One sound that often trips up learners is the nasal vowel ɑ̃, which is found in words like “temps” and “champagne”.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the different possible spellings of the French nasal vowel ɑ̃, and provide examples to help you understand how to correctly pronounce the French nasal vowel ɑ̃.
A Brief Explanation of French Nasal Vowels
French has a unique feature that sets it apart from other languages: nasal vowels. Unlike oral vowels, nasal vowels are pronounced by passing air through the nose and mouth.
In English, nasality occurs when a vowel follows a nasal consonant. For example, some people pronounce “can’t” with a nasalized vowel, under the influence of the following “n” [kæ̃nt].
The Nasalization of English vowels is only possible with nasal consonants, as opposed to nasal vowels in French.
Another difference between nasal sounds in French and nasalized sounds in English is that an English vowel’s nasalization does not alter the meaning of the word, which is the case in French.
Let’s observe two homographs in French, that are spelled the same, but only because they contain a different nasal vowel and get a different meaning.
Here’s a list of French words with their IPA transcriptions and English translations:
- “temps” with a nasal vowel /ɑ̃/ means “time”, as in:
Je n’ai pas le temps. /ʒə nɛ pa lə tɑ̃/
I don’t have the time.
- “temps” with a nasal vowel /ɛ̃/ means “weather”, as in
Le temps est mauvais aujourd’hui. / lə tɑ̃ ɛ mɔvɛz odjurdɥi /
The weather is bad today.
In French, there are a total of four nasal vowels. I made a list of nasal vowels, along with examples and corresponding IPA transcriptions.
- /ɑ̃/ – nasal “a”
- /ɔ̃/ – nasal “o”
- /ɛ̃/ – nasal “i”
- /œ̃/ – nasal “u” (disappearing french sound)
Learn more about French Nasal Vowels.
How to Recognize Nasal Vowel /ɑ̃/?
One way to recognize the nasal vowel ɑ̃ is to listen for the “n” sound at the end of a word. Each nasal vowel is actually followed by either “n” or “m” in the spellings.
For example, in the word “champagne,” the “n” sound is pronounced as a nasal vowel.
Another way to recognize the nasal vowel ɑ̃ is to pay attention to the way French speakers articulate their words. They will often make a slight buzzing sound in their nose when pronouncing nasal vowels. This is a subtle but distinct feature of French pronunciation that can help you recognize the sound of the nasal vowel ɑ̃.
On the other way, nasal vowels in French can be recognized in spellings too. Read along to learn more about Possible Spellings of the Nasal Vowel ɑ̃.
II. The Sound of Nasal Vowel /ɑ̃/
How to Pronounce the Nasal Vowel /ɑ̃/
To pronounce the nasal vowel ɑ̃ correctly, follow these steps:
- Begin by relaxing your jaw and opening your mouth slightly.
- Press the back of your tongue against the soft palate at the back of your mouth while keeping it flat in your mouth.
- Exhale air through your nose while keeping your mouth open and your tongue in the same position.
Sure, here are some French words with the nasal vowel ɑ̃, along with their IPA transcriptions and English translations:
III. Common Spellings of Nasal Vowel /ɑ̃/
Note: In French, the letters “an,” “am,” “en,” and “em” can sometimes indicate the nasal vowel ɑ̃.
However, there are also many words in which these letter combinations do not represent a nasal vowel. It’s important to learn the pronunciation of each word individually rather than relying solely on spelling patterns.
List of Possible Spellings for /ɑ̃/
to give birth (awn-fawn-teh)
to take away
to take someone/something with you
IV. Tricky situations: Homophones and Exceptions
French Homophones that Cause Confusion
Homophones are two or more words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings and spellings. In French, there are several homophones that can cause confusion, especially when they include the nasal vowel /ɑ̃/.
In the following list, you’ll find words that contain the same nasal vowel /ɑ̃/, but with different meanings and spellings.
- Sans /sɑ̃/ (without)
- sang /sɑ̃/ (blood)
- En /ɑ̃/ (in)
- an /ɑ̃/ (year)
- Temps /tɑ̃/ (time)
- tentes /tɑ̃t/ (tents)
- Grand /ɡʁɑ̃/ (big)
- grondent /ɡʁɔ̃d/ (growl)
It’s important to pay attention to context and spelling to avoid confusion with homophones in French, especially those that include nasal vowels.
V. Final Tips on How to Improve French Pronunciation
To start, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the different spellings of the nasal vowel ɑ̃. Once you’ve got that down, it’s all about practicing the correct pronunciation.
Don’t be afraid to practice out loud and really focus on getting the sound just right. Listening to native speakers pronouncing the nasal vowels on Youtube can help you get that sound about right.
Remember, it’s totally normal to struggle with this at first, but don’t give up! The more you practice, the easier it will become.
Learn more about French nasal vowels.