How do Brits and Americans pronounce pain au chocolat?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Mar 27 '19 at 10:49

In the UK it depends on the speaker but I would say the most common way is "pan oh sho-coh-la", with the stress on the "la".

With foreign words I use the nearest English sound. I don't try to make foreign sounds when speaking English - I think it's pretentious.

In coffee shops, you sometimes hear pain au chocolat or pain aux raisins pronounced as if the last word is the corresponding English one - especially in one chain which spells the second one "pain au raisin". I think what's happening there is that the staff are mistaking it for the original English word, rather than recognising it as part of the borrowed name of the pastry. They will confirm your order by saying "a panno chocolate".

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Mar 27 '19 at 10:48

In Britain, I think it's normal to use (at least an approximation of) the French pronunciation.

To address your point about why many more people anglicise "croissant", I think there's a distinction between words adopted from other languages, which often get anglicised, and phrases, which tend not to. Since none of the words in "pain au chocolat" has passed into English individually, it's still a French phrase.

  • I think the "Au Bon Pain" chain of restaurants in the US is well known enough that people will generally pronounce those words semi-correctly. (May vary by region) "Chocolat" was a recent movie that won a bunch of awards, so that might also be well known enough. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 21 '19 at 13:55
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    We can't pronounce croissant the way the French do. The /kʁw/ at the beginning and the nasal /ɑ̃/ at the end aren't things that occur in English, whereas /pænoʊːʃɔːkəˈlɑː/ is pretty good approximation of the French. – Peter Shor Mar 21 '19 at 15:42

French speaker here, living on the US East coast. It varies: they usually try to say it the French way, which is close to "pen" or "pan". I heard once "pain" as in "painful" and it was hilarious.

It should be something like "pen/pan oh shockohlah". Americans like to emphasize the "shock" instead of the "lah".

Americans don't seem to mind or be offended if you try to pronounce it the French way.

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    So the "au" should be pronounced as in "Oh, what a suprise" and not as in "Aw, what a cute puppy."? If so, I've been doing it wrong for years. – cobaltduck Mar 21 '19 at 15:28
  • I have to hear you saying "aw" to know. To be sure you can say "au" like you would say "eau" (water) in french, if that makes it easier. – Nicolas Mar 21 '19 at 17:00
  • Aw as in with paw, saw, maw (mouth), straw, etc. In other words, yes, I have been saying it wrong. – cobaltduck Mar 21 '19 at 17:06
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    Haha yeah that kind of "aw" is not great, there is too much emphasize on the "w" which might sound funny in french. The french "o", like the "on" is very difficult for english people. Train with "eau" or saying "oh" (ilke "oh really") with almost no emphasis on the "h" letter. The closest sound I know on an english word is the "o" from "cold". – Nicolas Mar 21 '19 at 17:35
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    @Szabolcs That “some reason” is that neither /e/ nor /o/ exists as a monophthong in English. Most people have more trouble pronouncing sounds that don’t exist in their own language. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 21 '19 at 23:11

As an American expat in the U.K., my experience has been pretty well in line with the other answers here. One interesting addition I might make is that Americans as often as not just won’t try to pronounce French words. Foreign language words that cannot be replaced easily become an Americanized replacement.

If you do encounter an American who makes the effort to properly pronounce this (or any other foreign language word), another American will hear it as either

  • incredibly pretentious (if pronounced correctly) or
  • comically wrong (if pronounced wrongly)

For my part it took me some time to acclimate to ordering a “pain au chocolat” after I moved to London. I only ever ordered a “chocolate chip pastry” as a child, even when I was visiting Versailles, PA (pronounced Ver-sales) or Des Plaines, IL (pronounced dess planes).

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    It's the same in every language though. If you want to say "computer" in Japanese you don't suddenly switch to the English pronunciation. In fact I think you are obligated to use the Japanese pronunciation. In my experience in all languages, foreign words are pronounced with sounds and accents approximating the language in which you are speaking, unless the intention specifically is to highlight the foreignness of the word or concept. – user197453 Mar 22 '19 at 16:50
  • @aris Yes, people in general tend not to use sounds that don't exist in their native language. That tendency is certainly not unique to native speakers of English. – reirab Mar 22 '19 at 21:49

Pain au chocolat has its own entry in J. C. Wells' Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.

  • British English /ˌpæn əu 'ʃɒk ə lɑ:/
  • American English /ˌpæn ou ˌʃɑ:k ə 'lɑ:/
  • French /pɛ̃ o ʃɔ kɔ la/

The spaces in Wells's transcription indicate syllabification.

Chocolat is not stressed the same in British and American English. Both get it wrong, so to speak, and liaise pain and au with /n/, wheras there isn't any n-liaison in French.

  • There's n-liason in English for several reasons. For one, we don't have nasalized vowels, which generally get turned into V + n. For a second, we couldn't possibly say /pæ ou 'ʃɒk ə lɑ:/ or /pɛ ou 'ʃɒk ə lɑ:/, because the vowels /æ/ and /ɛ/ never appear in open syllables. – Peter Shor Oct 8 '19 at 17:47
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    @PeterShor British English seems to have an all-purpose nasal vowel /ɒ̃/ that you hear in Lyon /'li: ɒ̃/ or Nancy (the town) /ˌnɒ̃ 'si:/. I don't think it's used in American English where you do have V + n, but I'd have expected /ˌpɒ̃ əu 'ʃɒk ə lɑ:/ in British English. – grandtout Oct 8 '19 at 18:04

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