Sons & Lettres: A pronunciation method for intermediate-level French
Copyright Year: 2018
Publisher: Portland State University Library
Conditions of Use
This textbook purposefully and carefully selected components of French pronunciation that are accessible and useful to an audience of intermediate learners. With the very specific goal of recognizing and eventually producing the most common... read more
This textbook purposefully and carefully selected components of French pronunciation that are accessible and useful to an audience of intermediate learners. With the very specific goal of recognizing and eventually producing the most common spelling/pronunciation patterns, it succeeds. The Table of Contents along with the Introduction make the program easy to navigate.
Linguists who are accustomed to teaching more nuanced courses on phonetics may find some of the simplifications—while justified—difficult to accept. For example, what about the open-mid, rounded, front vowel which is not treated separately from its close-mid variant? Why is the difference dismissed in a note on p 51 whereas the other mid-vowels are presented separately? The introduction could also benefit from a clearer distinction among the concepts of accuracy, intelligibility and “good pronunciation” as presented on p 11.
The preface of the book makes an excellent argument for its relevance describing the differences between French and English and how learning sound-spelling-word combinations is different as an adult second language learner. Students need guidance to understand (and potentially appreciate!) the regularity of the correspondence between French spelling and pronunciation.
The Preface and the Introduction are extremely coherent and potentially enlightening for intermediate students or instructors who are frustrated by their students’ pronunciation problems. The rules in the lessons are straightforward and the instructions for the exercises are clear. The program also does not require mastery of IPA. In slight contrast, the prose explaining the rules for unpronounced final consonants and the additional information presented in Appendix B may be potentially difficult to parse.
The materials are generally very uniform with the same layout and often, the types of exercises available for each lesson. The web exercises are particularly consistent which is advantageous since this is the work students are expected to complete outside of class. There is some inconsistency in the number of Jeux et activités associated with each lesson in the worksheets. The program is in both English and French; English is used in the introduction, preliminary section, and appendix while French is used on the website and the worksheets.
The 18 lessons, while numbered, could be done in any order since each lesson focuses on pairs of contrasting graphemes/sounds. These modules are easy to find in both the pdf/e-text and the website. They could be readily paired with any textbook or program.
The 18 lessons, divided into 3 sections, Voyelles orales (1-8), Voyelles nasales (9-12) Consonnes (13-18) don’t necessitate being done in order. This permits users to employ the lessons in orders complementary to their primary textbooks. Nevertheless, it is a bit surprising to find “unpronounced final consonants” presented as “review” in the introduction. Additionally, the placement of Leçon 9 as the opening lesson in Section 2 on nasal vowels (“Consonnes nasales et voyelles nasales”) seems potentially problematic since it involves all the nasal vowels which students may not yet be able to differentiate.
The website is simple and generally straightforward. Each lesson has 4 exercise types which are repeated throughout the program. A potentially confusing constraint is the instruction “il faut cliquer dans le bon ordre” that appears on the Ecoute II exercises for each lesson. The three recorded sounds are labeled as “mot A,” “mot B” or “mot C” and these correspond to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd sounds heard respectively. If B and C rhyme, you must click B before clicking C; if you click C before clicking B, it will be considered wrong. The last exercise type of each lesson is called “Parlez” and once you are in “Parlez” there is no way to easily navigate back to the main menu.
The book has been well-edited for grammar and spelling. Formatting (e.g. spacing) is not always consistent.
This textbook is designed for intermediate language students for whom mastery of variation of the accents of the francophone world would be beyond the scope of the task at hand. However, it could be fruitful to briefly contextualize the standard chosen or discuss the possibility of pronunciation variation in the introduction. For example, in the Preliminary Exercises section (Exercise 1, p 37), students may come up with different answers consistent with their idiolects. In fact, it wasn’t clear to me if in the example on the same page, the word “egg” was supposed to be demonstrating the same or different vowel as found “met.”
This program is a very valuable resource for instructors wanting to offer active discrimination and pronunciation activities to intermediate students. It also provides an excellent tool for French students to feel more confident when looking at a word and are wanting to figure out how to pronounce it.
The explanations in the text are very detailed and clear, and several useful comparisons are made between English and French pronunciation. There is a website link provided in the introduction that includes computer-graded activities for... read more
The explanations in the text are very detailed and clear, and several useful comparisons are made between English and French pronunciation. There is a website link provided in the introduction that includes computer-graded activities for additional practice (mostly listening comprehension activities to distinguish differences between sounds), which is an added bonus. Very practical worksheets and activities designed for classroom use can be found at the end of each lesson. I would recommend that more comprehensive/detailed worksheets and activities be incorporated at the end of each section to promote a broader understanding of the concepts. It would also be helpful to have an answer key for the textbook activities. The glossary is comprehensive.
All content was relevant, accurate, and error-free.
