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Learn French Free Online: FSI's Introduction to Phonology

written by: R. H. • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

Would you like to learn how to pronounce French perfectly, and do it online for free? You can, with FSI's "Introduction to French Phonology." The recorded phrases take you slowly through various French sounds, effectively teaching you excellent French pronunciation!

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    Why is Phonology Important to My French Study?

    Phonology -- the study of how sounds are used in a particular language -- is a valuable area of study for students of the French language. Whereas some languages (for example, Spanish) have a relatively simple sound system that corresponds clearly with the written orthography, other languages (like French) are a bit more cryptic.

    To be able to read French words and know how to pronounce them correctly, you will need more than a casual glance at a list of spelling rules. You will need to conduct a disciplined study of the sounds of French and of the letters and combinations of letters that represent those various sounds. An in-depth study like this will make you an excellent French speaker!

    Where can you find a great introduction to French phonology and pronunciation? In this free online curriculum.

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    What Will It Teach Me?

    The United States' government's Foreign Service Institute has developed highly effective language learning software for many languages. One of these resources that is now in the public domain is their "Introduction to French Phonology." This curriculum will teach the learner how to pronounce French perfectly, through drills of careful listening, comparison to poor pronunciation, repetition and oral production.

    The "Introduction to French Phonology" will teach you what the basic consonant and vowel sounds are in French, as well as how these sounds are commonly spelled (a very helpful aspect, as French orthography does not always have a direct letter-to-sound correspondence!)

    Here is a brief outline of what you will learn as you work through the ten chapters of the "Introduction to French Phonology":

    1. In chapter one, you'll learn how to pronounce French vowel sounds ou, é, est, e, ez, er, ai, and ou. You'll also learn the significance of accent marks over French vowels.
    2. In chapter two, you'll learn about the intonation of statements and questions, as well as how to pronounce the vowel sounds o, au and eau. You'll also learn the difference between nasal and non-nasal vowels (a distinction that doesn't exist in English).
    3. In chapter three, you'll learn the intonation of question words, and how to pronounce the French sounds corresponding to r, qu and u.
    4. In chapter four, you will learn the contrast between the sound oui and ui, as well as the pronunciation of final sounds x, c, f and l. You'll also learn about the silent h in French.
    5. In chapter five, you'll learn the pronunciation of r between vowels and after a consonant. You will learn to differentiate between the various nasal vowels. You'll also learn the pronunciation of oi and of dix. Finally, you'll learn how to formulate questions in French.
    6. In chapter six, you'll learn to pronounce ill and you will learn some important numbers.
    7. In chapter seven, you will learn to pronounce final l, the written ch, and the consonant g. You will also learn the standard way to formulate a negative statement in French.
    8. In chapter eight, you'll learn more about pronouncing combinations of French vowels, as well as more about accent marks.
    9. In chapter nine, you'll learn more important numbers, as well as the ever-present and very necessary helping verbs avoir and être.
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    Where Can I Find It?

    The "Introduction to French Phonology," produced by the Foreign Service Institute (and the United States government) is available in the public domain. Someone took the time to upload the sound files (formerly available on a set of 20 cassette tapes) to the Internet, and to scan the thick book and turn it into a PDF file.

    So now, the "Introduction to French Phonology" is freely available online (see the References section at the end of this article). Accessing this helpful curriculum is simple: it is online, it is free and it is streamlined and simple to use. Although it does not offer the fun graphics and games that other French programs offer, it does a superb job of teaching great French pronunciation!

    If you prefer a more updated version of this software that is available offline, you could consider purchasing the following at Amazon.com.

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    How Should I Use It?

    Intro to French Phonology Screen Shot The "Introduction to French Phonology" software is laid out in a very simple format online. There is a link to the student text. There is another link to the instructor's manual. Then, there are twenty links to the audio files, each link labeled according to the corresponding cassette tape that the original version of the software included.

    How do you use these various elements? I recommend downloading the student text and saving it to your computer's hard drive. If you wish to give yourself the tests available in the instructor's manual, you may wish to save that to your computer's hard drive as well.

    Then, progress through the student text PDF file one audio file at a time. Each audio file (i.e., Tape 1.1, Tape 1.2) will take you somewhere in the half hour to forty-five minute range to complete.

    Enjoy learning excellent French pronunciation with the FSI's free online resource, "Introduction to French Phonology"!

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