Why is French a difficult language to learn?
If you’re new to learning French or are considering learning the language you may have heard people warning you that it’s very hard. My name is David Issokson and I’m an online French teacher.
I’ll be very upfront with you right now and say, “Yes, French is indeed very hard!” In this article I’d like to talk about what exactly makes French so difficult. My goal here is to show you some of the tricky aspects to learning French then offer some potential solutions which may help you.
1. The Pronunciation Seems Impossible
In my estimation the single hardest aspect to learning French is the pronunciation. This is because there are a lot of sounds that simply don’t exist in the English language. In the beginning learning to say these sounds might seem very awkward and frustrating.
Personally, I think taking an online course such as À Moi Paris would help because they have an amazing pronunciation section. Also, I’d suggest finding a good online teacher as I specialize in French pronunciation training and could help you to overcome accent issues.
2. The Words All Run Into Each Other
This is a big complaint that I get all the time from both beginners and even intermediate and advanced students. The reason that it’s hard to tell when one word stops and another starts is because words literally run into one another due to something called the “liason”.
This is when one word ends with a consonant and the following word starts with a vowel. The two words become connected in order to sound nicer to the listener’s ear.
Furthermore, what makes this difficult is that it’s very easy to forget to do the liason when it’s required. Again, I specialize in helping in this area in my online lessons.
3. The Verbs Are A Total Nightmare
One aspect to learning French that you cannot get around is learning verb conjugations. This means learning the endings of the verbs depending on who is speaking (I, you, he/she, etc.)
Learning how to conjugate verbs is totally foreign for English speakers who have never learned a foreign language. What’s more, there are no short cuts in this area.
While some teachers might like to suggest quick loopholes and shortcuts, my experience is that the best results are obtained through learning the old-fashioned way: memorization, repetition and finally application in the real world.
4. I Can’t Stand The Masculine-Feminine Thing!
One aspect to learning French that’s outright baffling to students is the gender of nouns. This means that some nouns are masculine and are proceeded with “Le” for the word “the” and some nouns are feminine and are proceeded by “La”.
Unlike Spanish, where it’s easy to distinguish masculine and feminine because the feminine words tend to end in “a”, there’s no hard and fast gender rules in French.
While there are lots of patterns there are also a ton of exceptions. So, again memorization is required here.
That said, I will say that after some time learning French (maybe nine months to one year) you should develop a sense of which words sound masculine and which words sound feminine.
5. The Prepositions Give Me A Headache!
Another area where many people struggle is learning French prepositions. One of the main reasons that they’re so hard is because you have to memorize the gender (masculine or feminine) of the noun that they’re introducing.
Also, you must consider whether the noun is singular or plural. For example, If you say, “I’m going to Canada” and “I’m going to France” the word for “to” would be “au” for the Canada because it’s masculine and “en” for France because France is feminine.
A lot of students also get confused over which word to use for “in” because there are two words: “en” and “dans”, with specific rules dictating when to use which word. This page covers en vs. dans.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to prepositions. There are other instances where verbs are “married” to various prepositions such as “de” (from) and “à” (to) and this also causes a ton of stress for students.
One great resource for this is the book, “Practice Makes Perfect: French Pronouns and Prepositions“. I also spend lots of time on prepositions in my private lessons.
Learning to speak French isn’t exactly easy but at the same time it’s not impossible. I’ve just come up with five areas where students struggle and offered some common-sense solutions. What’s been your experience with common difficulties learning French? Please let me know in the comments section below!
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