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French Pronunciation and…Squirrels? Posted by on Mar 19, 2018 in Vocabulary

We all know that French pronunciation can be difficult (but not impossible!) for English speakers to master. The French “r” is particularly difficult, for example. But, according to legend, there is one word that the French themselves used during World War II to discover non-French spies…écureuil, which means “squirrel.”

Courtesy of Pixabay.

The word écureuil (nm) rhymes with the word feuille (nf), or “leaf,” and accueil (nm), or “welcome.” Whenever you see an –euil or –eil ending in French, make sure you’re not pronouncing the “l” at the end. Rather, it will sound like an “oy” (like, “Oy, that really hurt!”). So, the correct pronunciation of  écureuil would be something like EC-CUR-ROY. Notice that that difficult French “r” is in there, too.

If you really want some practice, try reading out loud this short poem by Maurice Carême:

L’Écureuil et la feuille 

Un écureuil, sur la bruyère,
Se lave avec de la lumière.
Une feuille morte descend,
Doucement portée par le vent .
Et le vent balance la feuille
Juste au dessus de l’écureuil ;
Le vent attend, pour la poser,
Légèrement sur la bruyère,
Que l’écureuil soit remonté
Sur le chêne de la clairière
Où il aime à se balancer
Comme une feuille de lumière.
You can find the translation of this poem below. But, first, take some time to pat yourself on the back for working on a really tough word for English speakers to pronounce. And, if it makes you feel any better, it is quite difficult for French speakers to say the word “squirrel” in English, too. Just take a look at this compilation by French social media star Jérôme Jarre:
https://youtu.be/BJj8X07Zm-0
English translation:
The Squirrel and the Leaf
A squirrel, on the heather,
bathes itself in the light.
A dead leaf falls,
softly carried by the wind.
And the wind flings the leaf
just above the squirrel;
The wind waits to let it fall
lightly on the heather,
so the squirrel can climb back up
the oak tree in the clearing
where he loves to swing
like a sheet of light.
**Notice that this poem works by using two different meanings of the word feuille, a “sheet” or layer or something, and a “leaf.”

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at http://www.imaginistwriter.com. A la prochaine!