Getting the hang of the French alphabet is the first step in mastering French pronunciation. I’ve had my fair share of embarrassing pronunciation incidents and a few could’ve been avoided if I knew my alphabet better. And despite having lived in France for three years, there are a few tough French words I’m still getting the hang of.
So if you’re getting frustrated with your French pronunciation, try not to worry too much about it. The right pronunciation comes with time and a little bit of daily practice makes perfect.
Today we’re going to go through the pronunciation of every letter of the French alphabet, the different sounds they make when they join together, and the pronunciation and spelling of some of the trickiest French words.
The French Alphabet and its Pronunciation
For a quick run-through of the French Alphabet, try running it through with Alexa. She’ll read through the whole alphabet for you and you get a spell out a few French words together.
You’ll also get to work on the pronunciation of French vowels.
If you’d rather listen to each letter on your own time, listen to this alphabet recording as many times as you’d like. Some French letters sound almost identical to those in English, like the letter F.
The most confusing pair is J and G because their pronunciations are reversed in French compared to English. Make sure to give this an extra listen or two!
French alphabet chart with audio
Listen to the entire alphabet.
Use the following table to listen to the pronunciation of individual letters (if using phone view table in landscape).
Navigating French Letters and Their Pronunciations
While there are only twenty-six letters in the French alphabet, there are thirty-eight phonetic sounds. Some letters like “U” have two different pronunciations, while two letter L’s together can sometimes make a “ye” sound.
The French language also contains sounds we don’t have in English including one of the “U” sounds and the “R” sound.
Pronouncing the French “R”
The French “R” sound is without a doubt the hardest sound for English speakers to master when learning French.
I used to live in a town called Rouen, which is always included in lists of the hardest French words to pronounce. The hard “R” followed by that pesky “en” sound still gives me trouble.
The “R” sound happens in the back of your throat almost like a rough “H.” It takes a lot of practice, but you’ll get it right eventually. If you’re struggling, try growling.
You’ll feel that rumble in back of your throat and that’s the basis of the French “R” sound. Here are a few words you can try:
Rouen – the capital city of Normandy
Une erreur – error
Bonjour – hello
Pronouncing the French “U”
Another tricky sound can be the main “U” sound. You can make this “U” sound by pursing your lips and bringing your tongue closer to the roof of your mouth. You can hear it in these words:
Une Plume – feature
Une Voiture – car
Une Usine – factory
A lot of English speakers want to pronounce the French “U” sound like we do in English, as an “oo” sound. But the French already have a way to say the “oo” sound and it’s with the letters “ou.” One of the best ways to detect the difference between the “U” sound and the “ou” sound is with the words “above” and “below” in French.
Dessus – above
Dessous – below
The letter “u” can also make the “oo-ye” sound, which you’ll find in words like this:
Fuir – to run away
Un Bruit – noise
Cuit – cooked
Pronouncing the double L in French
Two letter L’s also make the sound “ye” when they appear after any vowel + the letter “I.” A few examples are:
Une cuillère – spoon
Une aiguille – needle
Une feuille – leaf
Though, there are exceptions to this rule with words like chantilly and fille.
The French “Ch”
Just like in English, putting two different letters together can sometimes change their pronunciation. In English, we have pairs like “sh,” “ch,” and “th.”
In French, also have “ch,” but they pronounce it like our “sh” in words like:
Un chocolat – chocolate
Une hache – axe
Un artichaut – artichoke
Most Difficult French Words to Spell and Pronounce
Earlier I mentioned how I still struggle to pronounce the French city, Rouen. So while we’re chatting about difficult French words, I thought I would share a list of some of the hardest French words to pronounce and how to spell them.
Un écureuil – squirrel
Une quincaillerie – hardware store
Un yaourt – yogurt
Trois – three
Une serrurerie – locksmithing
Reims – city in the region of La Marne
Une heure – hour
Une fourrure – fur
Caoutchouc – rubber
Pronouncing and Spelling Your Name in French
Now that you’ve gone through the entire French alphabet and some of the most difficult French words to spell and pronounce, it’s time to have fun with your own name!
Unfortunately, I can’t reveal how to spell every name out there. But here’s how to spell the most common girl and boy names in the United States and in France.
American Girl Names in French
American Boy Names in French
Popular French Girl Names and Spelling
Popular French Boy Names and Spelling
Now give it a try with your own name! You’ll be spelling like the French in no time.
Master French Like A Pro!
In addition to learning the letters in French, it’s also important to master reading and accents. This page on our site covers the French reading rules (including nasal sounds) and this page explains how to read the French accent marks.
We also suggest considering Frenchtoday.com’s Secrets Of French Pronunciation course.