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Understanding the French Pronunciation Using IPA

french ipa transcription pronunciation

Are you struggling with French pronunciation? When it comes to vowels, do you often struggle with the many nuances of French?

What if I told you there is IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet, or a standardized system of detecting the correct pronunciation of each word in French?

By learning the French IPA system, you can better understand the subtleties of French pronunciation.

So grab a croissant and settle in – let’s get started!

I. What is IPA?

Why Use IPA when Learning French Pronunciation?

The IPA stands for a standardized system of phonetic notation, invented in the late 19th century and is still used today. IPA is a phonetic alphabet, meaning that each symbol represents a distinct sound rather than a letter of the alphabet.

This is different from the traditional spelling system of a language, which can have multiple spellings for the same sound (like “see” and “sea” in English).

Using IPA, linguists can accurately represent the sounds of any language, regardless of the writing system used. This is especially useful for studying the phonetics of languages that use non-Latin scripts, like Arabic or Chinese.

Every language has its own IPA system of sounds and symbols. By learning the French IPA system, you can better understand the nuances of French pronunciation.

IPA can be especially helpful for distinguishing between similar-sounding words and improving your overall French language skills.

Before we start exploring the French vowel system, here is an example of an IPA transcription for the word: “français” that uses Phonemes: /fʁɑ̃.sɛ/


The “fr” sound is represented by /f/
the “a” sound is represented by /ɑ̃/ (nasal vowel),
the “n” sound is represented by /n/,
the “ç” sound is represented by /s/,
and the “ais” sound is represented by /ɛ/.

First of all, IPA transcription is always placed between slashes (/ /) to indicate that it’s an IPA transcription.

You’ll also recognize nasale sounds easily because each nasale sound is using a tilde (~) over the vowel.

Bonjour: /bɔ̃ʒuʁ/
Croissant: /kʁwasɑ̃/
Merci: /mɛʁsi/
Voiture: /vwatyʁ/
Rendez-vous: /ʁɑ̃devu/
Je suis: /ʒə sɥi/

Due to French’s many different regional accents, certain words may be pronounced differently depending on the speaker’s background.

While French pronunciation can take time to master, IPA is a helpful tool to guide you, especially when it comes to French vowels.

In the following chapters, you’ll learn all about different kinds of French Vowels and French Consonants. 

Learn more about French vowels. 

II. Guide to French Phonetics

The French phonetic system includes vowels, semi-vowels, and consonants, as well as intonation and rhythm.

Intonation and rhythm also play a role in the French phonetic system. French has a distinctive rising and falling intonation pattern, which can indicate the meaning of a sentence. Rhythm is also essential in French, as it can determine the placement of stress on words in a sentence.

Learn more about how French stress

French Vowel System

Vowels are an essential component of the French phonetic system, and there are 16 vowel sounds in French, including nasal vowels. Unlike English, French has a distinction between open and closed vowels, and the length of vowels can also change the meaning of a word.

In French, there are 16 vowel sounds, which can be classified as either oral or nasal vowels. The French vowel system includes the following sounds:

Oral vowels:

  1. /i/ – close front unrounded vowel (like “ee” in “see”)
  2. /y/ – close front rounded vowel (like “ü” in German “über”)
  3. /e/ – close-mid front unrounded vowel (like “e” in “bet”)
  4. /ɛ/ – open-mid front unrounded vowel (like “e” in “let”)
  5. /a/ – open front unrounded vowel (like “a” in “cat”)
  6. /ɔ/ – open-mid back rounded vowel (like “aw” in “saw”)
  7. /o/ – close-mid back rounded vowel (like “o” in “note”)
  8. /u/ – close back rounded vowel (like “oo” in “boot”)

Nasal vowels:

  1. /ɛ̃/ – open-mid front nasalized unrounded vowel (like “an” in “français”)
  2. /œ̃/ – open-mid front nasalized rounded vowel (like “eu” in “jeune”)
  3. /ɑ̃/ – open front nasalized unrounded vowel (like “on” in “bon”)
  4. /ɔ̃/ – open-mid back nasalized rounded vowel (like “on” in “bonne”)
  5. /ĩ/ – close front nasalized unrounded vowel (like “in” in “vin”)
  6. /ũ/ – close back nasalized rounded vowel (like “un” in “parfum”)
  7. /ɑ̃̃/ – open front nasalized unrounded vowel (like “an” in “blanc”)
  8. /ɔ̃̃/ – open-mid back nasalized rounded vowel (like “on” in “bonbon”)

It is important to note that French also has vowel length, meaning that the duration of a vowel sound can change the meaning of a word.

In the French language, there are also French diphthongs, which are two vowels that sound like one.

French Consonant System

French has many consonant sounds that are different from English, such as the guttural “r” and the nasal “n” and “m.” Consonants can also be silent in French, such as the “h” in “heureux.”

