The Ultimate Guide: How to Pronounce French Nasal Sounds Like a Native

The Ultimate Guide: How to Pronounce French Nasal Sounds Like a Native

When it comes to French nasal sounds, you feel like a complete failure, don’t you?

We entirely understand. You’re not alone in that. The pronunciation of French nasal vowels is challenging indeed. In fact, if you are already a French student, you are aware of the fact that French pronunciation can be tricky.

Don’t think that you can get away with an explanation or similar pronunciation of the words because if you mispronounce a word, you can confuse your speaker with the meanings.

So, in this post, we will help you with that tricky pronunciation of French nasal sounds and show examples you might find handy for practice. With practice, you will quickly learn to speak French like a native.

However, the best way to improve the pronunciation of nasal sounds is constant practice with real people, preferably native French speakers.

French Nasal Vowels

To know how to properly pronounce nasal sounds, we have to get to know the basics first.

What are the vowels?

Vowels are syllabic sounds that can be pronounced without structure in your mouth or throat. They can vary in length, quality, and loudness.

French has around 15 different vowels. Out of the 15, four of them are nasal and they are:

  • Ɛ̃
  • Œ̃
  • Ɔ̃
  • ɑ̃

In some parts of the country and French-speaking countries, the sound Œ̃ isn’t used anymore. Instead, the sound Ɛ̃ is used.

Pronunciation of The French Nasal Vowels 

Pronouncing nasal vowels is quite similar to the basic ones so aren’t so hard to pronounce. Mainly, they are pronounced when the air passes through both the nose and mouth.

(Un)fortunately, there are many different ways of how you can pronounce them.

In the following lines, you may find how to pronounce French nasal vowels.

  • ɑ̃

Pronunciation: Widely open your mouth. Let the tip of your tongue reach the front lower teeth. If you’ve placed it right, your vocal cords will vibrate.

Spelling: Nasal A sound is pronounced as an, am, en, or em.

Example: en

  • Ɛ̃

Pronunciation: Open your mouth slightly. Let the lip of the tongue touch your front lower teeth, like in the previous sound. Your vocal cords will then vibrate.

Spelling: This sound is nasal I. It can be spelled as ain, aim, ein, eim, en, em, in, im, un, um, ym, or yn. 

Example: bien

  • Ɔ̃

Pronunciation: Round up your lips. Slightly open your mouth. Let the tongue stay at the back of the mouth. The soft palate and the uvula have to move down so that the air can pass through the nose and oral cavity.

Spelling: This is a nasal O sound. You can pronounce it in two different ways, as on or om.

Example: bon

  • Œ̃

Spelling: The nasal U is pronounced as un or um.

Pronunciation: Push your mouth forward. Tight your muscles in the mouth and throat. Release the sound. To make sure you’ve pronounced it properly, you can put one finger on one side of your nose. If you feel the sound is nasalized, you’ve made it.

Example: lundi

Examples to Practice French Nasal Vowels

Explanations about spelling and pronouncing nasal vowels are helpful but in order to learn to pronounce them correctly, you will need a lot of practice.

In order to learn to pronounce these sounds correctly, we recommend you do it slowly, pronouncing one by one syllable and then gradually speed up.

Here are some of the examples to practice the pronunciation of French nasal vowels.

Examples of the ɑ̃ sound

  • Branche, 
  • Centre, 
  • Jambe, 
  • Manteau, 
  • Pantalone, 
  • Planche, 
  • Ventre.

Examples of the Ɛ̃ sound

  • Alpin, 
  • Bain, 
  • Ceinture,
  •  Content, 
  • Peinture, 
  • Maison,
  •  Peinture.

Examples of the Ɔ̃ sound

  • Bon, 
  • Longue, 
  • Maison, 
  • Onze, 
  • Son, 
  • Tomber.

