Common Mistakes by French Speakers of English
French ESL students have a leg up when it comes to learning English and proper English pronunciation, although there are some common mistakes that are made. Many English language words are French in origin. A further benefit is that both languages utilize a similar sentence structure—not important to pronunciation but a great confidence booster that aids in the flow of speech.
French ESL Learners’ Most Common Mistakes When Speaking English
However, there do exist some common mistakes of English pronunciation that French ESL students should turn their attention to, such as: “h” sounds; replacing “th” sounds with “s” or “z” sounds; replacing certain vowel sounds with French vowel sounds.
I’m guessing you knew this mistake in pronunciation would make the list. Though the letter “h” exists in the French alphabet and is written in many words—homme, honneur, heure—it is always silent.
French ESL students are simply ignoring the “h” sound in English words out of habit.
Watch the movie “My Fair Lady” for a classic “h” pronunciation lesson, and practice “h” tongue twisters to learn the vocalization mechanics.
Replacing “Th” Sounds with “S” or “Z” Sounds
The “th” sound doesn’t exist in French though (again) the “th” appears in many French words—mathématiques, bibliothèque, the’—it is pronounced as a “t” sound.
When French ESL students pronounce the “th” sound in English words as an “s” or “z” sound
this becomes zis
think becomes sink
moth becomes moss
they aren’t placing the tip of their tongue on the bottom of their top teeth. The “s” and “z” sounds are made in a softer way—the tongue is tapping behind the front teeth.
Learn the proper ways to produce the “th” sounds by paying special attention to the mechanics. For the voiced “th” sound, place the tip of your tongue on the top of your front teeth, blow out while vibrating your tongue and hum the sound with your vocal chords. For the softer, voiceless “th” sound tap the tip of your tongue on the bottom of your front teeth, and blow out gently while retracting it.
Try slowly saying a mixed “th” sounds word list, focusing on the vocalization techniques.
Replacing Certain Vowel Sounds with French Vowel Sounds
English has fewer rounded vowel sounds than French but French doesn’t have the long/short vowel distinction found in English. The two most common mistakes French speakers make with their English vowel pronunciations involve pronouncing all “ih” sounds in English words as “ee” sounds, and all “ahe” and “ahr” sounds with an “ah” sound.
ship becomes sheep
kid becomes keed
twin becomes tween
hat becomes aht
heart becomes ahrt
cat becomes caht
The most common mistakes made by French ESL students in their pronunciation of English are cause by unfamiliar phonemes, or speech sounds. French speakers of English are fortunate in that despite these mispronunciations, most native English speakers will understand them—perhaps it’s all that Norman French in our own language’s history. However, if you want to truly become fluent, addressing these 3 common mistakes in your English pronunciation would be the best place the start.