The bad news: language learning is difficult. The good news: French is relatively easy to learn. Here are some tips from Gymglish and Frantastique.

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Learning a new language is never easy. French isn’t as difficult as it first appears, although the grammar can be confusing at times.

If we believe the US Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) School of Language Studies (and why shouldn’t we?), is French a “like English” language. According to the institute, it takes an average of 30 weeks (750 school hours) to acquire the language skills required for working life (S3 level) on this topic, please also have a look at our tips for learning Business French. Of course, the actual duration can vary, depending on the personal abilities of the language students*, their previous knowledge and the intensity with which they learn French operate, according to the institute.

French is classified as a “category I language” on the FSI scale, making it relatively easy for native English speakers to learn. For comparison: the institute places German in the second category with 36 weeks and 900 school hours. In the fourth and most difficult group are languages ​​like Chinese or Arabic. For them, the FSI estimates 88 weeks or 2200 school hours.

We now have a rough idea of ​​how long it takes to learn French. Regarding the FSI’s estimates, however, it is important to note that the institute provides the US government with specialized language training. So diplomats who devote 25 hours a week to very intensive courses are not necessarily comparable to average language students.

Of course, learning French is also an achievable goal for everyone else.

This does not only apply to native English speakers, who appreciate some parallels between the two languages. There are also many native German speakers who find it easy to learn French. And there are also similarities between these two languages.

What’s easy about learning French?

French, German and also English have the same alphabet. Even if there are differences in terms of accents – for example the cédille (ç) – the 26 letters remain the same.

Although originally a Germanic language, English has evolved over the centuries under the influence of other Germanic languages, as well as Latin and French , developed. After the Norman conquest of England by William II, the old English language changed fundamentally and continued to develop later.

The English vocabulary is therefore significantly influenced by the French. An estimated one to two thirds of modern English vocabulary has French roots. There are indeed many similarities between the two languages, although the individual words have changed slightly (girafe/giraffe, boeuf/beef, protocole/protocol, etc.).

The reverse is also true: as one of the most spoken languages ​​in the world, English has influenced other languages ​​as well. Many French words have an English origin (une place de parking, un gentleman, un hamburger, un job…).

The parallels between English and French ultimately also benefit the German language student. After all, English is taught as the first foreign language in Germany, often as early as elementary school. So most Germans who start with French already have a solid command of English.

What are the difficulties in learning French?

Many find French difficult to learn due to the complex grammar and linguistic nuances that do not exist in their mother tongue. Especially those who have never learned a foreign language will find it difficult. On the other hand, those who already have knowledge of a Romance language such as Spanish or Portuguese have a clear advantage.

Pronunciation can also be a challenge. There are no nasal sounds in German. Even silent letters, i.e. letters that are not spoken, can be irritating.

Here are some language features that may seem unfamiliar to you.

Fake friends (and girlfriends)

Fake friends are words that look the same but have different meanings. They mislead us and can cause some irritation. Some examples:

  • La glace means ice, not glass.
  • Gros, Große means thick, not big.
  • La blouse means smock, not blouse
  • Net, nice means clean, not nice.
  • La tache means spot, not bag.
  • La raquette means tennis racket, not rocket.

There are also false friends between French and English. Don’t translate the sentence [Je suis actuellement à la boulangerie, je vais prendre un pain au hasard] with [I am actually at the bakery, I’m going to take a hazardous pain.] Instead of [I’m just at the bakery and will take any kind of bread with me] this would mean: [I am actually in the bakery and I will endure a dangerous pain.]

There are many more false friends: discover more of these insidious words in our collection of confusing terms.

Did you know that the term “false friends” was originally coined by French linguists? Because of their misleading nature, they refer to these words as “translators’ false friends”.

Conjugation

There are many different verb and tense forms in French, even if you don’t use them all on a daily basis. This makes French conjugation very complex and confusing for many.

In English there are about 200 irregular verbs that are in common use. The regular verbs are always conjugated in the same way. French has many more irregular verbs and there are also different forms of regular verbs. Memorizing all verb conjugations is a real challenge.

But don’t worry too much either. Some tenses are only found in literature and many verbs are rarely found in everyday language. If you want to be able to have conversations first and foremost, a basic set will do. By the way: Our online conjugator is always there to help.

Different gender designations

In terms of gender designations, French as a foreign language is also more difficult to learn than, for example, English. In English there is he and she for the gender of people and the neutral it for things, ideas or concepts. With the plural forms they and them, it makes no difference what gender the person has or whether this is known at all.

In French there is no neutral they or it. While the German plural form “sie” does not depend on gender, in French you have to choose between ils or elles. If there are several people of different sexes, the masculine form should be chosen. The French do not know a neuter form like in German. “The book – le livre” is masculine in French, while “the house – la maison” is feminine. Words that are masculine in German can also be feminine in French and vice versa: “der Mond – la lune”, “le soleil – die Sonne”. So it is actually necessary to learn the gender of all nouns.

