Learning any language is always a challenge, but the level of difficulty varies from one language to another. It is often said that French has impossible pronunciation and complex grammar… Is it true that French is a difficult language to speak? We have the answer!
What are the difficulties of a language?
There are several criteria that objectively define the difficulty of a language for a non-native speaker. These criteria are :
The writing system
Amongst French speakers, the Latin alphabet is widely known. But not for everyone. Other alphabets exist in the world: Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Thai… but also other writing systems, such as the Chinese ideograms (characters) also used in Japanese.
If your writing system is not the Latin alphabet, this can be a first difficulty.
Distance from our mother tongue
The further away we are from our mother tongue, the more difficult it becomes. For example, for French speakers, the further away we are from French and Latin languages, the more complex learning will seem.
Languages are also grouped into families. And, as in a family, the further away you are, the more complicated it is likely to be.
The construction of a language depends on several elements: the words order in a sentence, the number of genders, conjugation (variation of the form of a verb according to the tense and the subject of a sentence), the presence or absence of declensions (variation of the form of a noun, pronoun or adjective by gender for example : the face of a male person is : “his” face but in French face is feminine and the “owner” doesn’t dictate the pronoun’s gender) , masculine – feminine – neuter ( for example : a table is feminine so we use a feminine pronoun to designate it : “she is long”, exceptions to the rules…
The difficulty can therefore also come from the variety and complexity of these elements.
French is a language with a lot of conjugation, genders, and plurals, for example. On the other hand, the words order in a sentence is rather flexible, depending on the meanings you want to give it to.
Learning difficulties are therefore a question of perspective, desire, and motivation for learning.
Do the sounds of this new language exist in your own language? The fewer sounds we have in common, the more difficult it will be for the new speaker to understand and pronounce.
Some languages are tonal (words meaning depends on the tone of voice), like many Asian languages: Mandarin, Lao, Vietnamese, Thai… Other languages are written and spoken in almost the same way… However, French is not pronounced as it is written, and this is another difficulty…
What are the difficulties when learning a language?
When learning a new language, there are not only difficulties related to the language but also more personal challenges:
Fear of making mistakes
Accent and pronunciation, grammar, conjugation and vocabulary are not natural when learning a language different from your mother tongue. Remember that our first learning as children was visual and that listening, speaking and writing came much later.
It is therefore normal that you make mistakes at the beginning. But this difficulty in learning a language is actually an opportunity. Indeed, it is because you make mistakes that you will learn and be able to progress. Accept that you are like a child facing a new thing. Be spontaneous, don’t get stuck on a conjugation problem or a word that you don’t understand and look for solutions with your teacher, your classmates and your electronic devices.
Fear of being ridiculous
The fear of ridicule comes from the fear of making a mistake, of being different or a form of shyness. At the beginning, it is perfectly normal to hesitate about vocabulary, form, pronunciation, and intonation. A language cannot be learned in one day. 😊
Lack of real-life practice
What you learn in a classroom or on the Internet is not enough. You need to create opportunities for practice. In our school, for example, we offer homestays to share unique experiences that will help you progress and practice with native speakers.
Books, magazines, films, Netflix series, music, websites, travel: everything is good for progress. Seek out native speakers to practice your skills and learn from others. On online forums, you can meet other people who speak different languages, share your interests, find dedicated websites: there are many solutions, it’s up to you to choose the one that suits you best.
Forgetting what you learn
We learn in stages, in steps. And we forget: it is the normal process of learning. Indeed, learning a language is a bit like a social relationship with a person: a daily relationship based on continuity. It is not enough to make an effort once a week to deepen your knowledge, it is necessary to confront it every day, to maintain your knowledge and especially to use it.
Also remember that learning time should be counted in hours, not weeks or years!
Loss of motivation
Learning a language is also a question of motivation. Time, progress, repetition… all this can be demotivating. Learning a new language takes a long time, and if you were enthusiastic about the idea of learning a new language, your motivation can go as soon as the first difficulties arise. This is the time to gather your emotions. The important thing is to find reasons that will motivate you, and to keep them in mind as soon as the obstacles make you want to give up.
