The 5 French Sounds You Never Knew Existed
Many people think they speak French.
That is, until they realize that French is made up of not just words, but sounds. These unmistakable (and unmistakably French) sounds will take you from “fluent” to “native French” in a heartbeat – as long as you master them to perfection. Below are the five most important French sounds you never knew existed.
A sound French people make meaning “there we go!” often when finishing a physical movement.
The “hop” sounds like the English word “up” said with gusto.
Example: A French mother lifting her child up into her arms might say, “Allez…Hop!”
The Inhaled “Oui”
A breathy “ouai” sound French people make by quickly sucking in air, to express total understanding or approval. Or for no reason at all.
It sounds like a swimmer rapidly sucking in breath before diving underwater.
Example: When Françoise says that French cheese tastes better than American cheese, Bérengère might respond with an inhaled “oui” to acknowledge the obvious truth of this statement.
The Individual “Tak” (or the Triplet “Tak, Tak, Tak”)
The individual “tak” is a sound French people make to put a verbal exclamation point on completing a task or action.
(The triplet “tak, tak, tak” is a sound French people make to emphasize accomplishing multiple tasks. It can also be used as onomatopoeia, literally voicing the sound of walking feet when giving walking directions to someone.)
It sounds like the English word “tack.”
Example: After signing a check, a French person might put the pen down and say, “tak, fini!”
A sound French people make by pursing their lips and pushing out air (no cheek inflation required), meaning, “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about” or “I have no clue.” An informal way of saying “non” when a simple “non” won’t cut it.
It sounds like a baby’s gurgle or a very small fart.
Example: When a French person asks a consulate worker how long it will take to get a visa, the ill-informed employee might respond with a shrug of the shoulders, raised eyebrows, a vacant look, and the aforementioned raspberry.
A sound French people make when they don’t know the answer, are unsure of themselves, or want to stall for time.* The equivalent of the American “uuummm.”
* Often starting with “bah” or followed by “bah, je ne sais pas quoi.”
It sounds like the low-pitched, guttural noise Americans make when they are disgusted by something – less nasal than the traditional “ewwwwwwwww.”
Example: When a teacher asks a French student a difficult question, he might reply with a confused “eeuuuuhh” before mumbling his response.