French is easier than most people think.
But there are some common hurdles.
You might have already encountered some of these challenges in your French course and found it difficult.
In this article, I’ll outline four of the trickiest things about learning the French language, and how to get past them as an English speaker.
Is French hard to learn?
Four common things that you might have found difficult when learning French are gender agreement, pronunciation, verb conjugation and silent letters.
But how challenging are each of these aspects really?
Read on and I’ll cover each one in detail.
French nouns and adjectives (gender agreement)
If you’re learning French as a complete novice, one of the first things you’ll encounter early on is that all nouns (that’s objects, things and people) are assigned a gender in French.
Unlike in English, where all nouns can be identified with a neutral article “the” or “a” or “an”, in French we must remember that nouns must be identified with either le or la, un or une.
What’s more, the adjectives we use to describe each French noun must match the gender of the noun. Let’s look at a quick example.
If you wanted to say “the pretty girl” in French, you’d need to remember that “girl” is a feminine noun in French that must be assigned a feminine adjective. Here’s how to say it in French:
La jolie fille.
These basic principles of learning the French language might make you answer “yes” when wondering “is French hard to learn?”.
You might think that to a native French speaker, you’ll give yourself away as a novice if you’re using the wrong adjective to describe a masculine or feminine noun.
Tips for learning gender and adjective agreement in French
But, wait! It doesn’t have to be so tricky!
Did you know that the majority of the French adjectives can be easily modified to create their feminine version?
Take the adjective joli, all we have to do if we want to create the feminine adjective (used to describe feminine nouns) is to add an -e to the end of it.
Now, if you want to know the secret of learning the gender of each noun, and which article to use, we recommend that you learn the gender of the noun alongside the noun itself from the very beginning.
Never learn a noun without its article.
If you look it up in a translator, translate the entire word with its article. If you look it up in a dictionary, jot down whether it’s masculine or feminine.
For instance, instead of maison, always learn la maison. Instead of fille, try to memorise la fille. It will make adding adjectives to your sentences much easier and will help you clear one of the first hurdles when wondering whether French is hard to learn.
English words of French origin and pronunciation
The second thing to watch out for when thinking “is French hard to learn” is the pronunciation of words.
The French accent, as many people claim, can be challenging and might frighten you a little bit as a native English speaker.
Guess what, though?
There are so many English words of French origin that will make this easier!
The English language has borrowed up to 40%, perhaps 45% of French words. This means that approximately 80,000 English words already exist in the French language.
Some of the most common French words that have been adopted into the English language include:
The fact is, since so many French words have been assimilated into the English language, this will make recognising them in their written form so much easier!
You’ll definitely have no problems when reading the nouns of the French language with a little bit of practice.
What you might find a bit challenging is the pronunciation.
This might give us a slightly different answer to the question “is French hard to learn?”
Because, even though there are so many English words of French origin, they are all pronounced in a completely different way. And one of the most challenging things about French is the French accent.
French pronunciation tips
Working on French pronunciation from the very beginning is crucial.
Words might seem to blend or blur together so it’s important that you try to listen to French audios and listen to how French natives pronounce each word.
Break it down into the individual sounds and unique vowel sounds that make up each word and then try to imitate them.
Always listen to audios and French films that suit your level of expertise. There’s no point in listening to intermediate-level audios if you’re an absolute beginner.
And if you’re starting at level zero, listening to French audios or French podcasts with French subtitles can help you immerse yourself into the language.
French verbs: Conjugations and verb forms
The third factor that you’ll encounter when learning French as a beginner, which might make you think that French is hard to learn, are the tricky verb conjugations!
We’re going to step in straight away and say that French verb conjugations can be hard to learn, especially when writing in French, because in spoken French you’ll find this easier.
So, again, if you’re wondering if French is hard to learn, verb conjugation is one of those things that will take getting used to when writing, but not so much in speaking.
Let’s use the verb “to walk” or marcher to see why.
When we conjugate the verb marcher in French, this is what we get:
|French Pronoun||Verb Conjugation Marcher|
Okay, when we listen to the pronunciation of four of these conjugated verbs—the je, tu, il/elle and ils/elles conjugations - they all sound so similar that it’s very difficult to notice the difference!
Run them through a translator and listen. You’ll notice they all sound like the first conjugation marche.
Since there are several verbs like this one, where the pronunciation of these verbs sound similar, you can kind of…sort of get away with making errors when speaking!
Just put the pronoun before your verb and you French speakers might not notice if you’ve made an error.
But you should try to learn the subtle differences between the pronunciation of these verbs, so listen to audios and model your pronunciation on French native speakers.
Tips for French verb conjugation
When you’re writing in French, though, it’s a different story. You’re going to need to practice the verb conjugations until you’re confident.
Putting in the work in this respect is quite important, and you can do this with flashcards.
Get your hands on a stack of blank flashcards and on one side you’ll need to write the six verb conjugations of a verb of your choice.
On the other side of each card, you’ll need to write the English form of those French verbs.
As you start to practice with your stack of flashcards, you’ll begin to remember what these conjugations translate to.
You can then start using them in exercises where you’ll need to fill in the missing conjugated verb.
So, is French hard to learn in terms of the conjugations? The answer is…only a little bit. Don’t let it discourage you!
A little bit of work on a regular basis can help you master French verb conjugation, so don’t worry too much about it!
Silent letters and pronunciation: What to watch out for
Here’s the final factor to consider with French difficulty: those challenging silent letters.
Just how difficult are they when learning how to speak French as a beginner?
In French, we have a few letters that are classed as silent letters. These types of letters are not pronounced in certain circumstances.
These silent letters can be grouped into different types to help you.
Tips for French silent letters
Silent letters have their own rules that can help you learn French more easily and practice pronouncing—or not pronouncing silent letters.
Here are two of the rules to keep in mind when learning.
- Consonants that are found at the end of a word are normally not pronounced.
However there are a few exceptions to this rule. The letters r, q, l, f, c and b are all pronounced when you see them at the end of certain words.
So, in the word avec, the final letter c is pronounced. It’s ah-vekk, and not ah-veh.
- E and h are not pronounced when they are found at the beginning of words.
Sometimes when they’re at the end of a word. Take the word hôtel, or héros, in both of these cases, we don’t pronounce the letter h that comes at the beginning of each word.
We would say oh-tel to pronounce hôtel and eh-rho to pronounce héros.
How to make learning French easier
If you want to learn French, here are four general tips to keep in mind.
Think about why you want to learn French and use this as motivation
Having the right motivation is vital to long-term success with French.
You might be moving to a French speaking country and need to speak French within two years. You might be moving with a partner and want to speak with their family.
Keep this motivator in your sights and think about it when things get difficult.
Create a personal progress plan to mark off your achievements
Goals are critical when learning French.
If you want to learn a certain number of words during a week, give yourself a target. Make sure the target isn’t too impossible to achieve. For instance, if you want to learn how to conjugate 25 verbs in French, break this down into achievable goals.
Then revisit those verbs or the words you have learned and revise them.
Put what you learn into practice in real-life scenarios
Reading, writing, listening and speaking are the four key areas of learning French.
Try to read a certain amount of French, practice your writing, listen to French music, dialogues, or podcasts that are appropriate for your level, and of course, speak with French natives (use italki).
Real-life practice will help you remember what you’ve learned.
Practice your weaker skills daily
You might be less confident at speaking than you are at writing.
Listening might be a huge struggle due to the French accent. You might not be confident at reading in French. Whatever your weaker areas are, make sure that you practice these areas and vary the tasks you use to perfect them.
This will keep you entertained while you learn French.
French is easy
French is as hard as you make it.
With the right amount of work and motivation, you’ll find that you progress faster than you expected.
Every learner has their own individual weaknesses to work on to improve, but with consistency, you can master the French language.
Using high quality French language resources is vital, so check out the linked list as a starting point.
What’s your advice on learning French as an English speaker?