Languages that are spoken in many different countries and cities across the globe come with different nuances and colloquialisms that are unique to each region – and the French language exemplifies this.
There are a lot of French speakers around the world (French, is the sixth most widely spoken language), but these distinct groups each have their own unique accents and dialects.
It is important to understand the different accents and explore the various types of French spoken across borders in order to accurately represent the voice of your target audience (as a client) and make sure that you are delivering the best, most authentic read (as a voice actor). Generally, audiences like to hear voices that sound like their own, and the best way to achieve this is to authentically sound like the voices you are trying to reach.
Here are the 9 main types of French spoken around the world, as well the countries where they are spoken, with sound advice from French-Canadian voice artists, Eve Lanthier and Cathy Crégniot. Note: this list is not all-encompassing and there are many other accents and dialects of French within these regions and all over the world.
Types of French
1. Region: Paris
Parisian French is considered the standard type of French spoken around the world and is generally the dialect taught to those looking to learn French as a second language. It is often referred to as Standard French or International French and these phrases are often used interchangeably.
Parisian French is different from other types of French in that speakers tend to absorb English words as part of their dialogue (e.g. le deadline – translates to ‘the deadline’) and also tends to be spoken a bit faster than French in other parts of the world.
In Parisian French, there also tends to be the use of more enthusiastic phrases such as mais c’est énorme ! (“it’s fantastic”).
Multilingual voice actor Cathy Crégniot notes that “all native French speakers and some French-speaking people are able to distinguish regional French accents.” She notices that when non-French speaking clients ask for Parisian French, usually they’re referring to the International/Standard French often spoken in Paris.
The distinction between other regionally specific French accents and Parisian French is that it follows a strict set of rules taught by institutions. “International French is one you learn through education. International French belongs to the formal register,” Cathy says.
A simple trick to training your ear to be able to distinguish between the different French accents of the world: “Listen to radio and TV programs from French-speaking countries. Commercial ads appear to be less standardized and tend to use some local/regional dialects,” Cathy advises. “In a few clicks on the internet you can hear all the languages of the world.”
Example: Cathy Crégniot – Voice Actor demo
2. Region: South of France
In the South of France, specifically in Marseille, you will hear a different type of French being spoken – referred to as Marseillais. This variation of French is cited as having a Southern accent and is characterized by its open and unique rhythmic intonations. Marseillais tends to be spoken very quickly and can be difficult to understand by an untrained ear. The expression “eh” is often added to the end of sentences spoken by people from Marseille, which sets them apart from other French speakers.
The accent is quite distinguishable from other French accents and certain syllables are pronounced more emphatically than others. For example: bread and wine are not pronounced as “pain” and “vin” but more like “pang” and “vang.” And every syllable is clearly pronounced, including a final “e,” so “France” becomes “France-er.”
Example: This news story on the Marseille accent
3. Region: Belgium
Almost half of the population in Belgium speaks French. You’ll notice that French in Belgium is a bit different sounding, as it is also influenced by Dutch – the official language of Belgium. Despite this influence, the Belgian accent is still very similar to the French accent due to the closeness of the countries.
However, French speakers in Belgium use slightly different as words part of their vocabulary (e.g. The number 70 in Belgium is septante and soixante-dix in Standard French).
North American French
4 & 5. Regions: Quebec and New Brunswick
In Eastern Canada, there are mainly two types of French that are spoken – French in Quebec (or Québécois French) and French on the maritime coast, known as Acadian French.
Although the grammar and written expressions of Acadian French and Québécois French are the same as Standard/International French, it is at the spoken level that the differences in accents can really be heard.
French-Canadian voice over artist Eve Lanthier says that vowels are where you will hear the differences between Standard French and Québécois French the most.
