Beginner / intermediate / Pronunciation

Something They Won’t Teach You In School: Proper Stress

If you weren’t convinced of the importance of good pronunciation by my previous post about my mother’s flub, here is another one, from my father this time.


In the 1950′s my father traveled from Colorado to France to attend the French Civilization courses at the Sorbonne. His French was still a bit hesitant back then. Classes took place in a large amphitheater. Every student were made to stand up and shout their names out loud. When my dad’s turn came, he shouted “Taggart” to which the professor immediately replied: “Dehors!” (Out!).

It took a while for my father to understand what had happened.

When my dad had said “Taggart!”, he had pronounced the English way, you see, and the professor heard “Ta gueule!” (Shut up your mouth!)

taggart ta gueule

Part of the problem was that he pronounced the end of his name /gart/ which is close to “gueule” /guhl/.

However, the French ear phenomenon may have caused even more damage. Let me explain.

Take the word Hôpital/ Hospital.

When you pronounce it in English, is it…

a) HOS-pital

b) hos-PI-tal

c) hospi-TAL

Come on, try it out loud.


If you chose a, you are correct. English tends to stress the beginning of words (80% of the time).

Now take the same word in French. What do you think is the correct pronunciation?

a) HÔ-pital /OWE ptuhl/

b) hô-PI-tal /awe PEE tuhl/

c) hôpi-TAL /awe pee TAHLuh/


If you chose c, you are correct again.  French tends to stress THE END of words.

So what does it mean?

It means that while the English ear listens for the beginning of words or phrases for meaning, the French ear pays most attention to THE ENDINGS.


This can have major implications in your day-to-day French life. Surely, it has been a source of many cross-cultural misunderstandings. Such as the story shared by Christine about the French manager addressing an English speaking crowd, repeating incessantly “focUS”, with the disastrous results you can imagine.

When you learn French, you must train your ear to listen for END of words or phrases; then you will naturally start to stress it correctly too.

Start practicing here. Listen to the sentences, and pay attention to where stress falls. There are many levels. Try them all!

Have fun!


© Ouicestca 2013, tous droits réservés.

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