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FRENCH LANGUAGE

EXPLAINED: How to master the French rolling R

It's one of the defining sounds of the French language, but can be a tricky one for foreigners. French language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis explains how to master the French R.

EXPLAINED: How to master the French rolling R
If you're heading to Rouen, be prepared to roll that R. Photo: AFP

One of the things that gives the French language its elegant sound is the gently rolling R, but this is often a source of much difficulty and certain amount of sore throats among foreigners when they try to master it.

We asked French language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis, founder of French Today, for her tips.

How important is it to roll your Rs? Can’t we just skip it if it’s too hard?

Unfortunately it is important for the way that words are pronounced, but you don’t need to overdo it. It’s really quite a gentle vibration rather than a roll.

Where do foreigners usually go wrong?

People often overthink it, or try to overdo the vibration – if you’re gargling or spitting then it’s too much, it should be a gentle.

People often listen to Edith Piaf and think the Rs need to be pronounced in that really guttural way, but that’s an effect for a song in her own French accent, it’s not how most people talk in everyday life today.

So how should we do it?

Firstly don’t be afraid. People often freak out and pause too much before trying the R, it helps to think of it as part of the word.

In French the vowels are much stronger than the consonant – in English it’s the other way round – so think of the sounds of the vowel in the word that you’re saying and let the R ride along with them.

But I have a three-step technique for making sure you have the right sound.

Let’s hear it then!

1. Stick the whole of your tongue onto the roof of your mouth

2. Lower only the tip of your tongue and press it hard against the back of your lower front teeth

3. Make a hard ‘g’ sound as if you were saying ‘get’ –  study the vibration that happens then in your throat: the sound should come out as a soft rrrrrrr sound – and that’s the French R.

READ ALSO Three steps to the perfect French R pronunciation – with audio recordings

Any other tips?

Think of a cat purring. If you’re getting a sore throat when you’re doing it then you’re probably overdoing the vibration, but as with any new technique it’s important to protect your voice and take it gently at first.

Camille Chevalier-Karfis is a French language expert, and founder of FrenchToday.com. If you have a question for Camille, email us at [email protected] and we’ll ask her advice.

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LEARNING FRENCH

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in France, or take down the address of a website, and there is some specialist vocabulary that you will need.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 

Punctuation

Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com – and if the website is a government site such as the tax office it will end with .gouv.fr (pwan goov pwan eff eyre).

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas hotmail pwan eff eyre 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway;

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 

Numbers

If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 06 12 34 56 78, in French you would say zero six, douze, trente-quatre, cinqante-six, soixante-dix- huit (zero six, twelve, thirty four, fifty six, seventy eight, rather than one, two, three, four etc)

Mobile numbers in France all begin with 06 and ‘zero six‘ is a slangy way of talking about your phone number.

Donne-moi ton zero six pour qu’on puisse se capter parfois. – Give me your number so that we can hang out sometime.

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in France too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in France and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aime (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the Academie française can think up a French alternative.

There’s also the phenomenon of English terms being mildly ‘Frenchified’ such as having a slightly different pronunciation or being adapted to sound more French, such as the below UberEats advert, which uses the words ‘swiper, matcher, dater’ – not really correct French but clearly instantly understandable to the young demographic that the advert is aimed at. 

Photo: The Local

READ ALSO Why do French adverts love to use English words?

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