3 Tips for Faking a French Accent

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Photo Source: Carole Bethuel/Netflix

If you’ve watched Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” (or really any show that’s set in France), you’ve probably wondered how the actors have mastered their French accents—especially the ones who are faking it. Fake French accents are used often in film and on television, so it’s a nice skill for any actor to have in their back pocket. After all, you never know whether your next role will have you flying off to Paris. Want to learn how to imitate a French accent like the pros? Avoid the trap of mimicking a bad fake dialect by following these go-to tips. 

1. Know the differences between American and French accents.

As a rule, a French accent requires significantly less tongue movement than an American accent. The tongue stays mostly behind the bottom front teeth, and the majority of sound changes are made by the lips, jaw, and sometimes the nose. Additionally, each syllable of a word is generally given equal emphasis, which is very different from English. While this isn’t something to focus on in particular when speaking with a French accent in English, it’s a good thing to know once you’ve mastered the sound changes. This type of emphasis can be applied in order to add an extra layer of authenticity to your French character.

2. Understand French consonants.

The first sound that most of us associate with the French accent is also one that can be pretty intimidating—the distinctive French “R.” In order to make this characteristically French sound, start with the front of your tongue resting at the back of your lower teeth. Then, pull your tongue far back enough to create vibrations against your uvula. This will result in a harsh, guttural sound from the back of your throat, similar to an aggressive “H” sound in English.

Speaking of “H”s, the French don’t pronounce them. So be sure to drop the “H” from all your words when faking this accent, no matter where in the word the letter falls. A helpful way to remind yourself to do this is by marking them out in your script.

The “TH” sound is also not one that is made in the French language. Instead, the “TH” sound is replaced with a “Z”—turning words like “there” into “zere.”

Another quick and easy way to fake a French accent is to drop the “G” at the end of “-ing” words. For example, “going” becomes “goin’,” “working” becomes “workin’,” and so forth.

3. Learn how to pronounce French vowels.

After mastering French consonants, you can move on to vowels. French vowels are pure, meaning there are no diphthongs in standard French. (A diphthong is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable—“coin” and “treat” are two examples.) Once you get familiar with the sound of each vowel, these rules are simple to implement—although they may require a little practice.

  • E: For this sound, the key to making a French “E” seem authentic lies in the length of the vowel as well as the pronunciation. The sound is a simple “eh,” made with an open mouth and the tongue placed behind the lower teeth. This sound is also longer in the French language, so be sure to draw it out a little every time you come across it.
  • I: This sound is pronounced like the English “ee,” and an easy way to make this change is to smile when you say it. This pulls the lips apart to enforce the sound change. Remember that this sound is not always linked to the spelling of a word, but rather to the phonetics. A good example of this sound is the American word “he,” which would be pronounced “ee” in French (since the “H” would also be silent).
  • U: This is a short vowel that relies heavily on the shape of the lips. In order to make this sound accurately, round and pucker your lips tightly while trying to make an “ee” sound. This might seem counterintuitive, but try it out—you’ll be surprised by the sound that comes out!

Putting all of these tips together will not only help you fake a French accent, but in time, maybe it will even get you interested in learning the language. We also suggest treating yourself to a croissant and chocolat chaud. Bonne chance!

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Anna Frankl-Duval
Anna Frankl-Duval is a New York-based British actor and dialect coach who has been working on both sides of the Atlantic for over a decade. She trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and CAP21 in New York. For more photos and information head to www.annafranklduval.com.
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