7 Difficult Words to Pronounce in French

illustration difficult words pronounce french
There are many difficult words to pronounce in French for English speakers. Here are useful tips and a video that will help you stop mispronouncing them.
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Like other languages, French has many words that are particularly difficult to pronounce for prospective speakers. Some French words are hard to pronounce, not because they are long, but because the spelling and pronunciation require experience and expertise in the language. Other difficult words to pronounce in French contain consonants which may be either voiced or voiceless, or contain nasal sounds that are typically proper to the French language. In fact, the spelling in French and English isn’t a safe indication of pronunciation – unlike German, Spanish, and Italian.

In this post, you’ll learn how to pronounce:

Is good pronunciation important?

Along with vocabulary and grammar, one of the biggest challenges for French language learners is pronunciation. 

But pronunciation often gets pushed to the bottom of the list. 

However, accurate pronunciation is important if you want to speak French and be understood. 

You might be surprised how much effort is needed when you learn new sounds in a foreign language. 

Ultimately you need to reshape the way you move the muscles of your mouth and start exercising them in new ways that are proper to the language you’re learning, the French language in our case.

Is French pronunciation easy?

Correctly pronouncing French sounds can be challenging at times, especially for learners who are beginning to study French. 

This isn’t easy, some French words are pretty difficult to pronounce. 

In reality, building up muscle memory is like breaking bad habits and building new ones. 

For instance, a bad habit would be to stop switching French sounds for English ones whenever a difficulty arises. 

For learners who already have at least a basic knowledge of how French is pronounced but who need help and advice with a view to improving their pronunciation, go check the full guide to learn French pronunciation.

Sounding silly, in the beginning, shouldn’t get in the way of mastering the pronunciation of difficult words in French.

Do tongue twisters help?

As building up muscle memory can take time, most people have to focus on continuous improvement by slowly and repeatedly adjusting their pronunciation. 

One technique that can help is to embrace tongue twisters. It is a well-known technique for actors and comedians but not only. 

Tongue twisters can help you wrap your tongue around the most difficult sounds to pronounce French words. 

Beyond the fun aspect, you’ll be able to achieve better pronunciation in a much shorter time. Looking for a great place to start, try some of these tongue twisters in French.

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Difficult words to Pronounce in French

Of course, there are words that are notoriously hard to pronounce in French. 

In this article, I’ve rounded up a few of the trickiest words in French and provided tips that will help you stop mispronouncing them. 

When speaking French, you’ll encounter these words in your daily interactions. 

Therefore I find it essential that you learn how to pronounce the following list of most difficult words to pronounce in French.

  1. Voulu
  2. Fouiller
  3. Accueil
  4. Biscuit
  5. Constantin
  6. Magnifique
  7. Organisation

In the remaining part, I highlight in bold every sound (e.g. “u“) for better clarity. Also, whenever I refer to a sound that is part of the International Phonetic Alphabet, I surround it by a backslash (e.g., /y/).

To learn the pronunciation of other difficult words in French check our articles on how to pronounce French words — you’ll find the pronunciation of words like grenouilleheure, and baguette.

Video to Pronounce Difficult words in French

If you’d like to do a pronunciation exercise I made a video in which I go over many difficult words to pronounce in French. First I recommend that you read this article and then watch the video as a practice exercise.

Be sure to watch the video on difficult words to pronounce in French and leave a comment. To follow more updates, subscribe to the YouTube channel and follow me on Instagram.

Voulu /vuly/

Voulu is the first on this list of difficult words to pronounce in French. Voulu can be an adjective and it means on purpose.

Example: Cette stratégie aura un effet inverse à l’effet voulu. (This strategy will have the opposite effect to the desired effect.)

The other form of voulu is as the past participle of the verb vouloir (to want). 

Example: Il a voulu venir avec elle. (He wanted to come with her)

Why this word is difficult to pronounce?

In voulu, we encounter both of the sound “ou” and “u“. Often French learners fail to get it right. In fact, the sound of the French “u” doesn’t exist in the English language.

What are the difficult French sounds?

In voulu, there are two sounds that you should be aware of. The first is the sound “ou” which is pronounced /u/ as in nous. The second French sound is “u” which is pronounced /y/ as in the French word tu. The two sounds must be different!

How to learn to pronounce this word?

The important difference is the position of the tongue in the mouth.

To pronounce the sound /u/ the tongue is back.

To pronounce the sound /y/ the tip of the tongue touches the front lower teeth.

The pronunciation of the vowel “u” is relatively close to the pronunciation of the word cute in English.

To produce the sound “u“, try to say a normal English “ee” like in the word “see” and then shape your lips to pronounce the sound of “ooh” without moving your tongue.

As for the sound “ou” it is much easier as it pronounced like “oo” the English word too or soup.

Fouiller /fuje/

Similarly to grenouille (frog), citrouille (pumpkin), fouiller is a difficult word to pronounce. Fouiller means to search, to dig.

Why this word is difficult to pronounce?

The sound “ouille” is what makes the word fouiller a difficult word to pronounce in French.

What are the difficult French sounds?

