French 3010: French Phonetics

I taught French 3010 as a one credit hour course at Georgia State University in spring 2007. The course attracted about fifteen intermediate and advanced French students who were eager to refine their pronunciation skills in the language. While we did use a course text (listed below) to prepare for lessons and introduce particular phonetic elements, we also read literary passages and news articles to study how a phoneme’s pronunciation may alter slightly when combined with other phonemes. A classic example of this is the French ‘d’ at the end of a word, which is generally not pronounced, such as in the word “quand” (phonetically transcribed as [k]). However, when this ‘d’ is followed by another word that begins with a vowel, the sound [t] is pronounced in liaison. Thus, in the sentence “Quand elles sont allées en France,”  the phonetic transcription of “quand” becomes [kt].

Given the technicality of these phonetic lessons, we focused on up to two phonemes per course, but combined our linguistic study with more animated exercises in pronunciation. For example, I used music with clearly pronounced words, such as Francis Cabrel or Coralie Clément, to allow each student to practice what they had learned. Students first worked together to isolate examples of the phoneme we were studying in the lyrics of the song, circling them on a page printed with the verses so that they could pay close attention when the song was played. We then listened to the song slowly, stopping after each line for the student to read the line aloud, without the music, before replaying the line. Finally, the student read the line again, and I pointed out particular pronunciation difficulties for the student to work on at home, or during my office hours, where students often came to receive further one-on-one practice with their pronunciation.

In evaluations for this course, students shared how much they had appreciated the lessons: for example, one noted the value of the exercise material, and that classroom lectures were the most useful course component. Other comments focused on how much students had enjoyed doing exercises from songs and recorded material, and how much their pronunciation abilities had improved as a result of the lessons.

Below, I have included the course description and objectives from the syllabus. Parts of this description and its objectives were derived from the syllabus of my colleague who had previously taught the course. I developed all of the course exercises, exams, and lectures on my own.

Course Description and Objectives: French 3010 is a one-hour course intended for students finishing the intermediate sequence or any point in the upper-division program. The course covers the major areas where English speakers tend to make errors in speaking French. The number of basic rules in French is actually fairly limited, but because the spelling is often quite different from English and because some of the sounds (e.g., nasals) do not exist in English, language students often feel that their pronunciation is below par. The course will deal with one element at a time, and the International Phonetic Alphabet will be used as necessary. Students will receive extensive oral practice; exercises to prepare and present at the next class; and passages taken from current French media that will be read for pronunciation. This brief course will enable students to correct any existing major errors in pronunciation; to learn new finer points; and to improve their vocabulary and grammar, since many of the pronunciation rules are closely connected with such grammatical points as verb endings and adjective agreement. By the end of the course, students should be able to pronounce correctly most of the words in an unfamiliar text.

Text: Francis W. Nachtmann, Exercises in French Phonics. Numerous editions exist by various publishers; any is appropriate.