The textbook will not be obsolete within a short period of time because of the type of material covered. However, the accompanying website will probably need to be reviewed and/or updated on a regular basis to ensure that students can access the audio files and complete recordings on all web-based platforms.
All concepts are explained thoroughly and are clearly defined for an anglophone student audience (more thorough coverage compared to most textbooks). The introduction also helps orient the reader about the intended course design.
The book is consistent in terms of content-related terminology; however, the framework is somewhat inconsistent because of different terms used for activities/exercises.
This textbook is divided effectively into different sections and short lessons.
Overall, the text is presented in a logical and clear fashion. There are a few boxes with interesting etymological facts scattered in different sections of the textbook. More similar facts could be incorporated more consistently to improve the organization of the text and better engage students.
The textbook is laid out in a clear but very basic way; it could use more visual aspects to break up all of the textual explanations.
The textbook is well written, and I did not notice and grammar or spelling errors.
The textbook is lacking cultural contexts and could include more references to variation within pronunciation. For example, a section about the variation between written and spoken French could be very helpful as students often struggle with this concept.
I plan an incorporating this textbook in my college-level French conversation course. The book is divided into sections and lessons that would allow me to focus on student-specific pronunciation issues as they arise.
Sons et lettres provides a thorough overview of French pronunciation and clear presentation of the relationship between graphemes and phonemes. The introductory section synthesizes key differences between French and English and reviews the main... read more
Sons et lettres provides a thorough overview of French pronunciation and clear presentation of the relationship between graphemes and phonemes. The introductory section synthesizes key differences between French and English and reviews the main rules governing final consonants in French. Each lesson includes a variety of classroom activities in the book alongside aural and oral exercises on the easy-to-use companion website. Most lessons focus on a distinction between two sounds, which is an effective approach. The appendices are much appreciated. An expansion of the web component to include practice of the topics covered in “Beyond Individual Sounds: Prosodic Features of French” would be a welcome additional resource.
All of the information in the textbook and on the website appears accurate.
The content is relevant. The book downplays context to focus on the sounds themselves (mostly in series of isolated words, some of which aren’t well known). Therefore, it has a timeless quality, but also lacks cultural specificity.
In general, the text is clear and approachable—thoughtful and exacting without being overly academic.
The text is consistent in its terminology and framework. It provides definitions, references, and background as needed.
The book’s structure makes it especially adaptable to multiple types of courses and purposes. The relatively short (two-page), digestible lessons can be easily integrated as comprehensive pronunciation study and/or on an individual, as-needed basis.
The book has a clear and logical flow. I am curious about why certain pronunciation points are in the appendices instead of in lessons with accompanying activities on the website.
I did not notice any issues. The visual layout is clean and legible.
I have not found grammatical errors.
As mentioned above, the text lacks cultural specificity. I think it achieves what it aims to do, but it could do this and still take some intentional steps towards increased inclusivity. I would love to see an appendix that addresses some of the particularities of colloquial French pronunciation – notably elision. Students are often exposed to dropped syllables through music and contemporary texts, and they should be prepared to recognize and understand such deviations from traditional phonetics. A lesson on verlan could also be included, etc.
Overall, the combined textbook and web exercises make Sons et lettres a wonderful resource, and I am grateful the author published through a Creative Commons License. I plan to integrate the lessons into my intermediate-level courses as well as into conversation workshops and poetry units at the advanced level. I am concerned that parts of the introduction might prove too dense for intermediate-level students and/or that they will feel apprehensive about being exposed to many decontextualized words that they have yet to encounter. Nevertheless, I appreciate the book’s emphasis on learning and practicing the rules both for improved everyday pronunciation and for more accurate sight-reading, and I am hopeful this approach will help build my students’ confidence.
Table of Contents
- Fiches d'exercies
- Section 1: Voyelles orales
- Section 2: Voyelles nasales
- Section 3: Consonnes
About the Book
Sons et lettres provides a set of classroom materials to train students to hear and produce the sounds of French and to recognize the regular spellings used to represent those sounds in print. The materials are inspired by a desire to help students feel more confident about their French pronunciation and more at home saying the many French words, familiar and unfamiliar, which they encounter in their studies, in French media and in their travels. In our experience, students are not given sufficient preparation to successfully decipher and pronounce French words. These materials are intended to fill that gap and to clear away the confusion that English speakers often feel when they see French words with seemingly mysterious combinations of letters.
About the Contributors
Stephen Walton, PhD, is an assistant professor of French at Portland State University in Oregon, where he teaches courses in French language, literature and phonetics. He supervises the 2nd-year French curriculum, for which this book was developed, and trains 2nd-yearteaching assistants. His research and teaching interests include Francophone literature of West Africa and the Caribbean, French poetry, 19th-century French literature, and language pedagogy. His publications include articles on Paul Eluard and on Baudelaire and Aimé Césaire. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US Department of Education for the incorporation of technology in the language curriculum at PSU.