It’s the final countdown until Christmas! Some of you might already be in the holiday spirit and others haven’t started thinking about it as you might still be working hard to complete your final projects at the office.
In any case, we are all very busy with our Christmas planning and I’ve got just the right thing to put you in that Holiday mood while keeping improving your French language skills!
One great way to improve your French pronunciation is to practice reading out loud. Speaking a foreign language often feels unnatural and uncomfortable at the beginning as it involves small muscles, often completely new to you, which you don’t normally use when speaking English or your mother tongue.
The good news is that the more you practice, the better you will get at it!
Here are 5 Great Tips to Improve Your Storytelling in French!
1. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Grab a gossip magazine while waiting at the hairdresser, find an interesting article online, check the local newspaper, rent some children’s books from the library, pay attention to the adverts around you and… start reading out loud!
Make sure to remember as many pronunciation tips as possible. It might be strenuous at the beginning, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
To help you in this diction adventure, please read my article on French Pronunciation.
2. It’s All About That ”R”
How can you do the French ”r” ? Well, first of all, I recommend that you listen to a lot of Edith Piaf (the famous French singer of La Vie en Rose) to really grasp how NOT to pronounce it! Yes, that ”r grasseyant” was her trademark, but that is not how French speakers normally speak!
Contrary to popular belief, the French ”r” is not a harsh sound. It is very soft and gentle, like the purr of a little kitten! Imagine that you are gargling very gently. This ”r” sound should start from the highest point of your throat. It is not low at all, as most French sounds. Have you ever noticed that French voices are often high-pitched? The women, especially. (I do speak much higher in International French than in Québécois French!) That is because the French language doesn’t sit low in the throat. It mostly uses the resonators from your mouth, soft palate, higher throat, nose, and cheekbones.
If you really cannot manage the French ”r”, you can always roll it, but then, people might think you are Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or South American, which will make you exotic, so don’t worry too much about it!
I also invite you to watch my video on How to Produce A Real French R.
3. Release The Tension
You might develop some tension in your jaw muscles when you start speaking French. That is very normal as you are soliciting new muscles which you don’t normally use.
This should only be temporary, i.e. a month or so. If the tension persists, try to relax your jaw, your mouth, your throat, and your tongue when speaking French. Imagine that you are speaking through a small microphone which you are holding just in front of your mouth. Your mouth is relaxed, narrow, and in an almost rounded shape. (French speakers don’t generally have a large, horizontal smile on their face when they speak!) Keep in mind that most of your French sounds come from your mouth, nose, and the space between you mouth and nose.
In Quebec, we make fun of the French by saying that they speak with a ”bouche en cul de poule”, which is a slightly more vulgar version of the duckface!
What really helps to speak French? Pretend that you are a sophisticated French gentleman or a fancy Swiss lady. It works every time!
4. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Our personality inevitably changes when we speak another language. I feel I am much more straight to the point when I speak German, more relaxed and fun in Québécois French, more fancy in International French(!), and friendlier/more laid-back in English. My hand gestures are also more present when I speak French! (People who know me will agree to that!)
We indeed do not have the same vocabulary or cultural references as we do in our mother tongue, which might make us feel more limited to express what we have in mind. You will also realise that some English words do not have an exact equivalent in French, and vice versa. For example, we do not have a specific verb to make the difference between baking and cooking. We simply use cuire for both situations.
Using hand gestures, explaining something instead of finding the right word and asking the help of your captive native speaking audience will help you get your point across. If all fails, make sure to keep your smartphone at hand and request the services of your best (yet not always so accurate) friends Google Translate and Reverso!
Embrace your new personality and let it come across when you speak or read in French!
5. "Once Upon A Time..."
Imagine that you are telling a story to a child.
Try to speak slowly and as clearly as possible. Don’t forget intonation! Make your story fun to listen to and bring your characters to life. Here is a little Christmas present which will help you practice reading out loud and improve your French storytelling.
Make sure to listen to my audio versions (slow and normal speed) of this Christmas story, which I encourage you to share with your family and friends!
As a native Québécoise, born to a Franco-Belgian family, now living in Nyon with her two children, Isabelle is no stranger to the expat reality! Trained as a professional opera singer, her passion for arts and languages led her to become an ambassador of the French language & francophone culture, i.e. a French Teacher!
She founded Prêt à Parler in January 2015. Since then she's been hard at work helping native and non-native English-speaking expats make French part of their everyday life! Prêt à Parler's mission is based on what Isabelle does best: helping busy professionals and parents improve their language skills by providing a high quality, eco-friendly, fun, no-nonsense approach to learning French online!