5 reasons why is French so hard

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.

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 Rocket French 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Conclusion

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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Comments

  1. Kevin Joseph says

    be objective here verbs are a nightmare in every romance language and prepositions also don’t work the same way in every language..as for pronounciation try learning arabic,chinese or a scandanavian language i can tell you they are harder than french ,as for the rest exposure is the key to many people play into this myth about french being one of the hardest language on the planet especially the french themselves i wonder why anyone would consider learning it if they keep hearing only negative things and not the ways it is easier

  2. It is quite difficult, writing it is even worse! Practice makes perfect though! 🙂

  3. Il me faut presque une décennie pour étudier le dialecte et une année pour étudier la grammaire, ce n’est pas facile. Nous devons être plus exposés quand nous parlons français.

  4. I wasted a lot of time and money on French, and wish I had gone German instead. I gave up on learning a foreign language. I don’t have a pressing need to do so, and I’ve already wasted enough of my life on it. Thanks French 🙁

    I think the pronunciation is enough to scratch French off the list, IMO. It’s at least as hard as German cases.

    I got up to B1 level, and I’ll never revisit it. The sooner I forget, the better. I grew to dislike it that much… …

    There are a lot of details about German that make it much more logical and easier to pick up than French:

    – 500% easier pronunciation
    – More logical spelling
    – Lots of shared vocabulary with English (and shared etymologies with words we actually use a TON when talking amongst ourselves)
    – Modal Verbs are quite similar to English
    – Prepositions are often similar to English, and used similarly as well
    – Massively simpler verb conjugation system, and more regular (more similar to that of English)
    – Simpler Verb Tense System. Compound tenses are somewhat similar to English, as well.
    – Word Stress (makes it quite natural for Anglophones), no maddening obsession with Liaison and Elision. More Germanic intonation.
    – Prefixed and Separable Verbs often resemble English Prepositional and Phrasal verbs (i.e. “Put on some clothes.” = “Put some clothes on.”)
    – After you get a decent base vocabulary in German, you gain hundreds (if not thousands) of free words due to Germanic language tendency to create vocabulary via compounding (English does this a lot as well, i.e. “Cheesecake” = Cheese + Cake; “Käsekuchen” = Käse + Kuchen).

    I so regret choosing French. I feel like I threw away my opportunity to learn an L2, Lol.

    I bought into the “French is easy cause so many words are similar.” and “German is hard because of Cases and Articles.” B.S./F.U.D.

  5. Untrue. Most Anglophones say French is the easiest language to learn due to “shared vocabulary,” when vocabulary is easily acquired if you gain proficiency in the language. The thing is many people are too optimistic about the French phonetic system, the orthography, or the verb conjugations. Simple things we take for granted, like conjunctions and prepositions are also quite different in French, and actually more easily acquired when Anglophones study Germanic languages like German, Swedish, or Danish.

    Native speakers will always try to pass their language off as the most difficult thing ever. They do it to make themselves look better for speaking it well.

    Foreigners will continue to say English is the easiest language on the planet, even as they butcher it while saying this… Simply because they were forced to learn it for several years at school and had tons of exposure foisted upon them.

    That is all common sense.

    The part that isn’t is the actual difficulty of the French language. The shared vocabulary is overrated to such an extent that the actual truth of the difficulty of the language often goes completely unmentioned by people pushing it. Do a search for “French is difficult” and you’ll be inundated with Benny Lewis B.S. about how easy French is, and other crap on the internet basically saying the same thing.

    Usually by people selling courses and materials 😉

    Once you actually start seriously learning the language, and trying to communicate with other people… You learn that it isn’t nearly as “easy” as people have made it out to be.

    My recommendation is to take an immersion class as soon as possible. From the beginning, if you can; go straight into one.

