Is French A Hard Language To Learn?

Is Learning French HardTwo weeks ago I wrote a post about a cool software that can help you learn French for free. The reason I even know about this tool is that a friend of mine had downloaded it on his iPhone and asked me if I knew about it.

Since then, I’ve asked him how he’s doing with his French on a regular basis. One thing he told me is that the French is a hard language to learn.  Sadly, I tend to agree. However, it doesn’t mean that’s impossible to learn either. Nothing is impossible, anyway.

In this post, I wanted to point out a few areas that makes French kind of hard to learn, while I will try to help you with it, if you are learning or interested in learning French.

But before I do, though, you might want to know what my credentials in the matter are.

French is My Native Language

For those who don’t know that yet, French is my native language.  However, that alone doesn’t make me an expert of the language, does it?  Some people have very poor vocabulary and grammar knowledge in their own language.  Sadly, I see that a lot.  You don’t become an expert at languages just by being born in it. But you can become very good at it if you put in the effort and if you love to learn. That goes for your own native language and for those that you will learn.

In my case, it all started with my mother. She was an extremely literate person who would correct me and my brother at every little mistake we would make, either while speaking or writing.  At the time it sure bugged the heck out of us, but as we grew older we could only be thankful for that.

Another reason is that French wasn’t my favorite class in school; it was the ONLY class I liked.  I always had good grades in French.  I’ve always have a love for words and by the age of 21 I had read the whole collection of French classic playwrights Moliere, Corneille and Racine. I also read works from Proust, Baudelaire, Hugo, Voltaire, La Fontaine and Pagnol.  During my Drama studies I even read and studied other French and foreign playwrights.

So, being born in France is not the REAL reason why I know French.  It’s everything I’ve done to enrich my French.

What should be your Motivation to Learn French?

The best and only motivation that will help you to learn French is if you WANT to.  You won’t learn French or any other language just because you HAVE to.  No one can learn a language if they don’t have a true motivation for doing so.

So, don’t waste your time to learn French if you don’t want to do it for the fun of it, and because you are truly motivated.

When I first moved to North Carolina I was tutoring High School and College students, but what was obvious to me is that they had no true motivation to learn, thus they were not good students. It was just something they had to do.

What Makes French Difficult?

Here are few reasons why French is hard to learn.

Conjugating Verbs

There are 21 verb tenses in French, which means that there are 126 ways to conjugate a verb.  This because in French each pronoun is conjugated differently.   Did I lose you yet?

In French, each personal pronoun is conjugated differently just about every time (unlike English). But since this wasn’t complicated enough, verbs are categorized in 3 groups. Verbs of the first group tend to conjugate the same way. Verbs of the second group tend to conjugate the same way, and verbs of the third group tend to conjugate the same way.  But each group has different rules.

Verbs of the first group are verbs ending in “er” such as “to go” (aller)

Verbs of the second group are verbs ending in “ir” such as “to give” (offrir)

Verbs of the third group are verbs ending in “oir” or “re” such as “to receive” (recevoir) or “to take” (prendre).

Here is an example of a verb of the first group “to go” (aller) conjugated at the present tense, and the simplest past tense which is call (imparfait). I put the English version first so you can tell how much more complicated the French version is.

  • I go
  • You go
  • He/she goes
  • We go
  • You go
  • They go

As you can see, in English, all you have to remember is “goes” for he or she, and “go” for everything else. If you conjugated the verb “to go” in the past tense it’s even easier, it’s “went” every time.

  • I went
  • You went
  • He/she went
  • We went
  • You went
  • They went

Then you have the present perfect which is the equivalent of (passé-composé in French)

  • I have gone
  • You have gone
  • He/she has gone
  • We have gone
  • You have gone
  • They have gone

Are you following me so far?  Well, that’s good, because that’s where it becomes a bit more complicated in French.

In the case of the verb to go in French is “Aller” (verb from the first group), the present tense goes like this…

  • Je vais
  • Tu vas
  • Il/elle va
  • Nous allons
  • Vous allez
  • Ils/elles vont

Did you noticed how the verb changes at every personal pronoun ?

Conjugated in the past tense (the simplest one called imparfait) it goes like this…

  • J’allais
  • Tu allais
  • Il/elle allait
  • Nous allions
  • Vous alliez
  • Ils/elles allaient

As you can see, in French the spelling and pronunciation of the verb changes just about every time, with every pronoun and every tense.