“In Québécois French, vowels with nasal intonation are even more nasalized. The ‘un’ sound has virtually disappeared from Standard French, but it is still spoken in Québécois French. The high vowels i, u, and ou are pronounced laxing when used in closed syllables in Québécois French. In Standard French, vowels that used to have a long pronunciation three centuries ago no longer do, but in Québécois French, that old pronunciation remains. For example, words like “mâle” and “mal”, “pâte” and “patte”, “faîte” and “faites”, “maître” and “mettre” sound virtually the same in Metropolitan French, though not in spoken Québécois French,” Eve says.
“Another very distinctive pronunciation in Québécois French is the way the letters ‘D’ and ‘T’ are pronounced as ‘Dzz’ and ‘Tss’ when placed before the vowels ‘u’ and ‘i.’ This pronunciation is often carried over in formal speech, where it does not exist on any level of speech in Metropolitan French,” she continues.
However, Eve notes that when Québécois French is spoken informally the differences between these two versions of French become obvious and it is quite easy to tell them apart.
Québécois French: Voice Actor Eve Lanthier https://www.voices.com/demo_detail/67568
6. Region: Louisiana
In the US state of Louisiana, a common version of French called Louisiana Creole – or simply Creole – is spoken by just about 10,000 people. Because of this number, Creole is considered an endangered language.
It is a language that is a mixture between French and African languages and thus has a very distinct sound from Standard French.
7. Region: Haiti
French from Haiti is considered the French language of the Caribbean. It is different from Standard French as it is a mixture of African languages as well as other languages brought over during the colonial rule – including Spanish and Portuguese.
There are similar sounds between Standard French and Creole, however words are spelled out differently (e.g. The word ‘yes’ is ‘oui’ in Standard French and “wi” in Creole).
Example: Voice talent Kathleen Gonzales
8. Region: Algeria
The French language in Algeria is heavily influenced by Arabic words and pronunciations. A common feature of Algerian French is the rolled “r.”
Although a lot of words and grammar are similar, it is the accent that sets apart French spoken in Algeria from Standard French.
9. Region: Democratic Republic of the Congo
The French language spoken in the Congo is often cut short and is a mixture of several different local languages – which is no surprise considering there are over 200 different dialects spoken in the Congo.
French Accents of the World
The list of French accents explored in this article is not inclusive of all different types of French accents and dialects spoken around the world.
It is however, important to notice the distinctions between different French accents so that when hiring for jobs, you know what to listen for so that you can hire the most authentic French-speaking voice talent for your project.
For voice actors, Eve recommends that even if your specific spoken French (which may not be your native French) is convincing, you should leave it to the true authentic speakers to audition for such jobs.
“Personally, even if my European French is quite convincing (or so I’ve been told by people I’ve met while staying in Paris), I prefer referring clients looking for European French to my esteemed colleagues overseas. These clients are always grateful to me for doing so. Some of them even come back for a Canadian French project later on,” she says.
Cathy shares a similar sentiment. “According to my experience, and apart from really specific characters (videogames, apps, etc.) you can not fake a regional accent other than for projects more parodic, or with short scripts, [and come across as] credible and convincing for the targeted audience,” she advises.
Ideally, as a voice talent you want to make sure you are the best person for a job, and as a client you want to make sure that you are hiring the most authentic-sounding voice over artists so as to avoid stereotypes and inauthenticity.
About the Voice Actors Featured
Eve has been a full time voice over artist for the past decade. Friendly and sincere, her voice is a happy mix of corporate style and girl next-door authenticity. Microsoft, Nintendo, American Express, Toyo, Pfizer, Toshiba and Royal Bank of Canada are among her clients. Before she became a VO artist, she spent some time as a recording studio assistant, so she understands the challenges of today’s audio production: consistent, quality performance; noise-free, professional recording; quick turnaround and excellent communication. And she loves exploring different ways of delivering a script to find the one that really works. You can find Eve online via her website at evelanthier.com.
Always passionate and fascinated by the language, the vocality and the sounds, it was unthinkable to Cathy that she would not make it a profession. She decided to live her passion fully by creating Vox Volubilis, by offering, at first, public readings and then, following many requests from clients, she developed a voice over component and more recently, a vocal design service. You can find Cathy online at: voxvolubilis.com.