Séparez vos syllabes!

Séparez vos syllabes!

say-paa-ray voh see-LAHB! Click below to hear this.

Separate your syllables!

This is me, telling a story on myself. We were in France, my husband Miles and I. We needed to change some train tickets, and it was my job to do the negotiating. Unfortunately for me, the station master spoke French with a local accent that I didn’t understand, and he spoke fast. I was in trouble!

I tried repeating to verify comprehension. I tried asking questions. I tried asking him to speak more slowly. Nothing worked. We went around in circles.

Finally, with the station master’s coworker gesturing madly at him in the background to slow down, I resorted to a desperate measure: I said, Monsieur, s’il vous plaît, séparez vos syllables!

The response was dramatic and unexpected. The station master and his coworker dropped their jaws, opened their eyes wide, and stared at me. Clearly, no one had ever said this to either of them before!

As it turns out, they had never heard this before because it can’t be done in French!

The nature of the French language is to run stuff together. That’s how the language works. So wherever it is possible, words merge into each other. The apostrophe gets a real workout, jamming vowels together until one of them disappears. Letters slide together.
The principle extends even to letters of the alphabet. The way you spell my name in French sounds like this: ay-rew-tay-ahsh ah-sho-duh-zeff-ay-mah-enn. If you “separated the syllables” as I asked the station master to do, it would sound like this: Air. ew. tay. ahsh. Ahsh. oh. duh-zeff. emm. ah. enn. Do you see the difference? You say the letters as if they were a string of words in a sentence, gliding smoothly from one to another and linking wherever possible. No glottal stops, no pauses.

“Slowing down” in French usually means longer-than-usual pauses between breath groups. Practice speaking in breath groups instead of word-by-word, and you’ll also find your comprehension shooting up. Get a feel for how sounds can melt into each other, like two kinds of ice cream atop a cone!!

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

One response to “Séparez vos syllabes!

  1. My Mexican girlfriend told her friends to speak to me “palabra, por, palabra”, which worked. (In Mexico City they talk like they drive.)

    Would-be French speakers should try Switzerland first as a warmup. The French ridicule them the same way coastal Americans ridicule midwesterners.

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