7 Ways French businessmen and women can improve their accents

In a study I did several years ago where I asked employers to rate accents of foreign-born professionals in a business communications setting, the French accent was the only that was seen positively; the caveat being, it was charming and nice – IF, and that was a big /if/ – the speaker spoke clearly and could be understood easily.

Here are some things for native French speakers to look out for, when they speak English and apply accent reduction in everyday business settings. This is not only important in the US, or here in Silicon Valley, but in a multi-cultural, global business environment in as well.

1. Slow down, at least at the beginning of your presentation; people often get used to accents [especially in Silicon Valley, where there are thousands of non native English speakers] and will understand even if you speed up again.

2. There is a definite music to speaking French. Sentences usually go up at the end when you speak French; for Americans it sounds as if you were asking a question, not making a statement. This is quite hard to fix, but with practice, it is certainly doable – just ask the Frenchmen/women who have done it with me in my accent reduction clinics in Palo Alto.

3. Watch out for words in English which look the same (or almost) as in French – /invitation/, /development/, etc.. Their pronunciation is definitely different. The words, if you pronounce them with a French twist, will inevitably sound French and people won’t understand them. The best thing is to make a list of words that you frequently use and go through them with an American who can point out the differences.

4. The /h/ sound in words – hello, hi, however, healthcare, headquarters, html. – has to be voiced, or the words won’t be understood.

5. Another sound that causes misunderstanding is the /e, ee, ea/ sound [yes, all the letters can sound the same]. So, /year/, /even/, /free/ are said with a long eeeeee, and the lips have to be in a “smile” position for the sound to come out correctly.

6. Realize that the way you speak can be problematic for those who don’t speak French. Listen to the way people speak on the news on TV, on NPR [National Public Radio] and in movies. Listening to books on tape is also helpful to reduce your French accent over time.

7. But remember, people in the US still think a French accent can sound romantic and intriguing. However, perhaps not in negotiations or putting together business proposals. For that, you’ll have to make some careful adjustments and reduce your accent audibly.

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