Many people struggle with French, while others say it’s one of the easiest languages to learn. Why is that? Who is right and who is wrong? Realistically and objectively speaking, is French hard to learn? Which factors come into play?
French is one of the most popular languages worldwide, but despite that, some people are in a love-hate relationship with it. If this is your case or if you’d simply like to know what learning French is like before diving in, then you’ve come to the right place! The truth might surprise you. Allons-y!
Is French Hard to Learn?
You can ask people all over the world the same question, and you will get different answers depending on whom you ask. Spanish speakers will tell you it’s easy, while Chinese speakers will probably tell you otherwise. But why is that? Well, the key factor here is their native language.
It’s true that those who speak Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) natively have an advantage over, let’s say, Chinese or Russian speakers when it comes to learning French. Romance languages share similar vocabulary and grammar rules making French easier to learn.
It’s a different story when non-Romance language speakers try to learn French. Their languages don’t resemble French, so it’s logical that it’s harder for them to learn it.
In the case of English speakers, French is classified by linguists as a Category I language to learn, meaning it’s easy, even though some people don’t agree with that.
How Long Does It Take to Learn French?
Again, the answer here will vary, but for the sake of simplicity, we will focus on English speakers learning French. According to the U.S. FSI (Foreign Service Institute), it takes English speakers between 24 and 30 weeks to learn French, provided they study between 600 and 750 hours. That means the minimum time is around 25 hours per week. Does that sound like a lot?
The difficulty level of French is the same as that of Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Swedish. If you would like to see the full FSI list, you can check out this link.
As you can see, it largely depends on how much time you dedicate to studying French. Realistically speaking, it takes the average English speaker between six months and one year.
What Is Hard About French?
There’s this joke about French that says it’s hard because half of the letters of every word are not pronounced. Even though French is classified as an easy language for English speakers, there are several things they struggle with when learning it. Some of them include:
- Gender and number agreement.
- False friends.
- Verb conjugations.
- Passé composé.
Let’s explain each one of them in more detail.
For starters, French, unlike English, is a nasal language. Those an/en/in/un sounds don’t exist in English. I would say these sounds are probably the hardest to master.
But that’s not all. H is silent. English speakers tend to pronounce it, but in French, we don’t pronounce it.
The sound of French U doesn’t exist in English. English speakers sometimes forget this and try to pronounce it the way they do in English.
Probably, the most peculiar French sound is that of R. To make this sound, you have to gargle. The problem comes when you want to speak at a faster speed.
Last but not least, pronunciation varies between European French and Canadian French. European French is more standardized, but Canadian French is a different story. Sounds complicated?
French has several accent marks that you have to memorize. They are listed below:
- ç, la cédille
- é, l’accent aigu
- â/ê/î/ô/û, l’accent circonflexe
- à/è/ì/ò/ù, l’accent grave
- ë/ï/ü, l’accent tréma
Do they matter? Yes, they do! Not only do they matter in writing but in spoken French, too. They will determine the way you have to pronounce a word.
Gender and Number Agreement
In French, everything is either masculine or feminine. For example, a man is heureux (happy), but a woman is heureuse (happy). Countries, days of the week, and even things have genders. You have to understand this because spelling varies depending on the gender of the word.
English has the article the, but French has le, la, l’, and les. You have to know the gender of a noun to decide which article you will use before it.
Nouns also have to agree in number. For example, in English, we say the green car/the green cars, but in French, we say la voiture verte/les voitures vertes. Unlike English, French adjectives can be singular or plural.
Gender/number agreement also applies to verbs. Thus, a man would write Je suis allé (I went), but a woman would write Je suis allée. The pronunciation is the same, but the spelling is not.
It is estimated that about 45% of all English words have a French origin. Even though they share a lot of vocabulary, some words can mean different things in each language. These are known as false friends or false cognates.
For example, assister means “to attend”, not “to assist/help”; attendre means “to wait”, not to attend; blesser means “to hurt”, not to bless. The list of false friends goes on and on. You have to be careful with those.
COD and COI
Direct and indirect objects, simply known as COD and COI, are some of the hardest things to learn in French. You have to consider genders, numbers, and tenses when using them. Not only that, but their position in a sentence also varies.
For example, I showed it to him would translate as Je le lui ai montré or Je la lui ai montré depending on whether the thing you showed is masculine or feminine.
Mastering COD and COI takes a lot of practice.
