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Best French Words to Practice as Beginner: The Definitive List

As mentioned in a previous article on Speechling How to Speak French - The Ultimate Guide to French Pronunciation, the French language comes from a diversity of its vowels, the right balance between vowels and consonants, and the monotony of its rhythm.

In this article, I will focus on the pronunciation of each sound mentioned in the previous article so you will be able to practice and improve your pronunciation.

This article follows the same architecture as the previous one, so you can easily go from one to the other and find the information that you require.

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How to Pronounce Vowels

Individual letters

The “a” sound, as in “oh la la!

The sound “a”, which is close to the “a” sound in “cat”, can be found in different forms: some words like femme without the letter “a” inside can be pronounced with the “a” sound.

Example #1: papa (dad)

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Example #2: là (here)

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Example #3: bas (low)

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Example #4: ça (this)

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Example #5: femme (woman)

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The “e” sound

There are two distinctly different “e” sounds:

The closed “e”

Example #1: piéton (pedestrian)

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Example #2: télé (TV)

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Example #3: manger (to eat)

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Example #4: et (and)

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Example #5: chez (home)

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The open “e”

Example #1: très (very)

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Example #2: père (father)

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Example #3: vrai (true)

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Example #4: être (to be)

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Example #5: lunettes (glasses)

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And as always in French, there are going to be some exceptions. Sometimes, we don’t pronounce the “e” sound, like when the “e” is the final letter. Let’s see some examples of the silent “e”!

The silent “e”

Example #1: île (island)

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Example #2: tante (aunt)

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Example #3: petite (small)

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Example #4: porte (door)

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Example #5: lunettes (glasses)

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The “i” sound, as in “chic”

That sound is found in words having a “i” or “y”, and is close to the “i” sound found in some English words, like “petite”, and is a shorter version of the “ee” sound in English.

Example #1: petite (small)

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Example #2: île (island)

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Example #3: souris (mouse)

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Example #4: stylo (pen)

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Example #5: jeudi (Thursday)

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The “o” sound

As with the “e” sound, the “o” sound has two different ways of being pronounced:

You can read the full details and rules in the article How to Speak French - The Ultimate Guide to French Pronunciation. Let’s get back to the pronunciation and hear the difference with some examples!

The closed “o”

Example #1: opéra (opera)

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Example #2: dos (back)

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Example #3: vélo (bike)

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Example #4: météo (weather forecasting)

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Example #5: stylo (pen)

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The open “o”

Example #1: or (gold)

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Example #2: dehors (outside)

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Example #3: porte (door)

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Example #4: botte (boot)

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Example #5: pomme (apple)

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The “u” sound, as in “déjà vu”

The French “u” sound is very different from the “u” sound in English and will have some exceptions, like the verb “eu”. But let’s hear the following audio examples to illustrate these points!

Example #1: tu (you)

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Example #2: salut (hello)

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Example #3: eu (have/had)

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Example #4: aigu / aigüe (sharp)

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Example #5: lunettes (glasses)

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Multiple vowels

Now that you know how to pronounce the individual letters, it is time to look at some letter combinations which you will come across.

The “ou” sound, as in “en route”

This one is quite easy, as it is the “u” sound that you already know in English.

Example #1: aujourd’hui (today)

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Example #2: ouvrir (to open)

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Example #3: souris (mouse)

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Example #4: pour (for)

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Example #5: sous (under)

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The “eu” sound

Having only one “eu” sound would be too easy, so of course we have two! One is “closed”, pronounced with a slightly closed mouth, and the other one is, well you guessed it, open, pronounced with a slightly open mouth.

closed “eu” as in “queue”

Example #1: bleu (blue)

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Example #2: queue (tail)

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Example #3: vieux (old)

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Example #4: jeudi (Thursday)

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Example #5: peu (few)

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open “eu” as in “chef d’oeuvre”

Example #1: chef-d’œuvre (masterpiece)

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Example #2: beurre (butter)

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Example #3: sœur (sister)

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Example #4: bonheur (joy)

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Example #5: peur (fear)

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The “au” and “eau” sounds

These sounds are exactly like the closed “o” sound seen previously.

Example #1: eau (water)

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Example #2: automobile (car)

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Example #3: chapeau (hat)

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Example #4: saut (jump)

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Example #5: faux (false)

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The “an” sound, as “restaurant”

Just be aware that the “an” sound can take a few different forms, like “en”, “am” or “em”.

Example #1: tante (aunt)

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Example #2: enfant (child)

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Example #3: dent (tooth)

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Example #4: ensemble (together)

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Example #5: champagne (champagne)

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The “in” sound, as in “hein??”

There can be various different combinations that turn out to be pronounced as the “in” sound: “in”, “im”, “ein”, “ain” but also “en” (which can also be pronounced as the “en” sound as seen just above).

Example #1: demain (tomorrow)

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Example #2: important (important)

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Example #3: dessin (drawing)

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Example #4: hein (eh/what)

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Example #5: examen (exam)

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The “on” sound, as in “garçon”

Time to use your nose to make the correct sound!
Also note that “om” leads to the same pronunciation as the “on” sound.

Example #1: garçon (boy)

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Example #2: son (sound)

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Example #3: piéton (pedestrian)

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Example #4: cochon (pig)

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Example #5: ombre (shadow)

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“ou” as in “oui”

You can say this one just like a “w” sound, when you find “ou” in front of another vowel. But let’s listen to a few examples to discover the exact “w” sound!

