explanation vocabulary / grammar video show / hide Creating nasal sounds

When you think about nasal sounds, you realize that you recognize one when you hear it. The question is, how is it produced? The creation of a nasal sound begins in the nose, which is used for resonance. The sounds of m and n can help you understand.

These examples are so useful because when pronouncing m and n the lips are completely closed and air can only stream out through the nose. When you now close your nose you will notice that you are unable to produce an m or n. Try to do the same with the sounds below:

With an open nose: immmmmmmmmmmmm
With the nose closed: immm

With an open nose: innnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn
With the nose closed: innnnnn

(Short remark: you might have noticed that also p and b is created with closed lips. However, there is a difference: with these sounds the air is pressed into the mouth and then streams out powerfully. To be able to dam up the air into the mouth you must be able to close the connection between mouth and nose. This is done with the soft palate.)

With nasal sounds the nose has to be part of the production of the sound, meaning that the soft palate must not close the connection between mouth and nose. Later on we can discuss whether the air streams out only through the nose or may also stream through mouth and nose.

One question is, whether people speaking with a closed nose can speak nasal sounds, because it sounds like twang. But, no, when closing the nose it cannot be used as a resonance room and therefore the sound is not a correct nasal vowel.


1) The soft palate is the key to the nasal sounds. We all can control it in a certain way, because we are able to voice the sounds p, t, k, where the soft palate is pressed up. And we can say m and n, where the soft palate opens the room to the nose, because the mouth is closed. A good example for the movement of the soft palate is the word: pump. Everything happens in just one word.

2) We can use this knowledge to create the nasal vowels in French, because the nose is used as a resonance room for the nasal o, a, e in French. The soft palate (the long thing deep in your throat, that hurts when you have a cold) opens the room to the nose and a part of the air streams out through the nose, creating this distinctive sound.

Listen to the following examples and repeat the sounds. The difference will soon be very clear to you:

o nasales o
  bateau (ship), gâteau (cake), beau (beautiful)   ponctuel (punctual), pondéré (considerate)
a nasales a
  â me (soul), amour (love)   envergure (span), entendre (to hear)
ä nasales ä
  vrai (true), aimer (to love), sais (you know) fin (end), bien (good),

Example o
nasal o
  con (stupid), pont (bridge), tombe (tomb)

Comparison normal and nasal o
o on
  beau (beautiful)   bon (good)

Example a
nasal a
  entre (between), en (in), ange (angel)

Comparison a with nasal a
a en
  âme (soul)   savant (savant)

Example ae
nasal ae
  important (important), raisin (raisin), vaincre (to win)

Comparison normal with nasal ae
ae in
  vrai (true)   important (important)

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