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Lesson Transcript

Virginie: Bonjour!
Eric: Eric here. French Consonants. Hey, thanks for being with us here today Virginie. What are we going to be looking at in this lesson?

Lesson focus

Virginie: Today you will work on your French consonants pronunciation.
Eric: And the consonant of the sound that is not obstructed by either your lips, your tongue or your teeth.
Virginie: Uh that’s a very scientific definition Eric.
Eric: I just pulled that out of my dictionary.
Virginie: French language has a total of 18 consonant sounds.
Eric: And some of those are French specific right?
Virginie: Well we share most of them with other languages but of course English speakers for example have a really hard time pronouncing some of them.
Eric: Like the "r".
Virginie:Yes "ra", “re”, “ri”, “ro”, “ru”.
Eric: Beautiful. Was that some kind of poem?
Virginie: Yes it is.
Eric: But that is a pretty challenging sound though right?
Virginie: Yes.
Eric: Except for the Germans.
Virginie: Oh Germans use it way more than the French do.
Eric: So do you have a pronunciation tip for us?
Virginie:Yes the "r" sound comes from your throat and so does the sound "g".
Eric: Well pretty much all of us know how to make a “g”.
Virginie:Yes. So we are going to make that "r" happen by linking it with "g".
Eric: Okay for example "gros" which is spelled g-r-o-s and means “big”.
Virginie:Yes "gros". Now you know the feeling you have in the back of your mouth when you say "g"?
Eric: We will try to force it a little and your "r" should come out.
Virginie:Don’t hesitate to exaggerate at first.
Eric: And don’t mind the people around you on the bus.
Virginie:At the worst, they will think that you have a frog in your throat.
Eric: Another good word to practice your "r" is "gras" which means fat, gras. Go ahead and repeat after Virginie.
Virginie: "gros", “gras”, "gros", “gras”.
Eric: Right. Now there is another similar sound right?
Virginie:Yes it’s the "rr" sound and it’s called the "Georges Brassens rr".
Eric: And George Brassens was a French singer from the 50s. This is a little bit of a more old French sound.
Virginie:Yeah it’s not a very common sound nowadays. It’s almost completely disappeared.
Eric: But you can hear it in some of Edith Piaf’s songs for example.
Virginie:Yeah it sounds like this: "emportée par la foule"...
Eric: Wow! What a singer! Very nice Virginie. Do you have any other sounds for us?
Virginie:Yes it has to do with dessert.
Eric: Great. I am all ears! I am assuming that this would be not ordering a dessert when you want to get a dessert.
Virginie:Exactly and this is a common mistake because the words dessert and desert sound very much alike in French.
Eric: And they do in English too, actually.
Virginie:That’s true. Well in French though, the difference is between the two sounds "s" and "z".
Eric: Okay. So let’s say I’m at a nice restaurant in Lyon.
Virginie: Lyon, good idea. I am tired of only hearing about Paris.
Eric: And Lyon has a great culinary tradition. So I am done with my delicious "steak tartare" and I’d like something sweet. What should I ask the waiter for?
Virginie:You will ask for like "la carte des desserts" which is the dessert menu.
Eric: So dessert is "dessert" d-e-s-s-e-r-t.
Virginie:Absolutely, two “s”.
Eric: And what if I mix "s" and "z" and actually ask for a "désert".
Virginie:Well the waiter then might bring you a cup of sand.
Eric: Ah okay because I am asking for a desert. Okay so to sum it up, "dessert" is d-e-s-s-e-r-t and it means dessert.
Virginie:Yes and "désert" which is desert just one s is desert.
Eric: If you are reading a text, obviously the spelling is going to help you enough. It’s "s" or "z".
Virginie:Yeah it usually does. For example, at the beginning of a word, the letter S is pronounced "s". At the end of a word, it can be either silent or pronounced "s".
Eric: And when squeezed in between two vowels, it’s generally going to be pronounced "z".
Virginie:Yes and ss is always pronounced "s" just like in dessert "dessert".
Eric: Okay I think it’s time for a little more practice. Why don’t we talk about the difference between "v" and "b".
Virginie:Yeah that might be helpful for Spanish speakers out there. There maybe a few Spanish students listening to our show.
Eric: So what’s the difference between "v" and "b".
Virginie:Well, when you say "v" you use your lower lip and your upper teeth. They sort of vibrate against each other.
Eric: I see and "b" is sort of like a percussive effect between your two lips.
Eric: Interesting. So when a sound is not part of your language, obviously it’s going to be a little harder to pronounce.
Virginie: Absolutely. Well let’s try a little phonetic exercise. I am going to say two different sentences and you out there try to hear the difference.
Eric: Let’s go ahead.
Virginie: First sentence "Je vois la mer." and second sentence "Je bois la mer."
Eric: I heard the difference but I think that’s because those two sounds actually exist in English. Let’s hear one more time with the translation.
Virginie:"Je vois la mer."
Eric: I see the sea.
Virginie:And "Je bois la mer."
Eric: I drink the sea.
Virginie:Then, once you can hear the difference between "v" and "b" you can start practicing.
Eric: Okay great and what’s next?
Virginie: A little practice tip. You can practice by saying some words over and over like "vague" which is wave and "bague" which is ring.
Eric: "vague" v-a-g-u-e, wave, and "bague" b-a-g-u-e, ring.
Virginie:Yeah include those into sentences that you repeat until you feel the difference.
Eric: Great. Okay I think we are done with the consonants practice but I have one last question for you. Who has the easiest time pronouncing French?
Virginie:Well I know it’s quite easy for German people and it’s easy for Italians too.
Eric: And what about English speakers?
Virginie: Well they do a pretty good job.


Virginie: Okay well thank you guys for listening to us yelling crazy sounds.
Eric: And thank you for yelling with us. That just about does it for today
Virginie: Okay, thank you all, au revoir!