Learning a French Accent
WHAT WILL YOU DOWNLOAD?
The download contains sixty-two (62) minutes of systematic instruction in MP3 sound files. You’ll also get a printable PDF of the instruction manual. It contains summaries of the audio lessons and full transcripts of the drill words, phrases, and passages.
WHAT WILL YOU LEARN?
You will first learn the resonance (placement), inflection/rhythm, and pronunciation of a general French accent. Then, you’ll go on to learn several styles and intensities of the speech pattern. Here’s a brief summary of the training.
- Lesson 1 teaches you the resonance or voice placement of the French accent. In other words, it shows you how to shape your mouth to create its rear-mouth sound focus.
- Lesson 2 deals with target vowel pronunciations that grow out of or embed within the resonance trait from earlier.
- Lesson 3 covers with this accent’s characteristic pitch, rhythm, and stress. These traits are affected, to various degrees, by the language’s typical stress on the final syllable of longer words.
- Lesson 4 teaches the pronunciation of characteristic French-accent consonants. Of particular importance here is finding the proper balance for the recognizable sound of the French R.
- Lesson 5 puts it all together with several coached drill passages. Firstly, it reminds you about the voice placement and rhythm. Further, it walks you through the pronunciation phrase by phrase before leading you into a normal speaking pace. During this lesson you’ll experiment with heavier and softer versions of the accent. You’ll also explore briefly the resonance and rhythm tweaks required to give a French-Canadian impression.
MORE ABOUT THE FRENCH ACCENT
The French language and its accent on English vary noticeably with different places of origin. The French-Canadian (Québécois) accent has a much more intense nasal resonance and a more staccato rhythm than European-French patterns. Accents of the French language have often been stereotyped in Vaudeville skits, cartoons, films, and stand-up comedy. (Think Inspector Jacques Clouseau of The Pink Panther films and the cartoon skunk Pepé le Pew.) In addition to its distinctive near-nasal resonance, French usually places the stress or accent on the final syllable of multi-syllabic words. Stereotyped accents often grow from exaggerating both traits. Some go as far as imposing that stress pattern on a short series of one-syllable words, e.g., “I can ‘SEE / what you ‘MEAN.” Such exaggeration could clearly wreak havoc with the truth of a real character in actual human circumstances.
FRENCH ACCENT FOR TODAY’S ACTORS
- When should you use a French-language accent? That’s not as silly a question as it might seem. What about characters who would be speaking French in “the real world”? Some examples would be those in Molière’s Tartuffe, Anita Loos’s adaptation of Gigi, or Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac? Many would consider English with a French accent to be a poor artistic representation of French “without a foreign accent.” So, what brand of English would best represent French with “no accent”?
- In such cases, directors often prefer “no accent,” i.e., the standard English of the performance country. Some might still want light accents to reflect a flavor of characters’ real-world French while maintaining an impression of fluency. The same artistic choice applies to using German accents for Schiller, Spanish for Lorca, Norwegian for Ibsen, etc.
- The accent is more often wanted/needed when, in the script, first-language French speakers are conversing in English. An example would be Emile de Becque in South Pacific. In such cases, most directors would want to differentiate these characters as non-native speakers of English.