And don’t forget, a teacher is there to pass on his passion and his techniques, but only you will be able to give yourself all the motivation you need to continue your learning: a trip, a wedding, studies, a new job…
What are the French difficulties?
There are several reasons that can explain the difficulties of the French language. Let’s see what they are.
French has multiple origins
The French language is a Romance language. It is therefore derived from Latin. However, over the course of history, it has been influenced by Gallic, which is a Celtic language, particularly with terms such as “charrue”, “chêne”, “sillon”, etc. Later, French was influenced by Saxon languages, especially in the warrior lexicon.
Some words are common to almost all Latin languages except French. For example, “water” is said “agua” in Spanish, “água” in Portuguese, “acqua” in Italian, but “l’eau” in French, which is not the same root as the other Latin languages.
Later, and because of colonization, Arabic influenced French with words like “toubib, abricot, alcool, assassin, magasin…”.
French has a different pronunciation from the written word
One of the aspects that makes it difficult to learn the French language is also the pronunciation, which is often different from the written word. For example, “un œuf” (an egg in French), the “f” is pronounced at the end, but in the plural form “des œufs” the “f” and the “s” aren’t. Instead, we pronounce the sound of the letter “E” in French (“uh”) just like there was no “f” nor”s”. .
French plural is written (mostly with an “s”) but silent. In addition, different letter combinations (diagraph) form a whole new, totally different sound (“ou” “oi”…).
French language is constantly evolving
French is often described as a difficult language also because it is constantly evolving, particularly under the influence of English and new technologies. It is regularly broadened by foreign influences (particularly through anglicisms) and vocabulary linked to the emergence of new technologies (“twittosphere”, “youtubeur”, “geek”, etc.).
Another example, for the creation of new verbs, we take the English verb and conjugate it all as a first group verb in French (which means, adding -er at the end): “googler, twitter…”
At last, youth or street slang is constantly evolving and, just like other languages, inter-generational conversations are sometimes complicated.
French has difficult rules
As we have seen with writing and the silent plural, French has difficult rules and its grammar is rigorous. Its spelling is also quite original with, for example, the verb “s’appeler” (to call in French) has one “l”, but two “l” (“je m’appelle”) when conjugated.
French also has a complex conjugation with about 15 tenses to know (but some are quite simple). You must also distinguish nouns between the feminine and masculine forms (for nationalities and professions, the rules are strict), and use the correct article “le”, “la”, “une”, “un”. You also need to differentiate formal and informal way of addressing people with different pronouns “vous” and “tu” (both meaning “you” in English) and therefore a different conjugation that shows respect or familiarity.
How to make rapid progress in French?
There are several solutions to make rapid progress whilst learning French despite the difficulties.
- Online websites and applications. There is a profusion of websites and applications that allow you to improve your French for free and without getting bored. Thanks to these sites, French becomes a game, everyone can progress at their own pace, from home and without complexes…Sites such as TV5 Monde (TV channel) or Rfi (Radio station) offer free online activities with their answers. International House Nice also offers online courses from home.
- The cinema! Watching films or series on Netflix, with subtitles available in several languages, is an excellent exercise. Not only the language, but also the culture is available to you.
- Audiobooks and audio sites. Books available on Amazon, online platforms… There are many audiobook sites on the internet such as audiocité.net which allow you to listen to your favourite book in French whilst reading the transcript of the book, for free! Don’t forget podcasts which are a great source of self-paced online lessons.
- Youtube channels… Although very passive… can be a good first step in learning French… Go online and have a look… and you will find out that French is not… a diffiult language.
In conclusion, French is a language with its share of difficulties: pronunciation is very particular, there is a huge difference between “spoken” and “written” French, and grammar is not easy… Nevertheless, every language has its difficulties and French is not particularly more complicated to speak than any other language. So, are you ready to learn French? Do you have educational or professional plans? Integration needs? You can find more information on language stays in our blog. Come and visit us at Europass French Language School.