If you’re reading this article, you probably already think that the French accent sounds sexy. But is it the sexiest accent? A 2017 study of 15,000 people around the world found that French is considered the most sexy accent followed by Italian. Other studies have found that Australian and Scottish accents are considered the sexiest. Meanwhile, French people generally report that British and Spanish people sound sexiest when speaking French.
What is it that makes the French accent so alluring? We’re going to delve into the elements that contribute to the irresistible charm of French accents in a relatively “scientific” manner. We’ve also chosen videos of some of France’s sexiest stars speaking English to make our argument all the more convincing.
By Sophia Millman
Notice the lips
To make a variety of vowel sounds in French, you not only need to round your lips into an O shape, but you actually need to push them forward. If you’ve ever tried practicing the two U sounds in French (“tu” vs “tout”), you know that your mouth changes position completely from the way you hold it when you speak English. In this video, watch how Brigitte Bardot tries to say, “shows” at 1:29. Unlike a native English speaker, who can make the “Shhh” sound without changing the shape of their lips, Bardot actually makes a sort of pouting face, pushing both her upper lip and lower lip out. Obviously, when you think of an accent, you think of what you hear, but how a person’s mouth looks while they’re speaking also contributes to their overall appeal.
Admittedly, there are some parts of the French accent that aren’t exactly the epitome of sexiness. For instance, what’s up with the French “R” sound? It’s like you’ve got a frog in your throat, and isn’t as elegant as the rolled R in Spanish and Italian. Nevertheless, the French “R” contributes to the huskier tone of the accent. And French accents are decidedly husky. Ask any French-English bilingual person to switch between the languages for a minute, and you’ll notice that their voice sounds deeper in French than in English. It’s like every person turns into Scarlett Johansson when they’re speaking French! In this video, not only do you get to hear a lot of Rs as Jean Dujardin sings “forrrmidable,” but you might also notice how deep his voice sounds in general. Listen to the way he says “umm” and “euh” before he begins singing; it’s charming because we don’t have those low filler sounds in English.
It’s all about the rhythm
Rhythm and intonation play a crucial role when it comes to sounding sexy. As you might have noticed, in English we place emphasis on certain words and raise and lower our voices all the time. Think about where you put the stress in the word “perfect.” If you say “PERfect,” you mean that something is ideal. If you say “perFECT” you mean that you’re trying to make something better. This is not the case in French: words are always stressed the same way, and the rhythm of sentences follows a very specific pattern (French is often called “syllable-timed.”) You gently emphasize the last part of a string of words, making it slightly drawn out: “Mesdames et messieurs, dans quelques instants…” These melodic inflections contribute to the charm of French accents because when French people speak in English, they sound like they’re reciting poetry or almost singing. Compare the way Omar Sy sounds to Jimmy Kimmel in this video: Sy’s voice is much more soothing to the ear. (Also, his insanely charming laugh helps a lot!)
Flow is key
We talked about rhythm above, but it’s the way words flow together in French that makes the language so beautiful and the French accent stand out. In French, you can connect words with what is called a “liaison.” For example, instead of pronouncing les amis like “lay amee,” you have to make a Z sound to connect the words–since les ends in an S and amis starts with a vowel. You say: “layzzamee.” Listen to the way Léa Seydoux combines words in this video and you’ll see what we mean. For instance, she says, “I hadabook, it was poetry,” in a particularly French-inflected way. Also, because French literature and poetry are associated with love and romance, when Seydoux simply says “Baudelaire,” she already sounds sexy.
Confidence goes a long way
Since public speaking is considered an important skill in France, many French students have to present what are called exposés in front of their classes. In the US, it’s not very common to speak alone in front of your entire class for 15 minutes or so, but in France, it’s expected that you will be able to present long pieces of your own writing to your classmates. There are tons of concours d’éloquence in France, in which college students or other groups compete to see who sounds the most eloquent. Because the French place a strong emphasis on language skills and on the ability to be able to express oneself persuasively, there is a deep appreciation for the power of rhetoric in France. This explains why many French people sound so confident and look poised, even when they’re not speaking in their native languages. Isabelle Huppert, the French Meryl Streep, epitomizes this confidence as you can see in this video!
What isn’t sexy
We don’t want to offend the wonderful actor Tahar Rahim (whom you might have seen on Netflix’s The Serpent), but the problem is that in order to have a sexy accent, you have to sound a little French when you’re speaking English. If you try to sound 100 percent American, the vibe just isn’t the same. Case in point: this video. The actor seems to be trying to add a nasal, American quality to his voice. This is why we tell our students that your goal should be to speak French in a way that’s totally comprehensible, but not to completely lose your accent. A hint of an American accent can sound really charming in French!
Want more examples of French celebrities speaking English? Check out: