What Are the Most Difficult Aspects of Learning French for English Speakers?

HAve you ever thought about learning French? Being one of the top ten most spoken and widely learned languages in the world, French is a heavyweight contender when it comes to learning a new language.

It’s definitely one of the easiest languages to learn for native English speakers to learn because of their shared history and Latin-based vocabulary. In addition, it’s one of the most influential, profitable languages at the moment, with a strong presence in some of the most advanced economies in the world.

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However, before you jump to the conclusion that learning French will be a breeze, take into account these challenges you may face when studying the langage de l’amour:

1. Pronunciation and accents

If you’ve ever attempted to learn French, you will probably agree that a top challenge English speakers face when perfecting this language is pronunciation. That nasal ‘r’ in words such as ‘frère’ (brother), for example, can really drive a foreign speaker crazy:

But why is French pronunciation so tricky for English speakers?

Simply because we’ve been using our speech organs differently since we were toddlers. In English, for example, the back of the throat (which is an essential organ in French phonetics) is rarely used to produce sounds. For this reason, getting lots of extra practice in the pronunciation of difficult letters will come in handy when tackling French.

Whether you travel to France for romantic or business purposes, you’ll want to be sure to nail each sound. My tip? Study hard, get as much exposure to the language as you can —French movies, podcasts, and make great learning companions— and above all, no skimping! A little extra accent over those final ‘e’ sounds could change the entire dynamic of your pronunciation!

2. Spelling

If French orthography sometimes strikes you as madly inconsistent, you’re not crazy. Unlike other Romance languages like Italian and Spanish, French is quite particular in terms of spelling. Consider the following spelling-to-sound rarities:

  1. Different groups of vowels have the same pronunciation — e.g. au and eau, eaux
  2. There are unpronounced letters at the end of most words — e.g. parfum, trop, froid, vous, poulet, prix, chez
  3. There are a few special letters that are non-existent in English: ê, î, ï, ô, ç, é, è, á, à.
  4. The letter h is silent at the beginning of words and before vowels  —e.g. herbe (grass) and huile (oil)

In a language where entire chunks of words go unpronounced, letters are dropped in speaking but still insist on making an appearance in the written version, so it is important to get expert feedback on both your speaking and your writing to track your progress. Review the spelling basics, quiz yourself as you go to acquire a strong grasp of the written and spoken word, and don’t forget to book a free lesson with one of our native teachers.

3. Gender

The use of gender (the masculine and feminine form of a word) is something English speakers don’t have to deal with in their language. As a result, it’s a bit confusing when you hear that you should use “la” for the moon (la lune), and “le” for the sun (le soleil).

Unfortunately, there is no easy rule or trick to remembering the gender of most French words. After all, there is nothing about objects such as tables, houses or books that make them essentially masculine or feminine. This means that you will have to familiarise yourself with this challenging aspect of French as you go along. It’s a case of ‘practice makes perfect’; once speaking in French comes to you naturally, using the right gender for a subject will also be an automatic, intuitive process that you won’t even have to think about.

4. ‘To be’ vs. ‘To have’

Undoubtedly, you’ll be introduced toêtre’ (be) early on in your studies; it is the common verb French people use when they’re telling people where they are from or what they do for a living:

Ma mère est australienne (My mother is Australian)
Je suis enseignant (I am a teacher)

However, if you want to express certain feelings, être’ will not do. So say bonjour to ‘avoir’ (to have).

In English, we use ‘be’ for a variety of feelings and states: I am cold, she is thirsty, they are hot. When you start learning French, however, you have to wrap your head around the concept of having feelings, rather than just feeling things. For example:

J’ai froid. (I have cold)

Elle a faim (She has hunger)

Il a soif (He has thirst)

As usual, learning a new language is not just about learning how to pronounce difficult sounds. It’s also an opportunity to see and think about things in a different way! Once you are able to have a fluent conversation in this beautiful language you will see that all the small trials and tribulations that come with learning are totally worth it.

So, why not get started today? Practice these 4 points repeatedly, and you’ll be parlez-vous-ing the language of love in no time!

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Do you want to learn faster? Contact Language Trainers today and get in touch with a native tutor who will be delighted to guide you through the learning process. Whether you want to perfect your accent or get some extra help with the feminine vs. male gender nouns, remember that practice makes perfect! Talk to a professional tutor today and take your French to the next level.