Each grammatical person (I, you, he, etc.) has a different verb conjugation. You have to memorize the endings for each one of them. For example, in English, the conjugations of to eat in the present tense are eat and eats. However, in French, we conjugate manger as je mange (I eat), tu manges (you eat, singular), vous mangez (you eat, plural), il/elle mange (he/she eats), nous mangeons (we eat), and ils/elles mangent (they eat).
The same concept applies to conjugations for past, future, and other tenses. You have to memorize the endings for each grammatical person.
To further complicate things, there are approximately 350 irregular French verbs. These verbs don’t follow the same conjugation patterns that regular verbs do.
Talking about the past in French is not easy. For some verbs, we use the auxiliary verb avoir, while for others we use être. And don’t forget (again!) about the gender/number agreement!
Generally speaking, we use the auxiliary être with verbs of movement. However, some verbs can use either one depending on the context. For example, sortir can either mean “to go out” or “to take out”. Thus you can say Je suis sorti ( I went out), but you can’t say Je suis sorti la poubelle (I took out the trash). In this case, the correct form is J’ai sorti la poubelle.
Overcome the Difficulties
Now that we discussed some of the most common things English speakers struggle with, you must be asking yourself what you can do to overcome the difficulties of learning French. Here are a few tips that will help you:
- Expose yourself to the language as much as possible. Watch videos, listen to podcasts, read books. Make French part of your everyday life. In no time, it will become second nature.
- Practice is key. If you are serious about learning French, you have to practice as much as possible. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make. There is no turnaround to that.
- Find a motivation. Why do you want to learn French? Would you like to date a French guy/girl? Would you like to visit France or even move there? If you aren’t motivated, you won’t go far.
- Make a plan. You will be more successful if you have a goal and a plan to reach that goal. A teacher can help you do that.
- Don’t give up. Learning is a journey. Enjoy every single part of it.
So, is French hard to learn? The answer to this question is subjective and will depend on each person’s background.
Even though English and French share a lot of things, some things about French are hard for English speakers. However, through practice and a detailed plan, you can make it happen.
French may not be as hard as Chinese or Russian, but it can be challenging for English speakers. Don’t let others tell you it’s not hard. We all speak from experience.
If you struggle with French, there are several things you can do. It may be hard but not impossible to learn.
What do you think? Is French hard for you? Let me know in the comments below. Au revoir, les amis!
Let's Learn French!Are you ready to take your French to the next level? I'm glad you are! Whether you are a beginner or an intermediate/advanced learner, I can recommend a few options for you.For starters, if you're someone who likes to study on his own, I recommend the following programs:BusuuMondlyRocket LanguagesHowever, if you would like to hire a teacher/tutor, I recommend you try the following:italkiLingodaPreplyFeel free to check my site to learn about more resources. Don't forget to check back often to learn more about the French language and culture. Salut!
Without a doubt, the hardest part of learning French is the pronunciation. Written French and spoken French seem worlds apart at first, since there are a number of rules that dictate when certain letters are not pronounced, or words are suddenly squashed together.
The FSI scale ranks French as a “category I language”, considered “more similar to English” compared to categories III and IV “hard” or “super-hard languages”. According to the FSI, French is one of the easiest languages to learn for a native English speaker.Does French get easier or harder? ›
French vocab only gets easier
Some languages start out quite easy and then get harder as you go along. But French is one of those languages that starts out quite hard, but then gets easier. Especially if you speak English already.
Is English Harder than French To Learn? French is not as hard to learn as it is considered by most of the people, especially when compared to English. In fact, it is a language that's much easier to achieve fluency in than you'd have ever expected. English is inconsistent when it comes to pronunciation.How long learn French fluently? ›
French is a Category I language, so it's relatively easy to learn for native English speakers. It will take approximately 580 hours or 23 weeks of study to reach complete French fluency.Is French easier or Japanese? ›
Would have to say… Japanese is much harder than French all because of , you guessed it, Kanji. If you take Kanji out, then I found Japanese grammar to be nothing like English's. But I found French to be much harder when dealing with pronunciation (why all those silent letters and liasions (or whatever they are)).Why French is so difficult? ›
The French language tends to be difficult to pronounce at first because there are simply sounds that native English speakers aren't used to making. To begin with, French is more evenly stressed. This means that while some parts of a word are stressed, it's not as distinct as in English.Why do French speak so fast? ›
Faster languages have less information density, slower ones are denser. French sounds fast because native speakers constantly drop non-information-transmitting sounds. So for example, in written form it's "je ne sais pas", but orally, it's more like "j'sais pas" or "ché pas".Is French or Spanish harder? ›
Spanish is arguably somewhat easier for the first year or so of learning, in large part because beginners may struggle less with pronunciation than their French-studying colleagues. However, beginners in Spanish have to deal with dropped subject pronouns and four words for "you," while French only has two.Is French harder or Russian? ›
If you are not already at least bilingual let me tell you, Russian is at least 50% more difficult to learn than French. What are the languages you are fluent in? What would be the best way to learn basic Russian in the shortest way possible?
