It’s day 2 and I am in Chapter 1 of Alpha Teach Yourself French in 24 Hours (ATYF). The introduction was very brief, just enough to point out indicators for helpful notes and the overall structure of the book at the highest of levels. A great introduction, which presents some very good features to look forward to!
Chapter 1 goes over the sound system and its representation. More than just listing the available characters and relative sounds, it gives some explanation for a number of other key features.
For instance, French accents don’t actually indicate stress as we might expect from an English standpoint – and standalone words do not typically have “stress”, though phrases do. Often accent marks indicate pronunciation of the letter, though there are occasions where the purpose of an accent is instead word differentiation in written text. Où “where” and ou “or” are one example of this.
Another well stated point is that consonants are typically “shorter” than their English counterparts – and long vowels have none of the gliding “-yu” sound to them that is typical of English. It also provides the name of each letter in French, though it titles it “Sound” in the chart. A note about the shortness of of the vowels on the names of b and p makes this clearer – though still not explicit. Then again, the “sound” of the character names in French is pretty close to the “sound” of the characters themselves. Finally, it should be noted that b and p are not aspirated in the same way as English b and p. Lots of useful pointers on the alphabet and how French is pronounced, even before it is charted in any systematic fashion!
Here is a summary of the sound system from ATYF, with sounds presented by the author, but my own layout:
But not settling for these single characters, ATYF goes further with diphthongs ai (like è), au (like ô), eu (the book suggests the first e in handkerchief for comparison), euil (eu followed by a y-clide), oi (waa), ou (think soup as a comparison), ui (oo-ee), er (like é) and et (like é). It then describes the hardness of c and g before a, o and u, the fact that h is silent (remember, before they only gave the name of the sound), that the consonantal combination ch sounds like English sh, that ll usually sounds like a y-glide, that s usually has the sound of z between vowels and is almost never pronounced at the end of words (even plurals), and finally that the ending -tion sounds as if it were -sion.
Only then do we proceed to nasal sounds! And here, ATYF treats them as more than just a passing note, which I appreciate greatly. Four classes of french nasal sounds are presented, before the text reduces it to three in current Parisian speech. These four classes can be represented by the expression un bon vin blanc, though in Paris it would sound more like in bon vin blanc. The book suggests checking out virga.org/cvf/index.html to better grasp the nasals, however it is all in French, so the novice will be quite perplexed if they do so!
And if one’s head is not already swimming from the barrage of pronunciation tips, the book then proceeds to present IPA for the vowels of French! I am torn between being proud of the text and being mortified at the use of IPA for a new language learner. The typical native-English speaker has little reason to know IPA (in practical terms), and has no familiarity with it, so the use here can only confuse. But for those familiar, it can clarify all the tips on rounding, mouth position and the like.
That brings the reader half way through the first chapter. Feel like gasping for air? Me, too. So for now, au revoir!