MusicPronunciationBuilding bridges between languages and music

19 December 2022by Isabelle

I have wanted to build bridges between languages and music for a very long time.

It’s 20 years 🎂 this summer since I decided to work as a freelance translator from English and German into French.

It’s four decades since I began learning the piano and two decades since I began singing and playing the keyboard in bands

Using singing as a tool to improve pronunciation


One day it struck me that singing could also help those who strive to improve their accent in a foreign language.


I then thought about what my singing teachers had taught me. I looked at my own routine for learning a new song before a music rehearsal.

🎵 My Spotify playlists run on repeat every morning (nothing beats bathroom acoustics 😊).

🎵 I do breathing exercises to release any tension (Pilates and hypo-pressure exercises, which work magic after a whole day in front of my computer screen).

🎵 I vocalise on opera arias using specific vowels (I’m not sure my neighbours enjoy that part!)

🎵 I use tongue twisters and percussive consonants to activate all the jaw, lip, and tongue muscles.

🎵 I don’t necessarily Say A Little Prayer, but I do spot the stressed and unstressed beats to find Aretha’s soul !

🎵 As a French singer, I really have to practise nasal sounds and Janis Joplin’s phrasing in Me and Bobby McGee to fully capture the feeling of American country music.

🎵 And I need to work hard to nail Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy flow.


The weekly routine I’ve developed to break down English songs has enabled me to experiment, to create drills and tools to sing more efficiently in rehearsal or on stage with musicians.


The need to understand


I felt the need to understand what was behind each sound. I asked myself billions of questions … like:


❓ What makes certain syllables simpler to sing than others?

❓ Why is it helpful to change an ’i’ into a ‘u’ when singing high notes?

❓ What makes an English song sound different from a French song?

❓ Why does Celine Dion lose her Canadian accent when she sings in French?


✅I dived into my English and French phonetics books.

✅I trained in several phonetic correction methods.

✅ I read tons of scientific articles on the benefits of music and singing for people who learn a foreign language.

✅And I experimented with students who trusted me.


Every language has its music


✨ French is a syllable-timed language where every syllable has approximately the same duration.

You could compare it to the sound of a classical string quartet.


✨ Whereas English is a stress-timed language, that is more rhythmic and dynamic, with accelerations and stressed syllables.

You could compare it to the sound of a jazz trumpet solo.


When you apply the music (or prosody) of your mother tongue to a foreign language, that’s when your accent shows up.

Whether you love it or hate it, your accent – like your voice – is an inherent part of your identity.


And if you think it hinders your communication, there are ways to soften it a little.

I’ll tell you more about that in my future posts… Stay tuned!

About Me

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2023 Isabelle Cottenet. All rights reserved.