This is the question I often read from various students learning French. So, I decided to uncover if there is any truth in the way they perceive the language.
French is considered by the US language department a language relatively easy to learn and is placed in category one. This classification is justified by the fact that English shares around 45% of its words with French. If you compare French with other languages like Arabic and Chinese, there is no doubt which one is the easiest to learn.
Even so, French still seems quite a complicated language for some who end up giving up after numerous failed efforts to master it.
Why? Is the question. Let’s look at a few reasons.
First and foremost, the pronunciation.
French has much more vowel sound combinations than other romance languages like Italian or Spanish, and many of these combinations are new to English speakers. They then seem difficult to master, and a longer time is required to do so. Italian and Spanish are phonetic languages, meaning that you know how to pronounce a word by looking at their written form. There is a direct relationship between the spelling and the sound.
Another scary aspect is the pronunciation of the French ‘R’.
There is no existing similar sound in the English language. It is one of the two most difficult sounds for most foreign students.
The ‘R’ is a guttural sound meaning it’s a hard-sounding sound produced in the back of the throat, whilst the English ‘R’ is pronounced in the middle of the mouth. On the other hand, the Spanish ‘R’ is pronounced in the front of the mouth.
The French ‘R’ sounds more as though you’re washing your mouth and throat with a liquid that is kept in motion by breathing through it with gurgling sound, just like when you have a gargle of mouthwash.
Here are a few French words with ‘R’.
Click on the links to hear the words pronounced in French.
The other difficult sound in French is ‘U’.
The unaccented ‘U’ and the ‘U’ with accent circonflexe ‘Û’ are pronounced with the lips tightly pursed.‘U’ Click on the link to hear the pronunciation.
Once again, there is no equivalent sound in English so, it’s essential to listen to it in various occasions, especially when expressed by native speakers, so that your ear can get familiar with the sound and practice repeating it numerous times until you get it right.
Example of French words.
Click on the links to hear the words.
The other complaint students frequently voice out is that they can’t understand when they are interacting with native speakers in an every day life conversation. The answer is simple. In a classroom situation, the teacher purposefully speaks in a slow voice so that the student can understand every part of the conversation. The speaking exercises are always carried out with limited vocabulary, allowing the practice of the new words that have just been taught. On the other hand, in normal day to day conversations, the natives usually speak fast, and use all sort of vocabulary and complex sentences, and what is worst, the pronunciation of these words will be totally different. Very often certain syllables are even omitted.
Another hurdle is the word gender.
French nouns are either masculine or feminine, and gender is determined either by the definite article (the) or the indefinite article(a/an).
A practical way to simplify things is to learn all new vocabulary with the definite or indefinite article attached to the word, so that it becomes second nature to know their gender.
French has two genders:
Imagine you’re learning the word ‘chair’ in French. Instead of learning the word on it’s own learn
The chair = la chaise
A chair= une chaise
It is important to know the gender of a word, because if you get it wrong your sentence will be wrong in its entirety because the adjectives take the gender of the noun they are describing.
Let’s take the ‘chair’ example again, if I want to say
‘the big chair’ it will be ‘la grande chaise’ in French (feminine) as opposed to ‘the big boat’
’le grand bateau’ (masculine).
As you can see, there are a few differences between English and French, but this should not stop you. Even with its tricky pronunciation French is easier than a lot more languages.
Here are a few ways to succeed at learning French.
You should have a clear idea of the reasons why you’re learning the language. Imagine yourself speaking French effortlessly with the locals in your next trip to France or getting this promotion you’ve been longing for so long. Keep this image constantly in your mind when you fill like giving up.
Find out the amount of time a day you can dedicate to your language study. Integrate this time around all your other daily activities (work, house chore, family care, entertainment etc). never juggle too many balls at once, or you will give up.
Persistence and perseverance are the name of the game
It’s better to do 15-30 minutes daily in a consistent way. If you persevere you will soon see results.
If you need accountability to help you keep motivated, maybe the best you can do is to book a course at a college or university where you can have the support of the teacher and peers.,
If you are an independent learner, try an online course.
Always practice what you’ve just learned.
Join online language forums, or other clubs combining your hobbies and your target language. Practice what you’ve just learned, even at a beginner’s stage and you will see how fast your listening and speaking abilities will grow.
Mistakes are an indicative that you’re trying. Mistakes always happen in language studies because it’s the only genuine way to learn and move forward.
Is French that difficult to learn?
I don’t think so, if you do not take the eye of the ball.
If you’re an intermediate French learner and feel that you’re stuck, and you want to loose the fear of speaking, click on to the link below and register for my workshop: Loose the fear of speaking French (Build an effective language learning plan for success).