In French, there are 24 consonant sounds, which are as follows:

  1. /b/ – bilabial voiced stop
  2. /p/ – bilabial voiceless stop
  3. /d/ – alveolar voiced stop
  4. /t/ – alveolar voiceless stop
  5. /g/ – velar voiced stop
  6. /k/ – velar voiceless stop
  7. /f/ – labiodental voiceless fricative
  8. /v/ – labiodental voiced fricative
  9. /z/ – alveolar voiced fricative
  10. /s/ – alveolar voiceless fricative
  11. /ʒ/ – voiced palato-alveolar fricative (like “g” in “garage”)
  12. /ʃ/ – voiceless palato-alveolar fricative (like “sh” in “she”)
  13. /m/ – bilabial nasal
  14. /n/ – alveolar nasal
  15. /ɲ/ – palatal nasal (like “gn” in “gnome”)
  16. /ŋ/ – velar nasal (only occurs in borrowed words from other languages)
  17. /l/ – alveolar lateral approximant
  18. /j/ – palatal approximant (like “y” in “yes”)
  19. /w/ – labiovelar approximant (like “w” in “water”)
  20. /ʁ/ – uvular trill or voiced uvular fricative (like the French “r”)
  21. /h/ – voiceless glottal fricative (as in “heureux”)
  22. /ɥ/ – labial-palatal approximant (only occurs in certain words like “huit”)
  23. /ʔ/ – glottal stop (only occurs in certain dialects and certain words)
  24. /χ/ – voiceless uvular fricative (only occurs in certain dialects and certain words)

III. Using IPA to Transcribe French Pronunciation

How IPA works?

To transcribe a word in IPA, you simply need to identify the sounds that make up each syllable and match them to the corresponding IPA symbols. By doing so, you can create a written representation of the word’s pronunciation that is accurate and unambiguous.

Now, where to know the correct pronunciation of the French vocabulary.

Your source should be the Petit Robert – an ultimate French dictionary. The French dictionaries at Larousse and Collins are great for English translations and IPA as well.

There’s also a handy convertor that turns any French word into an IPA transcription. Check out French Phonetic Transcription Translator.

Step-by-step guide on how to use IPA to transcribe French words and phrases

To transcribe French words and phrases using IPA, you can follow these steps:

  1. Identify the sounds in the word or phrase. Listen carefully to the word or phrase and break it down into individual sounds. Pay attention to any nasal vowels, which are a distinctive feature of French pronunciation.
  2. Consult an IPA chart. Use an IPA chart to identify the symbols that correspond to the sounds you’ve identified. You can find an IPA chart online or in many language textbooks.
  3. Match the sounds to the symbols. Once you’ve identified the symbols for each sound, write them down in the correct order to create the IPA transcription of the word or phrase.

For example, let’s transcribe the French word “chocolat” using IPA:

  1. Identify the sounds: /ʃɔkɔla/
  2. Consult an IPA chart: /ʃ/ represents the “sh” sound, /ɔ/ represents the “aw” sound, and /k/ represents the “k” sound.
  3. Match the sounds to the symbols: The IPA transcription of “chocolat” is /ʃɔkɔla/.

Similarly, let’s transcribe the French phrase “je suis content” using IPA:

  1. Identify the sounds: /ʒə sɥi kɔ̃tɑ̃/
  2. Consult an IPA chart: /ʒ/ represents the “zh” sound, /s/ represents the “s” sound, /ɥi/ represents the “wee” sound, /kɔ̃/ represents the “con” sound, and /tɑ̃/ represents the “tahn” sound.
  3. Match the sounds to the symbols: The IPA transcription of “je suis content” is /ʒə sɥi kɔ̃tɑ̃/.

IV. Examples of French Pronunciation Using IPA

  1. Bonjour – /bɔ̃ʒuʁ/
  2. Merci – /mɛʁsi/
  3. Au revoir – /o ʁəvwaʁ/
  4. Comment ça va? – /kɔmɑ̃ sa va/
  5. Oui – /wi/
  6. Non – /nɔ̃/
  7. Bonne nuit – /bɔn nɥi/
  8. Excusez-moi – /ɛkskyzə mwa/
  9. Pardon – /paʁdɔ̃/
  10. S’il vous plaît – /sil vu plɛ/
  11. Merci beaucoup – /mɛʁsi boku/
  12. Je t’aime – /ʒə tɛm/
  13. La vie en rose – /la vi ɑ̃ ʁoz/
  14. Vive la France! – /viv la fʁɑ̃s/
  15. Croissant – /kʁwasɑ̃/

Now it’s your turn.

Learning French IPA

We hope this guide to the French IPA system has been helpful to you.

By learning the French IPA system, you can better understand the subtleties of French pronunciation and distinguish between similar-sounding words.

Remember, mastering French pronunciation takes time and practice, but with the help of IPA, you can improve your overall language skills.

Now it’s time to grab your croissant and continue your French learning journey. Bonne chance!

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