Having a good French accent is sort of like the cherry on top of your French-language sundae. Although it’s not always a priority for everyone, most would agree that it’s definitely something you shouldn’t ignore completely. At its most basic level having a good accent allows you to be understood by native speakers.
We have all met foreign speakers who have poor accents in our own languages, and know first hand how difficult it can sometimes be to understand them. So how does one go about attaining a good French accent? Believe it or not the whole process is actually different than just improving your own speaking ability, meaning that you can speak fairly comfortably and fluently, but still have a poor accent.
We’re going to take a look at a few easy-to-use methods that will really allow you to take your French accent to the next level. They don’t require much set up and can be done by nearly everyone. The only requirement is that you set aside some time each day (or at least frequently) to practice. Let’s take a look at the first method…
This first method is what’s known as language shadowing. It’s a very effective technique that is well-known within the online language learning community, but probably isn’t among the casual learner. Here’s how it works… Typically when you listen to some sort of audio designed for language learners the speaker will say a sentence or short paragraph, and then leave a space so that the listener can repeat it. This can be great for most people, but it’s not exactly what we’re after here.
Instead of waiting for the speaker to finish what they’re saying, try your best to say it along with them. This works best if you have the transcription of what you are listening to, but it isn’t necessarily a requirement (in fact, not using the transcription can help your listening comprehension). By mimicking the speaker or speakers, you will naturally start to pick up on their pronunciation.
The great thing about this is that you don’t have to learn or memorize any complicated pronunciation rules or IPA to do this. You will also be able to hear where your faults are because it won’t match up with the speaker in the audio. Have you ever sang along to a song and without even realizing it you tried to sound like the singer? The exact same principle applies here.
This doesn’t by any means have to be done with French-learning material. You can do it with really any audio material that you find suitable. Shadow as much content as you can get your hands on and your accent will gradually get better over time.
Improve Your French Accent with Audacity
The next method involves using a free tool known as Audacity, which, if you’re familiar with it at all is typically not used at all for language learning. The whole process requires a little more set up, but can still be performed by most people. Here’s the setup..
Head on over to audacityteam.org and download Audacity. Get an audio file of some French content that you would like to use and upload it to the software.
When uploaded you’ll be able to see the sound waves just like in the photo above. When you press the play button you’ll see the cursor scroll along with the sound waves as the audio plays.
What you want to do is plug in a microphone and record yourself speaking along with the audio. Contrary to the previous method of language shadowing it’s almost a necessity to have the transcription because you want to try your best and speak along with the audio exactly.
When you use the language shadowing method you’ll often lag behind the audio a little bit which is fine, but here you want the sound waves of your recording to match up with the sound waves of your French audio recording. This may take a little bit of practice, but if you listen to the file enough times you should be able to get the hang of it.
Once you’ve spoken along with the entire file (or just a small portion of it if it’s quite long) then play BOTH files back at the same time and see how well the two sync up. This is why you want both audio files to be as much in sync as possible. When both your recording and your chosen audio play at the same time you can hear how your accent matches up with the native speaker in your audio file. Find out where your mistakes are and adjust your pronunciation accordingly.
Eventually you would like both recordings to sound like one in the same. Just keep recording and rerecording until your accent matches up as best as possible with the audio. Try it with as many different audio files you can find out so that you can get as much exposure to as much vocabulary as possible.
The only caveat with this method is that you should try and pick a specific accent and stick with it (at least in the beginning) so that your pronunciation can remain consistent.
Improve Your French Accent by Mimicking Foreign Speakers of Your Own Language
We know that mimicking someone (whether it be through language shadowing or not) is a good way to help your accent. However, it can be difficult to do this if you are a beginner and already having difficulty understanding what’s being said.
Instead of mimicking what people are saying in their own language, mimic what they say in your own language. Go out and find some sort of French audio of someone with a rather strong accent when speaking your own language and then mimic them.
Because you are more familiar with your own native language comprehension shouldn’t be an issue. Listen to the speaker carefully and try to recreate exactly how they are making each sound. How do they pronounce their vowels? Are their consonants pronounced differently?
When you go back to studying French think of exactly how your speaker pronounced everything.
This method is something that I would only really recommend for beginner learners as intermediate and advanced learners should focus on using French speakers speaking French. However, this can be a fantastic way for beginners to get a good jump into improving their French accent.
Let’s go over the methods we’ve discussed. Our first method, language shadowing, has us finding some audio content from a native speaker and mimicking it as it’s being played. By doing this we try to match our accent along with the speaker in the audio file. The following method involves using Audacity to record ourselves along with an audio file of a native speaker.
We then use the sound waves that Audacity produces and try to match them up with the sound waves of our own recording.
Finally, our last method revolves around mimicking foreign speakers when they speak our own language. Therefore comprehension is not an issue and you can then try to apply the pronunciation to French.
All of these methods are great for those looking to improve their French accent, and should absolutely be applied to your French learning, but are by no means the only methods that you can use.
What other ways do you know of to help improve your French accent? Comment below and tell us if you’ve tried any of these methods and how they worked for you.