I've used English for a long time and it isn't immediately obvious to others that I'm native French. Whenever I say a French word or place name in English I wonder whether I should pronounce it like English or French speakers would. (Of course I always use English pronunciation for common place names like Paris.) Using French pronunciation can sound pretentious, but English pronunciation can too, especially if part of the audience speaks French and knows that I am native French.

This question is similar. My question focuses on native French speakers that speak in English to an audience of both English and French natives. Which pronunciation draws less attention?

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    In a situation like that, suit yourself. Whatever you think is appropriate is the way to speak; and people vary a great deal, as you no doubt realize, in how they approach this issue. Since you realize you may not suit everyone's taste, you might as well suit at least your own. Jun 21, 2014 at 15:23
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    @John: I can't recall the exact context, but I recently noticed a radio presenter (non-native speaker) using the "Anglicised" pronunciation of one of her fellow countrymen's surnames when referring to the man in an initial introductory spiel (addressed to the audience), then switching to the "native" pronunciation when she actually welcomed the interviewee (by using his name addressed to him). I specifically remember thinking "That sounds simultaneously 'odd' and 'natural'!". Jun 21, 2014 at 15:38
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    My rule is that I don't translate/pronounce a person's name in other that the way they have chosen but this is an etiquette issue
    – Third News
    Jun 21, 2014 at 15:47
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    @ThirdNews Except that that is not really possible. When speaking English, a Spanish name like Ricardo will never sound like it is pronounced Spanish. In English it will be [ɻʷəˈkʰɑɹdoʊ̯] while in Spanish it will be [riˈkäɾð̪̞o̞], and there is virtually no overlap in actual phones there at all between the two versions. Your mouth can’t switch mid-phrase to the other articulation set for just one word. You could no more switch to saying Richard in the middle of a Spanish sentence. The sounds are just not there.
    – tchrist
    Jun 21, 2014 at 18:14
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    @tchrist There is an abundant literature on code-switching which demonstrates without a doubt that it is certainly possible, at least for bilingual speakers, and in places where such speakers are common (Spanish/English bilinguals in parts of the US or French/English bilinguals in parts of Canada) such switching is the norm. A lot depends on your audience. And for bilingual speakers, adopting a non-native pronunciation for a proper names especially is quite difficult.
    – Alan Munn
    Jun 21, 2014 at 18:24

3 Answers 3


I'd recommend the following strategy:

  • For place names that actually have an anglicised name, always use that ("Paris", "Normandy", "Brittany", "Brussels", "The Dordogne");
  • For place names that are well-known in England, if your pronunciation of English generally is fairly proficient, then try to "anglicise" your pronunciation a little, e.g. by pronouncing "Marseille(s)" and "Lourdes" without a French 'r' and moving the vowels a little closer to their English counterparts;
  • For place names with alternative pronunciations in French where English speakers tend towards one of the pronunciations, try to notice which one tends to be used in English and use that, even if it's not the pronunciation used by inhabitants of that town. So for example, English speakers tens to be used to pronouncing "Chamonix" without the final [ks], or to pronouncing "Metz" with its "German" pronunciation [mEts] (whereas actual inhabitants of the town don't usually pronounce the 't').
  • Subtly, consider adopting "mispronounced" versions of names that are commonly used by English speakers. For example, English speakers tend to pronounce "Bayeux" with [be-] rather than [ba-] at the start and commonly omit the final [s] of "Saint-Saëns" (either as the town or the composer) when they come across it-- not because these towns really have "English" names as such, just that English speakers commonly mispronounce them when attempting to call them by their "French" name;
  • For lesser known place names, where English speakers aren't used to hearing the name pronounced either with an "English" or "French" accent, I would suggest just adopting the French pronunciation without trying to give it an "English accent".
  • +1 This is by far the most rational answer so far, as it recognizes the range of possible variation that might arise.
    – Alan Munn
    Jun 21, 2014 at 18:16

As a native English speaker who has reasonable command of French and especially enjoys the sound of it, I tend to keep the proper-noun pronunciations consistent with the language I am speaking.

Take for example the French surname Jacques, which is reasonably widespread in Britain (among people of Huguenot and Walloon descent). In Britain it is mostly pronounced JAKES, which is understandable and fits with the sounds of an English sentence.

Using the French pronunciation of Jacques when speaking English really sounds discordant, as indeed would Shackleton (CHAC-LE-TON) if pronounced the English way when speaking French.

