Be CaReFuL! Final Consonant Pronunciation in French

Posted on 05. Mar, 2015 by in Grammar, Vocabulary

Image courtesy of Twitter.

Image courtesy of Twitter.

 

Behind French’s beautiful sounds is a very complicated pronunciation system. Unlike Spanish, for example, the words aren’t always pronounced as they’re spelled; c’est-à-dire que c’est n’est pas une langue phonétique (that is to say that isn’t not a phonetic language). Why are -er, -é, -ay, -ai, -ais, -ait, and -aient all pronounced the same? It’s difficult for learners, but it is something that can be picked up with time. Today, we’re going to focus on the pronunciation of les consonnes finales (final consonants) in words. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it can give you the general idea of how to say these words!

Il y a 26 lettres dans l’alphabet français (there are 26 letters in the French alphabet), and English has the same consonnes. You’ve probably learned that a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y are vowels, but do you know what makes a vowel a vowel? Une voyelle (a vowel) is produced with the vocal tract left open with no obstructions. For example, say the word “cat” in English. When you pronounce the “c,” your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth. Same thing with the “t.” When you say the “a,” the sound is coming out unobstructed. The fact that the sound can come out pure is what separates it from a consonant. Depending on the environment of the consonant or vowel, it may not be pronounced at all. We’ll look at vowels at another time, but today is all about final consonants.

With 6 vowels, that leaves us with 20 consonants, and of those 20, 4 are almost always pronounced at the end of a word. Why don’t you say the -d in un cafard, but you pronounce the -c in avec? You just have to remember to be CaReFuL. When I was learning French, I was taught this trick – take the word careful, remove the vowels, and the letters that are left are the ones that are pronounced at the end of words. Let’s examine that in a little more detail to see why it’s mostly true, but not a solid rule.

Consonant Example of Pronounced Ending Exception(s)
C un flic (a cop)
le parc (park)
avec (with)
le tabac (tobacco)
blanc* (white)
un estomac (stomach)
le caoutchouc (rubber)
R un four (oven)
fier (proud)
cher (dear; expensive)
le boulanger** (baker)
le loyer (rent)
F le chef (boss)
un oeuf (egg)
vif (lively)
un nerf (nerve)
un cerf (deer)
une clef (key)
L un animal (animal)
le calcul (calculation)
un poil (hair)
gentil (nice)
un fusil (gun)
le sommeil*** (sleep)

* -c is silent at the end of a word if it is grouped with a nasal consonant letter, such as an n.
**- With -er endings, it’s pronounced like a verb with an -er infinitive: it’s pronounced more like a long A in English. Some exceptions to this: l’hiver (winter) and dernier (last)
***- If -l follows an -i which follows another vowel letter, the -l is not pronounced.

 

Not so bad. Let’s look at some other consonants which are more rare in the final position but are sometimes pronounced.

 

Consonant Example of Pronounced Ending Exception(s) [The Norm!]
B un club (a club)
un snob (a snob)
le plomb (lead)
D le sud (south)
David (& other proper names)
quand (when)
G le grog (grog) long (long)
le sang (blood)
M l’aluminium* (aluminum)
maximum
minimum
un film (a movie)
le parfum (perfume)
N amen* brun (brown)
P un flop (a flop; a bomb)
un cap (direction)
un slip (underwear)
trop (too)
le coup (blow)
Q le coq (rooster)  
S le fils (son)
mars (March)
le maïs (corn)
le sens (sense)
gris (gray)
gros (fat)
T indirect
ouest (west)
est (east)
cet (this)
le lit (bed)
fort (strong)
X Aix
un index (index; index finger)
six**
dix**
deux (two)
vieux (old)
Z le gaz (gas) chez (at the home of)
le riz (rice)

*- In most cases, an -m or an -n that follows a vowel will be nasalized.
**-The -x here is pronounced like an -s

So, you can see that the rule isn’t perfect, but this is French, so you have no choice but to get used to the exceptions. Remember: when pronouncing final consonants, just be CaReFuL (and memorize all those other exceptions, too ;) ).

As Easy As RFI: The News in French

Posted on 04. Mar, 2015 by in News, Vocabulary

Logo of Radio France Internationale.

Logo of Radio France Internationale.

When I first came to France I would spend every day in a café studying. I was trying to convert my entire life into French. I watched la télévision française (French television), watched des films français (French movies), listened to la musique française (French music), and followed l’actualité française (French news). Even though my French wasn’t really good enough to understand most of what I was hearing, I tried to understand everything I could.