The grammatical gender

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In French, living beings have a grammatical gender. In most cases, doubling the last consonant and adding an “e” is enough to form the feminine form:

  • un chien / une chienne (a dog / a bitch)
  • un chat / une chatte (a tomcat / a cat)
  • un lion / une lionne ( a lion/lioness)

Trees are usually masculine (un sapin, un chêne, un pommier, un olivier…), with some exceptions, while fruits and flowers are more feminine (une rose, une tulipe, une pomme, une olive…). Unless they are considered exotic (un ananas, un avocat, un durian…) or count as exceptions (un citron, un kiwi, un tournesol, un pissenlit…).

The grammatical gender of objects, concepts and ideas, on the other hand, often seems arbitrary: une baguette, un pain au chocolat, une table, un tabouret, une idée, un projet, une chanson, un film, un avion, une voiture…< /p>

In French, the grammatical gender of most words has to be learned at the same time, which is somewhat time-consuming. But don’t worry, even native speakers sometimes make mistakes.

Plural formation

In English, the rule is simple: adding -s or -es usually works. There are a few irregular nouns (men, knives, teeth, mice, cacti) and others that don’t have a plural form.

With nouns that denote a collective, one can only guess which gender is behind them: a school of fish (a school of fish), a murder of crows (a flock of crows), a pride of lions (a pride of lions), a convocation of eagles (a gathering of eagles), a pack of dogs (a pack of dogs), a regiment of flamingos (a flamingo colony) …

In French, you generally add -s to the end of a word to form a plural, as a rule of thumb. However, there are exceptions, and we deal with many of these plural forms in our online course.

In American English, collective nouns are usually singular, while in British English they are plural. There are some exceptions for certain nouns: depending on the context, a family can be singular or plural. Une famille in French is always in the singular.

Examples:

  • Her family is he most famous in the world ǁ Sa famille est la plus célèbre au monde ǁ Her family is the most famous around the world.
  • Her family are all French ǁ Sa famille est entièrement française ǁ Your family is French through and through.

Other common French collective terms (plupart, ensemble, une majorité, etc.) can be either singular or plural, depending on the context – similar to most of their German or English equivalents.

“Accord”

The subject of congruence is not an easy task in French. When comparing which foreign language is the greater challenge, French again has the edge over English. In English, adjectives have no plural form and no gender differentiation. Verbs generally end in -s when conjugated in the third person singular. If this is not the case, they are among the few, highly irregular exceptions.

In French, the parts of a sentence influence each other much more and their spelling sometimes changes significantly. Articles, adjectives, and verbs change depending on the noun they are associated with. As if that weren’t difficult enough, there is a large proportion of irregular verbs (les verbes du troisième groupe). At the same time, there are adjectives that are not distinguished at all in relation to gender.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are even more rules that dictate how a verb must be conjugated in agreement with the sentence structure.

Examples:

  • A small man. A small woman. ǁ Un petit homme. Une petite femme. ǁ A little man. A little woman.
  • My mum and my sister went to the theater. ǁ Ma maman et ma soeur sont allées au cinéma. ǁ My mother and my sister went to the cinema.
  • They have come to help us. ǁ Ils sont venus nous aider. ǁ They came to help us.

Pronunciation

The rules of pronunciation are relatively consistent in French. In fact, the pronunciation is much easier than it seems – despite many silent consonants and very similar sounds like “é”, “è” and “ê”.

The nasals cause language students the most problems. Vowels before “n” or “m” are pronounced nasally. Since these sounds do not exist in German, as in English and most other languages, many people find it difficult. For example, anyone who pronounces “perfume” or “pardong” is quickly exposed as a foreigner – even if they otherwise speak French very well. On the other hand, you can learn not only vocabulary, but also pronunciation and even new sounds. Many of them are very good at this – be it the French nasal, the rolled “r” in Spanish or the German “h”, which is not easy for the French either.

[Comic:

An Bageat sea viewplay?

Are you talking to me?]

spelling

Similar to pronunciation, the many silent consonants also cause spelling difficulties. But there are also some words in English and German that cause problems when spelling.

So is it hard to learn French?

It is true that French is a language that is difficult to master completely (especially for beginners in French). But the good news is: It is not necessary to have a perfect command of a language in order to have a conversation or to use it professionally.

Language learning is always a challenge, but there are differences. For German native speakers, French is easy to learn despite all the hurdles in pronunciation and grammar. And compared to Chinese or Russian, downright easy.

In any case, a lot of practice is the key if you want to learn a language quickly and well. At the same time, you should not have any inhibitions about speaking, even if it is only broken French at first. In fact, many French people will find your flaws and accent charming.

Learn French made easy with Frantastique

Our online course Frantastique consists of short, personalized and fun French lessons.

Our goal: your motivation, your active participation, your learning progress.

How does it work?

  1. Every day you will receive a lesson tailored to your needs, skills and goals.
  2. Once you have completed the lesson you will also receive a personalized correction with explanations.
  3. The lessons are adapted to your strengths and weaknesses.
  4. At the end of the course you will receive a certificate of completion.


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