Pronunciation is key to learning any new language. Before diving into the vocabulary and basic phrases, a good approach is to listen and try and get your aural perception honed in. A new word or phrase, like "je m'appelle" in French, is awesome to learn, but it's important to learn it correctly: that starts and ends with pronunciation.
Comment vous appelez-vous? or "What is your name?" in French, is the question we'll be answering today. While "je m'appelle" is the most common way of replying to such a query, there are two others we will also cover. For each, we'll try and capture the correct way to say them — silent letters and all.
When someone asks you, "What is your name?" your reply is either your name or something like, "My name is (blank)." In French, the most often used reply is "Je m'appelle," which literally means, "I call myself..."
To properly pronounce it, it sounds like this:
- je = zhuh
- m'appelle = mah-pehll
You can reply in this way in most any situation, but the usual way in France to ask someone new their name is Comment vous appelez-vous? which literally asks them what they call themselves. So the reply of "je m'appelle" is a perfect response as "je" means "I," "m'" is "myself," and "appele" is "to call."
Here is a video where you can listen to a native French speaker say "zhuh mah-pehll":
As explored in Scientific America, studies have shown that you can train your (adult) ears to pick up nuance in language by listening to many different speakers. So, in addition to this video, try and listen to other audio/video translations, and certainly practice. The internet is awash in clips like the above, which has made learning proper pronunciation on your own a much easier task today.
Forvo.com offers a collection of speakers for hundreds of thousands of phrases in world languages. For "je m'appelle," you can listen to speakers from France, Canada, and Belgium. You can also always use Google Translate, and listen to its audio (which may sound very fast, but it's another voice to absorb in your learning):
As said, Comment vous appelez-vous? when translated word for word, asks a person what they call him/herself. However, it's basically asking what a person's name is. And "je m'appelle" answers that. You could also answer this question though with "Mon nom est (blank)," which literally translates to "My name is ..." This is a perfectly fine way to reply, too, though not as common as "je m'appelle."
The phrase is also a bit more difficult to fine-tune when it comes to pronunciation as it has lettres muettes or "silent letters" in the form of the nasal consonants "m" and "n." What are nasal consonants? Well, as the University of Texas at Austin explains:
Nasal vowels are produced when air passes through the nose as well as the mouth. English has nasal-like vowels in words such as sing and impossible, but the nasal consonants /n/ and /m/ are still pronounced. These consonants are not pronounced in French when following a nasal vowel. The consonant is totally assimilated into the vowel pronunciation.
Right! So when you first hear "Mon nom est," you'll find that the ending "n" and "m" are pretty silent, simply an extension of the vowel that precedes them. What's more, "t" is usually a silent consonant, too. And "est" is pronounced like "ay." So "Mon nom est" sounded out is:
- mon = mo(n)
- nom = no(m)
- est = ay
For this one, it's definitely helpful to hear it read slowly. Hearing it at regular speed, it may even sound as if there's only one word here versus three: mo-no-AY:
In French, there are three main groups of silent letters: e muet, h (aspiré and muet), and final consonants, of which "mon nom est" is a good example. For listening proficiency in "les voyelles nasales" and the consonants that follow, try the test at UT Austin. How many did you not hear?
And finally, one more way to answer Comment vous appelez-vous? is "Moi, c'est (blank)," which translates to "I am..." This is a more casual way of giving one's name, and may follow another person's introduction:
Speaker 1: Comment vous appelez-vous?
Speaker 2: Je m'appelle Claudine.
(Everyone turns to the next person in the group.)
Speaker 3: Moi, c'est Peter.
Most people are likely familiar with the correct pronunciation of "moi," but for "c'est," note that in French, a "c" like in English, can be either soft or hard. This is determined by the letter than immediately follows it, and in the case of "e," it's always a soft "c."
From "Mon nom est," we already know how "est" is pronounced, so for "Moi, c'est," it's:
- moi = muah
- c'est = say
Voilà! And there you have it: three different ways to answer – and properly pronounce – in French the question, "What is your name?"
As said, learning a new language isn't easy, but it can be very rewarding and starting out with simple words and phrases like these is a positive first step. Again, getting the pronunciation right is key. You don't want to have to unlearn any bad habits or mispronunciations down the road.