I would often listen to les nouvelles (the news) from Radio France internationale, a French public radio station that specializes in international affairs with a bit of a focus on la Francophonie. Normally after several hours of listening to RFI my brain would just be fried.

Un jour (one day), while spending hours listening to RFI, I noticed une émission (show) that was specially designed for people learning French: le journal en français facile (The news in easy French).

Le journal en français facile is “Un journal qui présente l’actualité avec des mots simples et explique les événements dans leur contexte“: A news broadcast that presents current affairs with simple words and explains the events in their context.

I was happy to find a show that covers news stories in clearly spoken French and it even had transcripts available so I could look up all the words I didn’t know!

L’émission starts with a brief introduction naming the various topics that will be discussed, then presents each of them in more detail, including audio exerts from the original stories, typically spoken much faster and less clearly than les animateurs (the presenters).

To find these stories in français facile, il suffit de (you just have to) go to the RFI website dedicated to French learners. The whole page is in French, but it’s not too difficile (difficult) to navigate. You’ll notice many resources for French learners, but to listen to Le journal en français facile you don’t need to look very far:

français facile

Easy French News Broadcast on the RFI website.

Les mots clés (the key words):

Lire le script – Read the script
Ecouter 10’ – Listen 10’ [minutes]
Télécharger – Download

You can cliquer sur (click on) Ecouter 10′ to have a new window pop up that will play une émission you can then cliquer sur Lire le script to follow along and check any words you had trouble hearing or didn’t understand. If you want to download l’émission, il suffit de cliquer sur Télécharger.

France’s Wine Regions and Terroir

Posted on 02. Mar, 2015 by in Culture, Geography

Uncalno Tekno

From Uncalno Tekno at Flickr.com

 

One of the best (and most fun!) ways of getting to know France is through learning about its terroirsTerroir is a French loanword in English that you might already be familiar with — especially if you are an oenophile — that loosely translates to a “sense of place”. In other words, terroir is the special characteristics of a particular place that allows it to produce agricultural products like wine, cheese, tea, coffee, etc.

Of course, the term terroir isn’t only applicable to France. But France’s various terroirs are so distinct from one another and so culturally rich that understanding all of its geographical and agricultural diversity will only make you fall more in love with the country.

So today, I’ll be taking you on an introductory tour of some of the most important terroirs in France. And, as an oenophile myself, we will be focusing on the different appellations, or controlled regions, for wine production.

1. Languedoc and Roussillon

These two beautiful regions are on the Mediterranean coast and extend down to the border between France and Spain. Languedoc and Roussillon have been important winemaking centers for centuries, and the region has three times the area of vineyards in Bordeaux! In fact, there is evidence of grapevines in the region that date to the prehistoric era. This region is most famous for its reds and rosés and Roussillon in particular is known for its fortified sweet wines from areas such as Rivesaltes and Banyuls.

2. Alsace

Unlike in most other regions in France, wines made in Alsace (on France’s eastern border with Germany) do have the grape on the label rather than just the region. The most famous grapes in the region are Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurtztraminer. Most of the grapes grown in this region are white, although there is some delicious Pinot Noir.

3. Rhône

This region is situated in the Rhône River valley in southern France and is divided into the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. Syrah is the grape of choice in the Northern Rhône, while the sunny Southern Rhône section is more about blends of grapes, usually including Grenache. If you’ve heard of the appellations Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage, these are both in the Rhône region.

4. Champagne

Need I say more? Not all sparkling wine is Champagne, only the sparkling wine produced in the region of Champagne in the northeast of France. Winemakers in this region use the traditional method, called la methode champenoise, that is pretty labor intense and uses two fermentation processes to create delicious Champagne.

5. Loire

The Loire region follows the Loire River from Nantes on the Atlantic coast to Orléans in northcentral France. Near Nantes, Muscadet is the star of the show, a refreshing white wine. The Central Vineyards of the region are known for their Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre is the most well-known and expensive appellation in the region.

6. Burgundy

To make it simple: “Red Burgundy” means Pinot Noir and “White Burgundy” means Chardonnay. Burgundy has had vineyards for centuries and the label on a bottle of Burgundy is inextricably linked with a particular piece of land in the region. This means that the land is split up into tiny parcels, owned by separate producers, and that this is reflected in the various labels of Burgundy.

7. Bordeaux

Did I save the best for last? Perhaps. The Bordeaux region  is known for producing the fanciest, most expensive, and (yes) most tasty wines in France (although this is debatable to some!). Why? Because Bordeaux first started classifying its wine estates in the region back in 1855 and all “growths” are tied back to this historical moment. This means that the grapevines in Burgundy are old…and expensive. Wine from Bordeaux is almost always made of blends of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.