This is only my opinion, but the sounds and mouth movements of English and French are quite different. And if you try and conflate the two you end up with something that is less than poetic.

  • And then there's Spanish Juan, which is /wɑːn/ in San Juan, Texas, but /dʒuən/ in Byron's Don Juan. Jun 21, 2014 at 17:37
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    Just to add another data point, in the US I've never heard "Jacques" pronounced "JAKES." In my experience it's generally pronounced "ZHOCK" and sometimes "JOCK." It would be jarring for me to hear someone called "JAKES" just because I've never heard that pronunciation for a first name under any spelling. Oct 27, 2014 at 16:57
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    @LoreSjöberg I was talking here about the surname Jacques. A former colleague of mine, one Paul Jacques, introduced himself everywhere as Paul Jakes. I am aware of ZHOCK, as with various other American attempts at foreign words. But with respect, I think it neither replicates the French pronunciation, nor does it produce a sound which is recognisably English.
    – WS2
    Oct 27, 2014 at 18:46
  • @WS2 Ah, missed that. I think the only person I know in the US with the last name Jacques pronounces it to rhyme with "stacks," but I have no idea if that's common. Nov 5, 2014 at 20:16

This is really simple. When speaking English, you speak English. The correct English pronunciation is the correct English pronunciation. And English doesn't so much as have all the sounds needed to pronounce words borrowed from French the French way. The French pronunciation is plain not possible in English. That's why the English pronunciation is different in the first place.

So if you think that using French pronunciation makes you sound pretentious, that's because it does. One major reason for that is because it is utterly random. Just ask yourself these three simple questions:

  1. What is so special about French?
    Why do you want to pronounce Paris the way it's pronounced in French, but not Los Angeles the way it's prounounced in Spanish, bistro the way it's pronounced in Russian, or kindergarten the way it's pronounced in German? For that matter, are you even aware for every single word which language it comes from?
  2. What is so special about that particular word?
    You don't pronounce car as [vwa.tyʁ], or girl as [ʒœn fij], so why do you want to pronounce Paris as [pa.ˈʁi]? It is just yet another pair of words for the same thing from different languages.
  3. Why trace back the etymology exactly one step?
    Most of the words we got from French, French in turn got from Latin. So why stop at French? Why do you not want to use the Latin pronunciation? Or the Proto-Indo-European one?

To sum it up: You wouldn't use the English pronunciation of Paris when speaking French, except in very particular circumstances to drive home a specific point. Likewise, you don't use the French pronunciation of Paris when speaking English, except in very particular circumstances to drive home a specific point. If you don't have a point, then you just speak English. Like everyone else.

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    Hmm: is bistro pronounced the French, Russian or English way? Jun 21, 2014 at 17:01
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    I think you missed the part where it was stated that the asker always pronounces common place names (like Paris) according to their Anglicised pronunciation. The question is more about less common, and obviously French, words and names: what to do about Alpe d’Huez, Cyrano de Bergerac, enjambement, je ne sais quoi, etc. This is a dilemma faced by everyone speaking a non-native language. Jun 21, 2014 at 17:07
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    @Janus: once again, there is nothing special about Alpe d'Huez as opposed to any other English word you've never articulated before. You just go ahead and take your best stab at it. Just like you did with Worchestershire, Yosemite, Linux, hiccough, victuals, segue, colonel, ennui, sepulcher, viscount, biopic, epitome, queue, choir, etc. Your best stab at it might very well be a pronunciation you know from another language, or an otherwise educated guess. And you will be well aware it's just your best stab and not necessarily the actual pronunciation you simply don't know at that point.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 21, 2014 at 17:18
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    Your point about the French pronunciation not even being possible in English is important, and which many folks don’t realize. English and French aren’t in the same category in their general articulation: you have to hold your mouth in a totally different way for one as for the other. English has a looser articulation than French (or IT or ES), but there are many other differences. To suddenly switch your particular “mouth-setting” (articulation) for a foreign word is jarring. See here for a layman’s overview of this.
    – tchrist
    Jun 21, 2014 at 17:19
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    @TheThunderChimp that is a different situation entirely. That word does not exist in English, so of course you use the French pronunciation, because you're speaking French at that point. But frankly, it's completely up to you, because it's a neologism, and you are the one coining it. It's up for grabs and whatever you do is right. If it actually catches on, however, it absolutely will be adapted to the rules of English phonotactics, and you as the original author will have zero say in that.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 21, 2014 at 21:35

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