The 5 Biggest Difficulties in Learning French

When it comes to learning a new language, French is a heavy-weight contender, since it is one of the ten most spoken and widely learned languages in the world.

However, learning verb conjugations and deciphering what your waiter is trying to say in a Parisienne café can seem significantly less romantic. Several difficulties can make French learning frustrating. Below you will find a list containing 5 difficulties students encounter when they learn French.

1. The French gender

Nouns are assigned a gender, regardless of whether they are children, dogs, weather patterns, or states of mind. This is confusing for many learners, especially those who come from languages that do not assign gender in this way.

A noun’s gender is also given by adjectives, articles, subject pronouns, certain object pronouns, and, sometimes, relative pronouns.

When speaking a language that uses gender to classify words, those familiar with the French language may find it difficult because the language lacks specific clues to denote gender.

Among the feminine French nouns are chaise, dent, fenêtre, fleur, onde, orchidée, maison, and pitié, in addition to words such as amours, which is feminine in the plural but masculine in the singular. It may seem overwhelming to figure out what each word means.

A solution to this:

Learn new words and the singular indefinite article, une or un, because plural indefinite elide and masculine and feminine articles look the same. Remember nouns with gender-specific adjectives.

2. Pronunciation

Pronunciation is often considered one of the biggest difficulties in learning French. The silent letters, new sounds, liaisons… all add to making learning and speaking French difficult.

There is a difference between “spelling” and “sound”. In French, the spelling does not match the sound. Here are the main pronunciation problems:

  • The French R: It is best to avoid rolling your r the way Italian speakers do. When the letter R is placed next to certain letters, it can be difficult to make this guttural sound at the back of the throat.
  • The French U: Another tricky sound is the French U, something that can be difficult to pronounce as well as difficult to distinguish from the French Ou for untrained ears.
  • Nasal vowels: Nasal vowel sounds are made by pushing air through both the nose and mouth, instead of just the mouth, as you do with regular vowels.
  • Silent letters: There are a lot of silent letters in French, and many of them appear at the end of words. The word Loup has a silent P at the end. Nevertheless, not all final letters are silent, and again, you need only memorize them. Silent E is found mostly at the end of words.

3. Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives

Bien, bonne, and bon do not have comparative and superlative forms. In place of plus, we use mieux for comparatives and meilleur for superlatives of superiority. This is the equivalent of saying “gooder” in English using bien and meilleure.

It is necessary to memorize these irregular forms, but luckily there are only three of them. Students also get confused between utilizing mieux and utilizing meilleure, meilleur.

The solution to this:

Keep a few stock French phrases in mind.

Il parle mieux le français maintenant parce qu’il habite à Montréal

and

“Elle croit que son dernier livre est meilleur que son livre précédent”. 

One describes an action and one describes an object, and both can indicate superiority. Knowing whether you are describing an attribute, action, or quality will help you decide when to use each. Nevertheless, the irregular comparatives and superlatives only add to the list of the biggest difficulties in learning French.

4. Tenses

French has many tenses, meaning that there are a lot of conjugations to remember, and you will have to sort out some of the tenses that do not correspond in any way.

The confusion over tenses is more evident in the Passé Composé vs. Imparfait and in the Futur Antérieur vs. Futur Simple. The difficulties generally involve the perception of time that may not exist in the learner’s first language.

Learners find the Passé Composé and Imparfait tenses to be the most confusing, especially those that have little knowledge of romance languages. You must determine when to use each tense on a timeline as they occur simultaneously.

These structures are dependent on context to some degree. This can be challenging for those who appreciate the extensive codification French grammar has undergone, making even the smallest details fall under some kind of logic.

It can also be confusing to use the Futur and Futur Antérieur tenses. It may be because we are looking at future action from the future and talking about something completed is philosophically more difficult.

They can be placed much more clearly on a timeline and are, in fact, often used together to form a chronology, so learners who are having trouble figuring them out should benefit from this exercise.

How to handle French tenses:

Learn the situation that the Passé Composé / Imparfait is used for. An example is “J’avais peur de tous ces zombies” vs. “J’ai vu un film d’horreur la semaine dernière”.

Become familiar with the features of these sentences – a past action with clear time duration and a past action with unspecified time duration – while also becoming aware of patterns in speech.

Your ability to use such sentences will be reinforced if you hear a native French speaker use them repeatedly to describe watching films.

5. Agreements

It is difficult to understand French verb agreements without going into too much detail! As they start easy, they quickly become harder and harder, until the number of instances in which a verb needs to agree with the subject or object becomes impossible to remember.

The main issue here, perhaps more than most other French grammar concepts, is that the French themselves struggle with this very same concept, making asking your French friends for help nearly impossible.

It seems like every time you think you understand this concept, there is another instance where you are not sure if you need to add the e or the s (or both). Beginner learners have a hard time with this, and agreements add to the list of the main difficulties in learning French.

Conclusion

You can overcome these difficulties the more you are exposed to them, so do not be afraid to confront them, regardless of how frustrating they may be. Languages have difficulties or patterns that seem to have been developed solely to complicate our lives, so we need to keep some perspective.

French tutors can help you learn the language with ease. Practice makes perfect, whether you’re perfecting your accent or figuring out feminine vs. masculine nouns. Take your French to the next level with help from a professional French teacher.