  6. Kevin Joseph says

    i have never heard that at all most anglophones would tell you that french is the most difficult romance language and spanish is the easiest there is no such thing asand easy language without work and i never said french was easy all i said was that theirare languages are that are more challenging and french verbs are not any more difficult than their other romance languages
    and the oetography of french is something that can be learnt rather quickly

  7. French’s orthography is only slightly better than English, because it’s more regular. It’s still terrible and it’s not about how quickly it can be learned. Learning how something is supposed to be is quite different than if you have to open a book and read in front of class.

    There are tons of silent letters, tons of clusters of consonants that form one sound (upwards of 5 letters), and tons of exceptions. Liaison, elision, etc.

    Most people will say Spanish is easier only because the pronunciation and orthography are significantly easier than French. That’s about it. Spanish doesn’t really have any grammatical advantages over French. There are 2 verbs for 2 be, the subjunctive is WAY more prominent in Spanish, and even more verb forms to learn than French. French is actually an easier language than French, Grammatically.

    The reason why people say Spanish is easier, is because of the easier pronunciation. People overrate ease when they can speak the language without sounding like Shrek. Welcome to the real world.

    But many people learning language go for French because the shared vocabulary with English is absolutely overrated to extreme proportions. People like that they can look at a French book and recognize a ton of words, and polyglots on the internet are very aggressive in touting French as an easier language than Spanish for this reason.

    French is, grammatically, easier than Spanish. Vocabulary-wise, French is easier than Spanish. But the phonetics pretty much eat into 75% of those advantages.

    And, like any other romance language, it’s base functional vocabulary is still far foreign to English speakers.

    Do you realize how absolutely exhausting it is to read your massive run-on sentence of a reply?

  8. Kevin Joseph says

    every language has it’s difficulties and peculiarities german also has many difficulties too

  9. PitchforkRebellion says

    Anybody who thinks learning French is easy is either lying or gifted linguistically. Believe me I have been studying this language intensely for well over 10 years. When I read I look up every word I do not understand and I’ve practically been reading it virtually every day for 10 years. That said I do all this French language learning to keep my mind active and I am very passionate about it. Remember there are 4 element to learning a language. Speaking, reading, writing and understanding it when it is spoken all of which present their own particular problems. If you want to learn this language well you will need tons of passion and determination. Best of luck.

  10. Crystal Gemini says

    To be honest, being born in Montreal Quebec, I had to learn french from the start. Learning it while you’re young is easier. I’ve been juggling three different languages since I knew how to talk. Mandarin Chinese, English and French.

  11. Victor Alexis says

    I learned Spanish fluently in a year. I took French classes for 2 years and moved to France and my French is still awful. Spanish is better. I guess that’s why it’s the most spoken language (aside from the Spanish Empire having been the most powerful in the world for centuries) and nobody in comparison speaks French.

  12. In my experience French is devilishly difficult. I’m been studying off and on for years. And have been using duolingo for 15 to 20 minutes a day, without missing a day, for well over a year. I feel no closer to being able to compose a thought than when I started. Although my reading comprehension has certainly gone up.

    I am daily confounded by bizarre features I can’t explain. This one baffles me:

    Je l’ai appelée, means, I called her.
    Je l’ai appelé, means, I called him.

    Think about that for a moment. The additional e in the first is inaudible. So listening these two are indistinguishable. Aka, when it matters which gender you’re talking about the gender cannot be discerned. But in all the other places where gender is audible it doesn’t matter as far as meaning is concerned. A table is a table, there is no useful information in knowing that it’s LA table.

    In the above example, what does the l’ even stand for? The most important part has been elided. Is it there for “le”, “la” or “lui”? I know that adjectives and articles and other things have to “agree” in gender. But, what is it that appelé is supposed to agree with? My initial guess was that it should agree with “je”, but je could be either gender depending on who’s speaking.

    And don’t even get me started on the fact that “l’ai” sounds exactly the same as “les”.

    The whole thing is so confusing. French is truly the devil’s language. I mean, compare it to the equivalents in english. I called her. I called him. Would could be easier than that?

  13. Desalpages says

    Je français n’est pas difficile, je le parle couramment depuis mon enfance……

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