French Lessons: Top Tips to Conquering Liaisons from a Native Tutor

When Francophones link words together, it’s difficult for non-native speakers to decipher where each word begins and where it ends.

At times, sentences sound like one long strand of letters. In reality, that continuous string is many separate words linked together –a phenomenon called a “liaison” that is imperative for students of French to learn and understand.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

This language characteristic known as a “liaison” places a word’s final silent consonant at the beginning of the following word. Understanding liaisons and, more importantly, knowing how to use them, is the first sign of a well-educated French student.

However, not all liaisons are created equal. In fact, there is such a thing as a “forbidden” liaison, and using one of these in discourse could weaken your level of fluency. So what are some common mistakes students of the French language make when forming liaisons?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

The most common mistake is to link ‘et’ (and) with the word that follows.  For instance, in a sentence like: ‘une pomme et une orange’, (an apple and an orange), if you link ‘et’ with ‘une’ (by pronouncing the ‘t’ in ‘et’) then it will be understood as ‘une pomme est une orange’ (an apple is an orange). Due to the fact that you shouldn’t make a liaison with ‘et,’ this could throw the other speaker off. In addition, there are certain French words which never take liaisons, such as: before ‘onze’ (eleven) or certain words that begin with an ‘h,’ like ‘héros’ (hero), ‘haut,’ (high) or ‘hache’ (axe).

But on the other side of that, there are also those required liaisons –liaisons that the person you are conversing with will expect you to use (and will be quite confused if you do not!). For instance, after the verb ‘est’ (is), you must link to the following word. ‘Cette viande est à point’ (This meat is medium cooked) implies that you link the ‘t’ of ‘est’ to the following ‘à’.

Yet be careful when making a liaison with grand (tall, big or great) because although it ends with a ‘d’, the liaison must be made with a ‘t’ sound. For instance, if you say ‘c’est un grand appartement’ (it is a big apartment), you will pronounce ‘grant appartement’.

Really impress your fellow French speaker by using an optional liaison that will take you above and beyond. For instance, after ‘trop’ (too) like in ‘tu es trop en retard’ (you are too late), link the ‘p’ of ‘trop’ to the following nasal sound ‘en’.

Knowing your French liaisons allows others to understand you better, yet also improves your understanding of the language. If you do not recognize a spoken word –even though it is a word you know—it is probably because you have been pronouncing it differently. Therefore, improving your pronunciation will improve your overall understanding. For more practice, try a free online French level test with instant results and check out the classes offered in your neighborhood. With a bit of practice, your pronunciation will come a long ways!

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