The equivalent of present perfect in French, called (passé-composé) and it goes like this…

  • Je suis allé
  • Tu es allé
  • Il/elle est allé
  • Nous sommes allé
  • Vous êtes allé
  • Ils/elles sont allé

Here the verb to go (aller) needs to verb to be (être)  while in English it needs the verb  to have.  And while the verb aller doesn’t change it’s the verb être that does.

Mark of the Plural

The mark of the plural is different in French. For one thing, you can hear it in English, while in French you won’t hear it at times, but you will write it.

The other thing is that in English the mark of plural is usually necessary only on the subject. In French the plural is necessary in the article, the subject, the verb and the direct object at times.

English example:

  • Singular: The boy went to play tennis
  • Plural: The boys went to play tennis

French example:

  • Singular: Le garçon est allé jouer au tennis
  • Plural : Les garçons allaient jouer au tennis

As you can see the plural is showing here in French not only on the subject garçon, but on the article and the verb as well.

At times depending on the sentence, in spoken French, the only way we will know if you speak about one or two things is in the article.  But if you write it down, everything else would have to show plural accordingly.

There you have it for this French lesson today.

So what do you think? Is French a hard language to learn? Let me know down below in the comment area.

 

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I hope you enjoyed this post, and will start applying those tips now. Please, let me know what you think and add your thoughts down below in the comments.
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14 Comments

  • Donna MerrillTwitter: donna_tribe says:

    Sylviane,

    I am so bad at languages! My daughter took French in High School. I do still remember some phrases when we chat. I would love to learn another language. French is such a romantic one!
    -Donna
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Donna,

      Don’t say you’re bad at languages, that would make it so 🙂 Anyone with a brain can learn 🙂 It’s just that for some it may be easier than others, that’s all 🙂

  • AdrienneTwitter: adriennesmith40 says:

    I think learning another language would be neat because it’s different and it sounds so cool. My problem though Sylviane is that I’d have to speak it everyday in order to remember. That’s my problem, I’ve never had a good memory. It’s odd but some things I remember like it was yesterday but others I don’t even remember it happening and no, they weren’t all life changing events either.

    I took Spanish in the eighth grade and all I remember is how to say my name, ask you what your name is and count to eleven. There ya go, that’s it.

    I just love the French language though, it’s just beautiful. Even if all you were doing is cussing at me. lol…

    ~Adrienne
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      Please, stop saying you don’t have a good memory, because that’s also a belief. if you belief strongly enough that your memory isn’t good, then it won’t. By the way, if you want to improve it there are books that can help you improve your memory.

      I think that for most people a foreign language does sound cool to hear, and French often comes in first place. For people speaking it everyday, though, it doesn’t do that 🙂

      Have a great week end, Adrienne!

      • AdrienneTwitter: adriennesmith40 says:

        Okay Sylviane, continuing to tell myself I have a great memory does not help me have a great memory. I’ve been this way since I was a child and trust me, I never went around and said I have a horrible memory. I just eventually figured it out! I think some people just do and some just don’t.

        I worked for an insurance brokerage firm for about six years and I was the executive assistant to the guy that ran our division. He wanted me to eventually take over the higher administrative position so in order to do that I had to take some insurance tests. Not my area mind you and I knew nothing about it. I had to take four courses and pass them all. They were written exams and the first one I took I woke up that morning throwing up I was so nervous because I couldn’t remember crap. To say the least, I failed. So I found out about a memory course I could take at a local place in town so I did. It really helped me remember things in a different way. I took the all four test including the one over and passed. Then they did away with that position and I was pissed. All of that for nothing. So I know that when I’m studying for something like that I now have a way of trying to remember that stuff.

        I don’t remember a lot of stuff from my youth and it’s embarrassing when my family will sit there and talk about it and talk about me and I don’t remember any of that. At the time everything is taking place I don’t know at that time I won’t remember it years later. Dah!
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        • Sylviane Nuccio says:

          Adrienne,

          Frankly, I think that you’re pretty much average went it come to bad memory. You’re just hard on yourself 🙂

          I’m saying this, because I’ve met tons of people all throughout my life that have shown very little memory. At time I was shocked. That’s why it’s so easy to catch them in a lie.

          Yes, memory can be like anything else, some people have more some may have less, but still, not reinforcing the belief by saying it over and over is a good idea.