Examples of the Œ̃ sound

  • Un,
  • Brun,
  • Humble,
  • Lumbago
  • Parfume 

The following example is one of the most popular to practice the pronunciation of French nasal vowels.

  • Un bon vin blanc.
  • Quand nous rangeons vingt harengs, on mange onze anchois.
  • Des blancs pains, des bancs peints, des bains pleins
  • Jambon bleu, pas bon. Jambon blanc bon, j’en veux! J’ai bon?
  • T’as tant tondu que tu t’étonnes de ta tonne de tonte pourtant tant attendue.

How to Recognize Nasal Vowels?

Nasal vowels almost always come in pairs with nasal consonants.

Any vowel followed by the M or N consonant at the end of a word is a nasal vowel. 

When a vowel is followed by the M or N consonant anywhere in a word if these consonants are also followed by another consonant.

In cases when M or N consonants are followed by another vowel, they are pronounced separately from the nasal vowel.

For example, sounds in the word ‘un’ are pronounced as nasals, while in the word ‘une’ they are pronounced separately. The same is with the words ‘pain’ and ‘paine.’

French Nasal Consonants

For those who aren’t familiar, consonants are sounds articulated with a complete or partial closure of the vocal tract.

They represent the basic speech and when they are combined with vowels, they form a syllable.

In French, there are three different consonants. They are:

  • M
  • N
  • ɲ

Pronunciation of The French Nasal Consonants 

The N and M consonants aren’t difficult to pronounce because they are pronounced similar to the English ones.

  • The N sound

Pronunciation: At the beginning of a word or a syllable, it is pronounced like the English N, except the French version is more dental.

When the sound comes after a vowel, it makes a vowel nasal unless it is followed by another nasal vowel or one more N sound.

Example: nous

  • The M sound

Pronunciation: This nasal consonant is easy to pronounce because it is the same as the English M. In cases when before M comes a vowel, they form a nasal vowel unless it is followed by another vowel or another M sound.

It is vital to mention that both N and M consonants are always pronounced at the beginning of any word.

Example: machine

Pronunciation: Even though this consonant can be found in some English and Spanish words, its pronunciation is a bit different. It is voiced palatal nasal, like the sound ‘ny’ in the word ‘canyon.’ It is also similar to the Spanish ñ.

Spelling: In most cases, this consonant is spelled as the ‘gn.’

Example: montagne /montaɲ/

Examples to Practice French Nasal Consonants

Even though pronouncing French nasal consonants isn’t as challenging as pronouncing nasal vowels, a little practice can only help you with your French pronunciation.

Below you can find some examples.

Examples of the M nasal consonant:

  • Comment,
  • Faim,
  • Homme,
  • Main.

Examples of the N nasal consonant:

  • Fin,
  • Initial,
  • Intérêt,
  • Jeanne,
  • Non,
  • Panne.

Examples of the ɲ nasal consonant:

  • Accompagner,
  • Beigne,
  • Brugnon,
  • Digne,
  • Enseigne,
  • Montagne.

Pronunciation Mistakes to Avoid

To learn to pronounce nasal sounds perfectly, French students often make mistakes. The following two ones are the usual ones. We want to mention them so that you can avoid them on time.

  • When an oral vowel is followed by a nasal consonant, students wrongly nasalize the vowel.
  • After a nasal vowel, students wrongly pronounce a nasal consonant.

Let’s take two nouns, two different names, Jean and Jeanne as an example. You now must be thinking ‘what can be wrong here since both words are pronounced as ‘ʒan?’

The difference is that in the word ‘Jean’ you have to make sure not to pronounce a nasal consonant after the vowel. By pronouncing the word ‘Jeanne,’ you have to pay attention not to nasalize the oral vowel.

Final Thoughts

Even though there are nasal sounds in English too, the proper pronunciation of the French nasal sounds is something you’ll want to practice constantly. As you improve your language skills, make sure you don’t forget to concentrate on them and always pronounce them correctly.

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