    “Je cherche une demoiselle qui dise toujours oui”

    “Je cherche une demoiselle qui dit toujours oui”

    Both of them translate to “I'm looking for a girl who always says yes”

    However, the first sentence is only an idea: we don't even know if such a girl exists or not. In the second one, we know such a girl exists, and we strongly want to identify her.


    As a result of this habit, we like to use longer and more difficult tenses, which sometimes makes no sense in English. It indeed does not convey the same subtleties. We for example would rather say “she has been asked out by this dude, fortunately for me she declined” than “he asked her out, she declined, I'm happy.”



  17. Thou shalt be aware of false friends

  18. Ask a girl if she wants to have an “affair” /əfɛʁ/ with you. As she believes you're French (because you followed the Commandments), she'll accept your explanation. “Affaire” is indeed a French word that only means “business”, and nothing like “love affair” whatsoever. If you're good enough, she'll laugh and will forget to ask what kind of business you were talking about.


    Also, if you're trying to be the best uncle on Earth, you could “give your nieces and nephews a lecture before they go to bed”, as “lecture” in French means “reading”.


  19. Thou shalt convert French expressions into English

  20. Try complimenting her on her haircut for example: “Your hairs look awesome, did you go to the hairdresser yesterday?”

    Hair is indeed plural in French, as quite a number of people in France have more than one hair; and we'd rather not point out the fact she got her hair cut, as girls might do other things than cut their hair to look different. “Go to the hairdresser” is vague enough.


    There are a lot more expressions to learn. The famous “rabbit you don't want any girl to put you”, or the “people born from the last rain” you can easily trick are a couple of other examples.


    The Master Commandment, using French expressions literally translated into English, takes two seconds to understand, but a lifetime to refine. After many years of intense hermit studying in a prevalent monastery with an actual French accent faking master, you might get to that Nirvana.



Useful links:

IPA on wiktionary:

IPA on wikipedia with French pronounciation signs:

The Near-close near-back vowel ʊ:

Publié dans Culture

Pour être informé des derniers articles, inscrivez vous :
Commenter cet article
Well done, you did it ! Cette page m'a bien fait sourire, un e fois de plus. A voir maintenant si tes amis anglophones se mettent au français. En tout cas, bravo, p'tit frère, tu as bien bossé ton<br /> sujet. Bisous !