I've heard that the stress in French is equal on all syllables, causing it to sound like it's on the last syllable for non-natives.There are a couple of things to it, in my experience: one, the stress typically falls on the last syllable of a word, and each word and sentence has rising and falling stresses.
I have a French friend who's the son of a Venezuelan man and a French woman. He is always encouraging me to speak to him in French, but I'd rather do it in Spanish or English, (although he started speaking Spanish about 2 years ago, and his English is almost as rudimentary as my French). The reason? I just can't understand a word he says.It's a part of the accent. There are a couple of things to it, in my experience: one, the stress typically falls on the last syllable of a word, and each word and sentence has rising and falling stresses. When these stresses are combined with the "blurring" of consonants and liaisons, it becomes difficult to distinguish the words separately. The key in French is not to listen to the consonants, however, but rather to the vowels and to listen for the stresses. Once you concentrate on this part, the language becomes much more clear.
The best way is to just go listen to a lot of it, of course. Additionally, the best French is far easier to understand than colloquial French on the spoken level. The more colloquial, the more blurred, just as in English: "chais pas" for instance, instead of "je ne sais pas." You'll also here "j'en sais pas" in place of "je n'en sais pas," which is "I don't know anything about it," and the phrase is more common than "je ne sais pas" as the French don't like to admit that they don't know something (which I quite understand). Additionally, "ne" is dropped all the time in spoken French, so just listen for the "pas." The ability to understand spoken French is mostly based around the ability to understand a use a relatively small number of core phrases; it is simply that these phrases are not often taught in French class, as they are not "perfect French." My French teachers refused to drop the "ne," for instance, whenever they were standing in front of a class. Now, while this is understandable, and English teachers will speak better English for the same reason when they're in front of a class, it doesn't help at all with understanding French spoken by a native.
The way I was taught stress in my French phonetics course informed me that each sentence has a rising and falling stress, as well as each word. The word's stress can be sublimated to the overall stress of the sentence, but there will still be a stronger pause on the final syllable of the word than on its beginning syllable.About the stress, my understanding was that there is a stress on the final syllables, but on the final syllables of groups of words, rather than of every word (where "word" here means something that would be written down with spaces on either side). Just to come up with an example, I would think that Je ne sais pas comment le faire would have two stresses, one on pas and one on faire. That's at least how I hear it, but maybe this is something we could ask the many French speakers on the board.
I agree. Spoken French is much harder to understand than, say, spoken German. Although I can read French much more easily that I can read German, the situation is reversed when it comes to listening. This is because, in French:Why on earth do i find Italian so damn easy to understand, where as written french great, spoken french - i cannot understand at all what they are saying! It is very strange. Am i not alone on this? I have an easier time understanding Arabic.
Well, darling, I had the same problem while learning English (quite a while ago). I remember the first time I heard a Scot speaking...Are you really sure this is a "special issue" when learning French only?
I experience the same phenomenon learning English. I'm often struggling to understand properly some people speaking English (especially native dubliners or people from India): my ears only hear parts of the words and my brain (if any! ) can't parse the flow I hear into words I know. The sentence is coming with some blanks instead of real words too... Yet the same sentence wouldn't be a big deal if I read them.
I think one of the causes is that I completely wrongly say "into my head" some words (even some usual words I mean). So, when I hear a good english way of pronouncing them I can't recognize them at first sight (or should I say at first listening? But sometimes it's not even at second listening either...! ).
I'm afraid only listening to a lot of good English from natives (TV, radio, DVD...) can cure my disability, at least a little.
"Sent" and "sans" sound different from "son", though. And I'm sure that, although I'd never seen those words before, so do "boue" and "bu" (or did you mean "but"?)2. Many vowel distinctions that exist in other languages have been lost e.g. "sent", "sans", "son" all sound pretty much the same to a non-native, "boue" and "bu" are also confusing similar, and so on. One therefore has to subconsciously reverse-engineer the sentence using semantic clues while you are listening.
I think we might be using the word stress differently, since what you describe is what I'd call intonation, and I don't disagree with what you say about rising and falling stresses (or pitches), but...The way I was taught stress in my French phonetics course informed me that each sentence has a rising and falling stress, as well as each word.
This isn't quite what I hear with every word, but that may just be my not picking up on it.As for stresses on individual words, each ending (or singular) syllable has a stress, similar to the stress of the final word of a statement. It's slightly more emphatic and clear than the preceding syllable(s) of the word.
All of this is an over-simplification. Each word rises and falls, and it's the falling stress that is the stress on the final syllable. Each part of a sentence has a rising and falling stress, within which the words' stresses are blurred. Furthermore, these stresses are only lightly applied. All I can really say is that once you get used to listening to it, it's quite clear. It's just the adaptation to the stresses and liaisons that causes difficulty for a while.
I'm not a native French speaker so the following is all but useless but I say and hear (or at least expect to hear) comment without any special stress on the last syllable and it would form a group with the following le faire. Perhaps there is a weaker stress that I'm not attuned to so I'm going to go ask in the French forum.What about comment?
They may do to you, but most English people have difficulty distinguishing "sans" from "son", in my experience. I certainly do. "boue" and "bu" do sound different: they just don't sound *very* diifferent to an English speaker - we simply don't have the "bu" sound in our language."Sent" and "sans" sound different from "son", though. And I'm sure that, although I'd never seen those words before, so do "boue" and "bu" (or did you mean "but"?)
Why on earth do i find Italian so damn easy to understand, where as written french great, spoken french - i cannot understand at all what they are saying! It is very strange. Am i not alone on this? I have an easier time understanding Arabic.
Intonation is probably the more accurate word there, indeed.I think we might be using the word stress differently, since what you describe is what I'd call intonation, and I don't disagree with what you say about rising and falling stresses (or pitches), but...
The "original pronunciation" hasn't been used since the time of Marie Antoinette, at least.The original pronunciation is something like ash - shuh - TE (I can't render the IPA here), but the middle e is dropped out, and everyone says ash-TE, in two syllables. This is frequent and makes cognates sound nothing like their English relative.
Of course, if you prefer to learn "seconde" and than complain that it is not pronounced this way... It would be easier to learn first that the [e] is not pronounced...When you hear /zgond/ no one whose first language is English will suspect the word "seconde",
Also you do have to learn all the 16 vowels. There are 18 in fact, but two pairs have been simplified so you only need to distinguish 16. An example of a series of common words which are difficult to distinguish for students who are not native French speakers: vingt, vont, van, veux, vous, vu, vit, vais, vas, vos.... A slightly mispronounced vowel by an English speaker attempting French always gives another existing word, making it a very precise language. Keep up your efforts.