          For example, my mom, kept on saying that she didn’t have any memory anymore and it kept getting worse and worse. She became so convinced of that (even if there was some truth to it) that it made it worse. This is true because it’s the law of attraction 🙂

  • Debbie says:

    Hi Sylviane; I learned French as a teenager and didn’t find it particularly difficult. As languages go, it’s certainly easier than German, and much easier than Greek, which I tried to learn recently but gave up on. Harder to learn as you get older! I agree that some native speakers are no experts with their own language; sadly, it’s fairly common.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      HI Debbie and nice to see you here.

      I agree German is more difficult than French, and Geek I can only imagine. Russian is said to be one of the most difficult language there is.

      I’ve learned Korean for two years and that was darn tough as well. French is by no mean the most difficult language there is, but it is more difficult than English to be sure.

      Thank you for your input, and have a great weekend!

  • Carol LynnTwitter: carollynnrivera says:

    ahahahahaha!!!! Sylviane, I learned French in school and this still gave me a headache!! I suppose English is no better. There are a billion ways to say the same thing, so many tenses and even the slang will kill you.

    I always found the hardest thing to do to remember masculine and feminine nouns. Somehow it didn’t want to stick in my brain which was which. And of course I don’t think there is any rhyme or reason for it. The other thing that throws me off is when you say a negative, like ne pas, and you have to put the verb in the middle. I will mess that up every time.

    But I really don’t think it’s that complicated once you get the hang of the basics. At least, reading it isn’t too bad if you know the words, because you can always get the gist. Now, listening to it is a whole other story! People who are native speakers talk a lot faster and mush all the words together so you really have to know what the heck they’re saying. All I know is when I was in Paris I was extremely grateful that most people spoke English!
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  • Sylviane Nuccio says:

    Hi Carol,

    Ah, you came here too!

    Frankly, I think that all languages are complicated. There are amazing. Like you said for English, French also have many different ways to say the same thing and slang is huge in French. It’s everywhere. If you don’t understand slang you can’t understand most things in French, TV, movies or people talking.

    Ah, I guess you’re talking about phrases like “il ne faut pas” where “faut” is between ne and pas. This really means “don’t” just so much longer in French.

    I think that the feeling of words mushing together goes for any language that you don’t understand too well. Many people say the same thing about English when they don’t understand very well. But we do link words in French such as in Avez-vous des oranges? would sound like avez-vous dezoranges?

    I used to have an American friend in New York who spoke pretty good French, just with a strong American accent. One day we went to see a movie from Marseille, where all the actors have that distinct southern accent. Poor girl, she was totally depressed because she hardly understood anything they were saying. The funnest part is that she asked me if “I” understood 🙂 I didn’t even answer, I just laughed 🙂

    Thanks for coming Carol, I’ve got to see what you’re up to on your end.

  • Corina Ramos says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to this blog and I am so impressed! How do you manage, what is it three blogs and each one of them awesome?! I didn’t know you were born in France. Do you go there often?

    I have always loved hearing people speak in French. I’m with Donna, it’s such a romantic language. I was trying to pronounce the phrases as I was reading along and boy did I sound funny :).

    Learning a second language is on my bucket list but I never gave which language any thought. My daughter took French in high school but never continued with it after that. I just might decide on learning to speak French :).

    Thanks for the lesson! Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  • Sue PriceTwitter: suejprice says:

    Hi Sylviane

    I learned French at school and liked it and did not find it that difficult. When I did find it difficult was when I first went to France and realized my school French was not going to take me far. When I was living in London I went to Paris many times and started to learn more.

    Later I had French boyfriend for a bit an learned more. Then when my daughter was at high school and learning I picked up some again.

    I do think some people have a real knack for languages. My daughter-in-law speaks 8 🙂

    I would also like to learn Spanish.

    Thanks for the great post .

    Sue
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  • Abhishek says:

    For a beginner, I think French is really a hard language to learn. I once planned to take it up as short course in school but I ended up learning Spanish instead because most of my friends went to those classes. But something in me still wish to learn French because I find it real challenging and I somehow associate the language with being “classy” and “elegant”. Thanks for the tips.

  • Lisa Magoulas says:

    Sylviane,
    I love languages, but haven’t been very good at learning them. They are so complicated. My mom, who never graduated from high school, spoke 5 languages. She tried teaching us French as we were growing up. I know words – but not sentences. I took 3 years of Spanish in high school – I can communicate, but am not fluent and am very poor with the verbs, tense and putting sentences together. It’s on my bucket list to become fluent in at least Spanish. I even bought Rosetta Stone – I just need to schedule the time. Thank you for this wonderful post. Lisa

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