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When I was learning English, every dictionary that I ever came across with, had a phonetic transcription, so I could easily understand how the word is pronounced. For example, phonetic transcription for a word knee would be [ni:]. I just started to learn French and I am really surprised by the lack of phonetic transcriptions for such a hard-to-learn language. How am I supposed to know the pronunciation, when half of the letters are silent?

Are there any good sources on the web, where I could look up phonetic transcription for any word? It really makes me uncomfortable when I don't know how the word is pronounced.

UPDATE

After a year of intensive French learning, I could say that transcriptions are really useless. The pronunciation rules are complex, but quite strict. The only problem I still encounter from time to time is with liasons, enchaînements, and h muet/aspiré. But that comes with experience. Other than that, I like it so much, that there's no need to look up a new word in a dictionary in order to find out how to say it. Another awesome feature of French is that the stress is always placed on the last syllable.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

French pronunciation is more regular than English, even if the rules are complicated and do have exceptions. So natives and learners need pronunciation information less often than they do with English. Nonetheless most dictionaries do include phonetic transcriptions, so I'm a little puzzled why you feel a lack of those. (What doesn't exist for French is a wide collection of pronunciation dictionaries. Most words have a single pronunciation.)

Online, Wiktionnaire has a wide collection of words and usually includes phonetic transcriptions, so it's a good resource for pronunciation, even if its definitions are often lacking. It's also worth mentioning projet Shtooka¹, a database of audio snippets of French natives pronouncing single words (and a few expressions).


¹ Thanks to F'x for introducing me to it.

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Wow, merci for the link to "Project Shtooka"! Looks like a really good resource. I usually used forvo.com, but it's so sloooow and some pronunciations could be not accurate. As for the lack of transcriptions in dictionaries, maybe it's just a personal experience. However, you're probably right that French pronunciation is more or less standardized. –  jFrenetic Sep 15 '11 at 19:43
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Online, the TLFi and the bilingual dictionnaries of Larousse (see this answer for links) have also phonetic transcriptions. –  Un francophone Sep 16 '11 at 7:33
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Lexique is a database of french words which gives the prononciation of each word.

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I just wanted to mention an online resource available for the purpose of automating these things, or maybe just for a tech-savy way of having an immediate pronounced example.

Google has an API for that, called "text-to-speech", and it has a french parameter available, which produces quite good results, at least for the vast majority of sentences I tested.

For an example, try this directly in your browser's URL bar :

http://translate.google.com/translate_tts?tl=fr&q=Excellente%20prononciation

Technically, Google sends you back an mp3 in response to your request to TTS. It means the result may depend on the way your browser handles this type of content (direct play with plug-ins, download of a mp3 file, or link to an external mp3 reader application, like winamp or other). With many standard and up-to-date browsers, chances are it will directly play without you doing any additional tasks. But again warning, the feature is browser-dependent.

(Side note : one fun and possibly useful thing about this is that you can test the french pronounciation of any character string, including words you're making up on purpose.)

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Thanks man! So much time has passed, since I asked this question. But still any information will be much appreciated. Yeah, Google Translate does a decent job, but it's still far from perfect. Personally, I've got used to forvo.com, but it's kinda slow. The advantage is that the words are pronounced by real people, not machines. –  jFrenetic Jun 11 '12 at 14:35
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