Phoneticians jib at calling a language “phonetic”. What you really mean, we tell our beginner students, is that the writing system is phonemic, faithfully representing the pronunciation of the language. (To us all languages are phonetic in the trivial sense that all languages are spoken and therefore have a phonetics that can be described.)
Adams is unaffected by our preciseness of language.Quite apart from the uncertainties and indeterminacies of its orthography, French is also particularly difficult for speakers of English to pronounce. It sometimes seems as if almost everything that could be different is different: there is no contrastive lexical stress, the voiceless plosives are unaspirated, the vowels — all monophthongs — include front rounded vowels and nasalized vowels, the schwa is (i) rounded and (ii) appears and disappears in complicated ways depending on the surrounding sounds.
For schwa, I think Adams’s wording could have been clearer.
In spoken French, when the letter e with no accent is the only vowel-letter in a syllable and it ends the syllable or word, it is usually silent:
mouvement [muvmɑ̃] médecin [medsɛ̃] ville [vil]
This silent vowel-letter is called mute e. In singing, it is generally pronounced, transcribed as /ə/ (schwa), and sounded as /œ/…
…When a mute e ends a word and the next word begins with a vowel or h, the e is never sounded in speech or singing.
elle est [ɛlɛ] comme a [kɔma]
fatigue amoureuse [fatiɡ amurøːz(ə)]
That might suffice for someone who already knows about the evanescent schwa, but not I think for a beginner who doesn’t know much French. And surely comme a ought to be comme à.
For “nasal” (= nasalized) vowels, Adams rightly warns English speakers not to include an unwanted nasal consonant in words such as onde [õːd(ə)], lamente [lamɑ̃ːt(ə)], impossible [ɛ̃pɔsibl(ə)], embarquer [ɑ̃barke], encore [ɑ̃kɔːr(ə)] (“not [ɑ̃ŋkɔːr(ə)]”).
I am not convinced by Adams’s advice on how to pronounce ɥ. But surely the crucial thing is not the timing of the lip movement, it’s the position of the body of the tongue (front, not back).
Any discussion of French consonants must make a distinction between consonant sounds and consonant-letters, since the letters are often silent.
Hear, hear. Adams devotes over twenty pages to the French consonants, with a comprehensive discussion of the difficult issue of liaison. (I have to confess I wasn’t aware that final c is silent in estomac [ɛstɔma] and tabac [taba]. I did know it isn’t in sec [sɛk] and Poulenc [pulɛ̃ːk].)
For r in French art songs and opera, Adams recommends a tap, ɾ (or rather what he calls “a flip of the tongue”). However, “judicious use of the uvular sound has recently become accepted in some circles for classical singing”.