Are you thinking about picking up French? Did you just start learning French?
Then you’ve no doubt asked yourself “Is French hard to learn?”, which is a valid question.
As a French coach, I know that French can be daunting at first. But you shouldn’t let that stop you, if learning French is really what you want.
In this article, you’ll see:
- Why is French considered a difficult language to learn
- Why French isn’t as difficult as you think
- How you can overcome this myth
Let’s dive in!
Why is French hard to learn?
Learning any language is filled with various difficulties, whether or not you already have experience with foreign languages.
Let’s see the several reasons why most people consider French hard to learn.
There are 3 verb groups in French:
- Group 1: Verbs ending in -er
- Group 2: Verbs ending in -ir
- Group 3: Irregular verbs that don’t belong in the first two groups
Most of the verbs in Group 1 and Group 2 follow specific conjugation rules for every tense.
You’ll just need to learn which endings to use with which pronouns to conjugate your verb correctly.
For example, if you take a verb ending in -er, the rule is to remove the -er and to replace it with the following endings for the present tense. Let’s take the verb chanter (to sing).
|Je chante||I sing|
|Tu chantes||You sing|
|Il/Elle chante||He/She sings|
|Nous chantons||We sing|
|Vous chantez||You sing|
|Ils/Elles chantent||They sing|
Such verbs are easy to handle, once you know the rules that go with it.
However, the tricky part of French is that many verbs don’t end in -er or -ir.
Therefore, you have no choice but to learn their conjugated forms by heart, because there’s no specific pattern to follow.
And, as if it wasn’t enough, you’ll also find a few irregular verbs in Group 1 and Group 2!
So keep this in mind throughout your learning journey: The French language does love irregular verbs and exceptions to the rules.
Just because you learned the general rule doesn’t mean it will apply to every case, you’ll come across a lot of exceptions.
Learning how to deal with those exceptions will only come with time and experience, so be prepared.
French pronunciation is also considered to be a difficult aspect of the language.
Some sounds might simply not be present in your mother tongue, making them difficult to reproduce. For example, many English speakers struggle with the “U” sound, because it doesn’t exist in English.
Other sounds might exist in your language but they are pronounced differently, so you end up pronouncing them the way you’re used to. For example, many learners have a hard time with the “R” sound in French.
On top of these challenges, there’s another one: When speaking, words tend to merge into a single speech stream.
So you need to learn to distinguish individual words in a sentence. To do that, there’s no secret: You’ll have to practice your listening skills.
Understanding spoken French can admittedly be difficult. That’s because natives speak fluently, as in fast, which sometimes makes it hard to catch what they are saying.
Immersion in the French language (with audio, videos or lively conversations) will help you overcome this challenge.
French spelling can also be complicated to grasp. That’s because French is rarely spoken the way it’s written.
When you see a French word for the first time, you’ll try to say it a certain way by pronouncing the sounds associated with the letters you’re seeing.
Chances are, if you’ve never heard that word before, you won’t be pronouncing it correctly.
For example, try to pronounce the word oiseau (bird) in French. Go ahead, just give it a try for the next 30 seconds.
Now, listen to the pronunciation here (click on the little sound icon next to the word).
You see, none of the letters are pronounced the way you thought! It’s wa-zo.
That’s why you should practice reading and listening in French at the same time, to be able to associate the right pronunciation with the word you’re reading.
False friends are common among the languages using the Latin alphabet (the letters you’re reading now).
They are words that confuse you, because they look similar, but they have a different meaning.
For example, the French word actuellement doesn’t mean “actually”, it means “currently”. It’s just one of the many false friends that confuse native English speakers who learn French.
Gender and agreement
While some languages, like English, are genderless, it’s not the case of French.
A French noun is either masculine or feminine. This applies to all French nouns, without exception!
Knowing the appropriate gender helps you determine the correct article to use before the noun.
It’s also crucial if you want to build a grammatically correct sentence in French.
Why? Because gender has an impact on the pronouns, the adjectives and the verbs you’ll need to use.
To learn how to master this very important part of French grammar, check out my guide on French noun gender.
Why French isn’t as hard to learn as you think
Objectively, French is not more difficult to learn than any other Western European languages.
If we compare French with English, we can say that in terms of complexity of study, they are approximately equal.
If you’re a native English speaker or if you already know English well, French is even one of the easiest languages to learn for you.
To know more, check out how long it takes to learn French. You’ll discover it doesn’t take that long!
How to deal with the myth “Is French hard to learn”?
One great way to overcome this myth is what I call the “child method”.
When a child learns to speak, they babble and mimic, without thinking about pronunciation or verb conjugations, or anything else really.
At the beginning, be like a child! Soak up the language by listening to a lot of French content and mimic what you hear as best as you can.
This mimic approach is quite powerful because it helps you understand unconsciously the way the French language is built.
After a while, you often start making connections on your own and figure things out for yourself.
And to make your learning easier and faster, check out the best ways to learn French to get better every day!
The bottom line
Now you have the answer to the question “Is French hard to learn?”.
The cliché that French is a difficult language comes from its many rules and exceptions, as well as its pronounciation, spelling and grammar.
But every language possesses its own challenges and requires a lot of effort to master.
Overcoming the difficult aspects of French is no different.
So learn the basics, discover the many exceptions, practice your French skills, and you’ll soon find that learning French isn’t as hard as you’ve been told.