Example #1: oui (yes)

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Example #2: ouïe (hearing)

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Example #3: fouet (whip)

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Example #4: chouette (owl)

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Example #5: ouah (wow)

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“ui” as in “huit”

Ahhh, a tricky one, but this time you don’t have the “w” sound. You will start with the “u” sound directly. Best listen to these!

Example #1: huit (eight)

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Example #2: aujourd’hui (today)

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Example #3: pluie (rain)

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Example #4: nuit (night)

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Example #5: juillet (July)

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How to Pronounce Consonants

Some good ones here! The following consonants are identical in both French and English, and therefore will not be covered in this article:
b, d, f, m, n, v, w, x, y, z

“c” as in “café”

In front of these letters “a”, “o”, “u”, the “c” is pronounced as a “k” sound.

Example #1: café (coffee)

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Example #2: car (bus)

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Example #3: cochon (pig)

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Example #4: cuillère (spoon)

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Example #5: couverture (cover)

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“c” as in “cinéma”

On the other hand, when “c” is in front of “e” and “i”, the “c” sound is pronounced as a “s”.

Example #1: cinéma (cinema)

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Example #2: certain (certain)

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Example #3: ceinture (belt)

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Example #4: cent (hundred)

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Example #5: ciel (sky)

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The "ç" (c cédille)

The cedilla on the "c" is there to turn the “c” into a "s" sound, when in front of the letters “a”, “o”, “u”.

Example #1: garçon (boy)

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Example #2: ça (this/that)

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Example #3: reçu (receipt)

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Example #4: façon (way)

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Example #5: soupçon (suspicion)

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The “g” sound

This is a similar rule as to “c”, whereby the “g” sound changes to “j” depending on the next character:

  • “g” sound if in front of “a”, “o”, “u”
  • “j” sound if in front of “e”, “i”.

”g” as in “garçon”

Example #1: garçon (boy)

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Example #2: grise (grey)

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Example #3: gorge (throat)

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Example #4: guitare (guitar)

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Example #5: aigu / aigüe (sharp)

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”g” as in “girafe”

Example #1: girafe (giraffe)

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Example #2: neige (snow)

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Example #3: gingembre (ginger)

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Example #4: genre (gender)

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Example #5: génial (brilliant)

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“h” as in ... nothing

You must have noticed that common error made by the French when they speak English, with words beginning with “h”. We, me included, often forget to pronounce the letter. Why? Because in French we just don’t! Now you know why we struggle with it in English!

Example #1: haut (high)

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Example #2: dehors (outside)

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Example #3: cohérent (coherent)

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Example #4: histoire (history)

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Example #5: hôtel (hotel)

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“j” as in “joie de vivre”

Unlike in English, in which “j” is pronounced with a “d” sound, the “j” French sound is not. Let’s see what that is like!

Example #1: juillet (July)

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Example #2: jeudi (Thursday)

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Example #3: joie (joy)

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Example #4: aujourd’hui (today)

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Example #5: jupe (skirt)

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"q" as in "bouquet"

Often pronounced "kw" in English, the “q” sound is simply pronounced "k" in French.

Example #1: bouquet (bouquet)

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Example #2: qui (who)

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Example #3: queue (tail)

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Example #4: qualité premium (quality)

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Example #5: quota (quota)

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The notoRRRious "r" with a little bit of “g”

Now it is time to play with the back of your mouth and try to pronounce the infamous French Rrrrrr.

Example #1: très (very)

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Example #2: opéra (opera)

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Example #3: cohérent (coherent)

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Example #4: gorge (throat)

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Example #5: histoire (history)

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"s" as in "misérable"

Because rules without exceptions wouldn’t be fun, below one exception of the “s” sound.
This is simple: "s" is pronounced "z" when between two vowels.

Example #1: misérable (unfortunate)

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Example #2: musique (music)

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Example #3: assise (sit)

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Example #4: fraise (strawberry)

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Example #5: grise (grey)

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"ch" as in "champagne"

The "ch" sound is the equivalent to the "sh" sound in English. In French, there is no "t" sound in "ch".

Example #1: champagne (champagne)

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Example #2: chapeau (hat)

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Example #3: chouette (owl)

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Example #4: chez (home)

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Example #5: cochon (pig)

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"gn" as in "Cologne"

Another typical French sound, is the “gn” sound, pronounced as:

Example #1: eau de cologne (cologne)

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Example #2: champagne (champagne)

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Example #3: gagner (to win)

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Example #4: montagne (montain)

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Example #5: agneau (lamb)

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The “p”, “t”, “k” sounds

I don’t know if you have noticed this fact, but in English the common thing between the letters "p", "t" and "k" is that there are aspirated, with a "h" sound at the end. Remember, in French there is, no “h” sound!

Example #1: porte (door)

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Example #2: pantalon (trousers)

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Example #3: koala (koala)

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Example #4: karaté (karate)

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Example #5: café (coffee)

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I hope that you have enjoyed reading and listening to the French pronunciation and that its secrets are now exposed!

The next step, is to go a little further and understand the rules behind the pronunciation, in order to do this, I would recommend that you read How to Speak French - The Ultimate Guide to French Pronunciation on Speechling. It explains in details how to position your tongue, how to do the nasal sound etc.

As an exercice to check if you have got the pronunciation correct, register yourself and compare it to the audio examples presented in this article.

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Ludwine Probst

Ludwine Probst

Teaching is something I have always enjoyed. It is a perfect way to meet different people and share life experiences. I am currently teaching French and watercolour painting in London.

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