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Using the International Phonetic Alphabet to Learn How to Pronounce French

Andrew Gelman tells us of a great site for learning the French accent, and other languages too. It transforms a French phrase into the International Phonetic Alphabet, e.g.

“Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” (Pascal:”The eternal silence of these infinite spaces scares me.”)

becomes

lə silɑ̃s etεʀnεl də se εspas ε̃fini mefʀε

I remember saying this to David Hirshleifer back in 1988 or so. He liked it, but he said that in learning French I might find more occasion to use some other phrase such as “Where is the bathroom?”.

I like the idea of using the phonetic alphabet. We adults have read too much, and so we filter French through our English reading. If it’s written in phonetic (or Cyrillic, which is what I thought Ben Bolker’s example above was!) then maybe we would get it into our brains that we’re supposed to say everything differently. (My approach to French is like the common approach to trying to lose weight: I’ve been trying for 20 years but without much progress!)

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