When you pronounce the French sound “ouille” you should hear both of English sounds “oo” + “y”.

How to learn to pronounce this word?

To correctly pronounce the sound “ouille” you can to combine two sounds: “oo” + “y” (in English). This means try to pronounce the English “oo” plus the “y” sound as in the word English yes or yar.

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Accueil /akœj/

Accueil means reception in French. Be aware of the spelling it is “ue” vs. “eu” as in écureuil, another famous word that is considered one of the most difficult words to pronounce in French. You can learn more about the pronunciation of the French letters EU.

Why this word is difficult to pronounce?

The sound /œ/ doesn’t exist in English. To pronounce it, you have to refer to the “u” in English as in the word curl. Then, you add the sound “y” as in yes (without much stress).

What are the difficult French sounds?

The difficult sound in the word accueil is /œ/ as in the word heure and the other sound to get it right is the sound /j/.

How to learn to pronounce this word?

To nail the pronunciation of accueil, the mouth should be open, the lips are rounded, and the tongue touches the bottom teeth. 

Let’s move to the next word on our list of difficult words to pronounce in French.

Biscuit /biskɥi/

Biscuit exists in both French and English. However, the pronunciation is different and consequently, it is a difficult word to pronounce for English speakers.

Why this word is difficult to pronounce?

The speed of switching between the French sound “u” to the French “i” is essential to get a perfect “ui“.

What are the difficult French sounds?

In biscuit, you’ll have to pay attention to how you pronounce the sound “u” which we saw earlier as well as the sound “i” which is pronounced /i/.

How to learn to pronounce this word?

Be sure to be quick when switching from the sound /y/ to the sound /i/ and voilà all the biscuits are yours!!

The last “t” is not pronounced.

Constantin /kɔ̃stɑ̃tin/

Constantin is a French first name and it is usually used for boys. Of course, it is a difficult word to pronounce (unless you are French).

Why this word is difficult to pronounce?

The word contains more than one nasal vowels. The first nasal vowel sound is “on“, the second one is “an“, and the last nasal vowel is “in“.

What are the difficult French sounds?

All the 3 French nasal vowels are present:

  • the French sound on is pronounced /ɔ̃/ as in bon
  • the French sound an is pronounced /ɑ̃/ as in blanc
  • the French sound in is pronounced  /ɛ̃/ as in vin

How to learn to pronounce this word?

When you pronounce the sound “on“, the shape of the mouth is totally round. 

This is not the case when you pronounce the nasal vowel “an“. 

The mouth should be rounded but the difference is that you should open the mouth as if you are saying Ahhh

As for the French nasal sound “in“, the mouth is open and stretched horizontally.

Practice the three nasal vowel sounds and repeat the word Constantin

To get the nasal sounds right, you should be pronouncing them through the nose and through the mouth at the same time and feeling that air is circulating as you are pronouncing. 

Check my pronunciation videos on Instagram and on YouTube to learn more about how to master this as well as other French pronunciation exercises.

The following video includes other pronunciation exercises so that you can learn the right pronunciation of some difficult sounds and words in French.

Magnifique /maɲifik/

In the word Magnifique, we’re interested in the pronunciation of the French consonants “gn“.

Why this word is difficult to pronounce?

Again, the articulation to produce the sound “gn” doesn’t exist in English. It is called the palatal nasal and is referred to as /ɲ/.

What are the difficult French sounds?

You have to accurately pronounce the sound “gn” as /ɲ/ in the word magnifique.

How to learn to pronounce this word?

You should raise the front of the tongue until it touches the palate. 

There is a sharp release of the tongue from the palate and the tip of the tongue stays down while saying it. 

For instance, think of the English word onion or canyon. 

This will get you a better idea of how to pronounce this difficult word in French.

Organisation /ɔʀganizasjɔ̃/

It is possible that you already know all the different French sounds. But there is another reason why I listed the word organisation part of the difficult words to pronounce in French.

Why this word is difficult to pronounce?

I’ll refer to the famous saying that “It’s Not What You Say Its How You Say It”. This is perfectly true for the word organisation. The intonation and rhythm to use when pronouncing this word are not easy for many French language learners.

What are the difficult French sounds?

In this word, there are two important sounds to correctly pronounce. The first is the sound /j/ as well as the sound /ɔ̃/.

How to learn to pronounce this word?

To sound like a French, you’ll have to pronounce this word in a monotone way. 

No ups and no downs in the intonation. 

The start and the end of the intonation are the same.

The Power of Pronunciation

We often forget that

The mental activity involved in pronouncing a word fixes it much more firmly in the mind than do the processes involved in simply seeing and hearing it. It is therefore true economy to practice the oral use of a language, even when the primary aim be but the acquisition of a power to read it.
Statement from this research article

A simple word at the end

I hope you enjoyed reading this list of difficult words to pronounce in French.

The best advice is to exaggerate the pronunciation, this is a good habit, as I teach in my French pronunciation course.

The course aims to help French learners to get to a more authentic French, to eliminate pronunciation errors, and to speak French more confidently so that they get comfortable when communicating with native and non-native speakers.

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