4 Steps To Mastering Liaison In Spoken French

If you want to speak French well, you have to master something called liaison. This refers to the linking of the end of one word with the beginning of the following word in the spoken language.

Consider the two English expressions "a full glass" and "an empty glass". You note de presence of n in the article "an" before "empty". The n is necessary to avoid the awkward sequence of sounds "a empty glass". This insertion of a sound between two vowels to avoid awkward sequences is much more common in spoken French than in English and requires special attention. Here is a four-step guide to getting the hang of liaison.

Step 1: Remember that final consonants of French words are not pronounced

Totally unlike English, all consonants except l and f are not pronounced at the end of words. For example, in words like vent, travaux, enfants, plat and allez, the final letter is not pronounced. This is the case of a sentence like:

Les travaux sont terminés (The studies are finished)

Step 2: Liaison appears between words that end in a consonant and words that start with a vowel or silent h.

Consider the two words les enfants (the children). In order to avoid an unpleasant sequence of sounds because the final s is normally not pronounced, the first s is sounded as a z. So the entire sequence of two words is pronounced les-z-enfants

Of course, the z is not written. The s just sounds that way. This kind of sequence is extremely common and can be found in examples like:

nos-z- amis

Note the difference between:

vous-z-avez (you have)
vous savez (you know)

Besides the most common s(-z) liaison sound, the other consonant endings can also create liaison. Here are some examples:

un grand-t-homme
un faux-z-ami
un bon-n-enfant
un vain-n-espoir
vont-t-ils venir ?
un petit-t- enfant

Step 3: Certain sequences do not use liaison

Although one could theoretically use the liaison everywhere, certain sequences do not use it because the combination doesn't sound right or might be confusing. The most common sequences that do not take liaison include After "et" (and) as in:

Jean et amis

That "et amis" sequence looks tempting. Do not put a t sound there. Before the h aspiré: les héros In front of "oui" and "onze": un oui ou un non les onze ans

Step 4 Certain liaisons are optional

While certain liaison rules are very strong (e.g. nos amis, vous avez, les arts), others are weaker, in that the liaison is possible but not mandatory. In fact, certain kinds of liaison may be typical of older and formal speaking style. Unless you are giving a speech to the Académie française, you might be bettor off avoiding these.

The most common optional liaison spot is in front of "et", as in:

les étudiants et les jeunes
les larmes et les cris

Other spots include:

elles ont-(t)-eu
tu vas-(z)-appeler
il prend-(t)-un café

When in doubt about the liaison, it is usually best to err on the side of caution. The trick is to listen to a lot of different kinds of spoken French. The required liaisons will stand out loud and clear. Those are the ones you have to watch out for.
(First publishd by articles@ezine )