alphabet in French Now that you’ve got a few French words and phrases under your belt, it’s time to work on your pronunciation. I have a French friend who told me that when he was in London on holiday he tried to ask for a bottle of water from a vendor. Unfortunately, although he was using the right words, he had to repeat himself maybe ten times for the vendor to understand. It was what my friend was saying, but the way he was saying it.
This is likely to happen to you when practicing your French on native speakers. Get a vowel wrong, and you are likely to be misunderstood. Giving things like your name and address can be problematic, too, for your Anglo-Saxon name, if you have one, or your address will sound alien and be hard to recognize.
This happens to me a lot in France, even though after living here for several years my French is of a high standard. My problem is my surname, Lewis. Pronouncing it the English way is completely unintelligible to French ears, who often think that I should be saying ‘Levi’s’, like the jeans!
A good idea when having difficulties understanding or being understood is to ask how it’s spelled or to spell it yourself. Spelling in English, though, won’t help you very much. The way the French pronounce the alphabet is not the same, although they use the same twenty-six letters.
There are two approaches that I recommend for learning the French alphabet. Both are effective, but if you are not shy or self-conscious, I would go for the first option.
Method One alphabet in French
Go to youtube.com or any other video sharing site that also has pages in French. Do a search for ‘chanson alphabet’. You should find lots of videos of kids singing the alphabet in French to the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ just like we teach our kids in English. Sing along with them! The melody and the rhythm will help you to remember the right pronunciation. Try to shake off any feelings you may have of being foolish or childish, remembering that child are incredibly efficient language learners and that you can learn something from their methods. Children learn languages by reciting songs and rhymes over and over. Do the same, it works.
Method Two alphabet in French
This is the grown-up way. Instead of reciting the alphabet in (alphabetic!) Order, divide the letters in to similar sounds. The sounds you will hear in the French alphabet are roughly as follows:
‘ar’: A, H, K
‘ay’: B, C, D, G, P, T, V, W (pronounced ‘doobluh vay’ – double ‘v’)
‘e’: (like in ‘bed’) F, L, M, N, S, Z (pronounced ‘zed’)
‘ee’: I, J, X, Y (pronounced ‘eegrek’ meaning ‘Greek I’)
‘oo’: U (say ‘oo’ not ‘you’, Q (say ‘koo’ not ‘queue’)
It is also a good idea to associate each of the letter sounds to a word that you know that contains that sound. For example, the French word for ‘tea’ is ‘le thé’ and has the same vowel as all the letters that are pronounced with ‘ay’.
Now you’re equipped with the French alphabet, one last thing you need to know is the question, ‘how do you spell that?’ It’s comment ça s’écrit , which literally means ‘how do you write it?’
Practice spelling your name in French, then your address. You now have a reliable communication tool to get you through those awkward moments when you can’t make yourself understood in French.