A Comparison of the Attitudes of Learners, Instructors, and Native French Speakers About the Pronunciation of French: An Exploratory Study


  • Isabelle Drewelow,

    1. University of Wisconsin—Madison
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      Isabelle Drewelow (MA, Université de Bordeaux III) is a PhD Candidate in Second Language Acquisition in the Language Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin.

  • Anne Theobald

    1. University of Wisconsin—Madison
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      Anne Theobald (MA, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is a PhD Candidate in the Department of French and Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin.


The stereotype has it that native French Speakers are annoyed by foreign Speakers' errors in pronunciation. The purpose of this pilot study was to assess beliefs about the importance of accurate pronunciation in French held by three afferent groups: (1) 73 second- and third-semester students of French at a large midwestern research university in the United States, (2) 16 nonnative-speaker instructors of French at the same institution, and (3) 24 native Speakers of French living in France. In a fall Semester, each of the three groups received near mirror-image versions of a questionnaire, ranging from 33 items (for the learners) to 29 items (for the instructors) to 26 items (for the native French Speakers) in true/false format. Acknowledging that attitudes toward foreign accents might be language- and nationality-specific, all questions pertained to Americans speaking French. Percentages were calculated, and corresponding questions on all three questionnaires were grouped according to theme, then compared and cross-referenced with participants' backgrounds. Generally, this study revealed a gap between the attitudes of hypothetical native Speakers, promoted in teaching on the one hand, and the attitudes professed by real native Speakers on the other hand. The results of this study discredit the myth that native French Speakers have a low tolerance for an American accent in French. Instructors, and nonnative Speaker instructors specifically, need to project more realistic goals and refrain from misinforming their students that a perfect native-like pronunciation is vital to successful communication with native Speakers.