We drew parallels between Chinese and German, French, Spanish, Italian and even English and we discovered that not only is the pronunciation of Chinese much simpler than French, but its grammar is also more straightforward and easy to learn than German, Spanish, Italian and English.Is French easier or German? ›
Nitty-gritty things like these can make getting started a bit of a challenge – but between the two, French will be a little easier, with (slightly) fewer endings to learn. That said, experts largely agree that the more German you learn, the easier it gets, while French gets more complicated the deeper you dive in.Is French worth learning? ›
French is the second most useful language in the world for business. Studying French makes you smarter. French is one of the top ten majors most likely to lead to less unemployment and higher earnings. Studying in a French-speaking region makes you more creative.What is the longest French word in the world? ›
The longest French word officially recognised by the Académie française is "anticonstitutionnellement", which consists of 25 letters. It is, in other words, the longest word in the French dictionary.Why are French letters silent? ›
Why does French have so many silent letters? The silent letters (les lettres muettes) were once pronounced in Old French. As the language evolved, the pronunciation was abandoned, but the modern words are still the same.How many hours of day should I learn French? ›
The short answer is as much as possible.
Realistically, however, at least 20 minutes per day should be dedicated to learning a new language. The ideal amount of time to spend on daily study, if you can find the time, is an hour, but you don't need to cram it all in at once.
Depending on your goals, native language, study method and time, and motivation, within 6 months to 3 years you should be able to speak French at a good level. It will take longer if you're following a secondary school curriculum or want to totally master French for a career in something like interpreting.How can I get better at French? ›
- Read in French every day. ...
- Labels items in your home or office. ...
- Listen to French radio. ...
- Talk to yourself in French. ...
- Keep a French diary. ...
- Get a French chat partner. ...
- Create color-coded flash cards for vocabulary and gender.
French is the international language of cooking, fashion, theatre, the visual arts, dance and architecture. A knowledge of French offers access to great works of literature in the original French, as well as films and songs.Is French faster than English? ›
One 2011 study from the Université de Lyon looked at 7 languages, which reported the order as Japanese (7.84 syllables per second), Spanish (7.82), French (7.18), Italian (6.99), English (6.19), German (5.97) and Mandarin (5.18).
You'll be familiar with the spelling, pronunciation and meanings of words such as café, debut, encore and petite, amongst many others. This makes French one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to begin speaking from day one.What is the most difficult French word? ›
Brace yourself: The hardest French word to pronounce is the word for locksmith – “serrurerie“.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of why neither French or Spanish is easier to learn. The fact of the matter is that they share many similarities, and are equally different from English, so you can learn either one as a second language with relatively the same difficulty.What is a French person called? ›
The name of the French people is “les Français”. S silent, capital F. This noun will change according to the gender of the people you are referring to: One Frenchman: un Français (ends in a ay sound, s silent). One Frenchwoman : une Française (ends in a ayz sound).Why do French sound fancy? ›
Euphony, a rule of harmony. Another reason why people find FRench language charming is the intonation. French language has an ardent dedication to “euphony” or the quality of sounding harmonious. There are rules to make sure that French always sounds like a song or an old fashioned drama.Why does French sound so attractive? ›
Vowel count is often debated, but according to Wikipedia, French has 13 oral vowels and four nasal vowels, plus three semivowels and three glides, totaling 23. American English has 14-16. As a vowel-filled language, it makes sense that French is so breathy, and therefore sexy.Do French people say hello every time they meet? ›
#1 Being overly enthusiastic. When you arrive in France, the first thing you will notice is that French people don't smile as much as Americans. They'll greet you with a friendly “bonjour” (hello, good morning) but won't run to you and say ” “thank you so much for visiting our store, we can't wait to see you again”.How many people in the world speak French? ›
With 300 million speakers, French is the world's fifth-most spoken language after Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic. It is also the only language that is spoken on five continents, apart from English.Is French harder than Italian? ›
The main difference is in pronunciation: French pronunciation is considered to be the most difficult among the Romance languages, because it has some very unusual sounds we don't have in English. The Italian “r” and the French “r” are very, very different: they are both difficult for a native-English speaker.How many countries speak French? ›
How many French speaking countries are there in the world? Formally, 29 countries use French as the national or official language. Additionally, France has 11 Overseas Territories, which are administrative subdivisions of France outside of the mainland. These are similar to what Puerto Rico is to the United States.
- Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
- Dutch. ...
- Norwegian. ...
- Spanish. ...
- Portuguese. ...
- Italian. ...
- French. ...
Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. Mandarin Chinese is challenging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the writing system is extremely difficult for English speakers (and anyone else) accustomed to the Latin alphabet.
– If you're an English speaker, French will be easier. The hard bits are the pronunciation and the spelling. Perfect grammar is also hard but passable grammar isn't too hard. If you're a Japanese speaker, Korean will be easier.What is the easiest language is French with? ›
What are the easiest languages to learn for french speakers? French is really near other Romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and specifically Italian. If you know among these four languages, you can learn the other one in 6 months of extensive study.Which languages are worth learning? ›
- English. You might be surprised that English isn't the most commonly spoken language in the world. ...
- Chinese. With more than 1 billion native speakers, Chinese dominates Asia and the world as the most frequently spoken language. ...
- Spanish. ...
- Arabic. ...
- French. ...
- German. ...
- Portuguese. ...
- Mandarin (1,117 million speakers)
- Hindi (615 million speakers)
- Spanish (534 million speakers)
- French (280 million speakers)
- Arabic (274 million speakers)
- Russian (258 million speakers)
- Portuguese (234 million speakers)
- Indonesian (198 million speakers)
If you want to learn both French and Spanish, you might want to consider starting French first. While French will likely be more intimidating to speak initially, its shared vocabulary with English will help lessen the difficulty of memorization.Should I learn French or Italian? ›
The difficulty. There isn't a lot of difference between the difficulty of learning French or Italian. Both languages are remarkably similar and if you can learn one, you can learn the other. That said, if you're wondering is Italian or French easier to learn, it's probably Italian.What is the best age to learn French? ›
Well, all researchers agree that the earlier a child starts learning a second language, the better, for more reasons than one. Some researchers say that second language acquisition skills peak at or before the age of 6 or 7.What are 5 benefits of taking French? ›
- Open yourself up to the world. ...
- Date a French girl or guy. ...
- Travel to a French speaking country with confidence. ...
- Earn $75,000 more. ...
- Open doors to international job opportunities. ...
- Learn other Romance languages easily. ...
- Become more interesting. ...
- Improve top education prospects.
- French Guiana. Located just north of South America, Guiana is a small, bustling city with a tasteful blend of French and South American (Brazilian) culture with the perfect balance of cultures from around the world. ...
- Senegal. ...
- Canada. ...
- Morocco. ...
- Madagascar. ...
- Luxembourg. ...
- France. ...
The shortest word is a. Some might wonder about the word I since it consists of one letter, too. In sound, a is shorter because it is a monophthong (consists of one vowel), while I is a diphthong. Both do consist of one letter in the English writing system, and in most fonts I is the narrowest letter.What is the 189 000 letter word? ›
1. methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylalanyl… isoleucine. You'll notice there's an ellipsis here, and that's because this word, in total, is 189,819 letters long, and it's the chemical name for the largest known protein, titin.Is ø a French letter? ›
Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Ø (or minuscule: ø) is a letter used in the Danish, Norwegian, Faroese, and Southern Sámi languages.Why do French not say r? ›
French R Vs Spanish R
The French R sound is produced at the back of the mouth, where you'll pronounce the G of “get” in English. In France, the French R is never the Spanish rolled R, nor is it the very guttural Spanish J as in Jesus.
In French, the letter h is always silent. So, why are there two types of silent h? The answer has to do with the contraction that I talked about above between single-syllable words and following words starting with a vowel. An h muet will allow the contraction to happen.What are the difficulties in learning French? ›
- 1 - False friends. The English and French languages were strongly influenced by the introduction of French at the time of the Norman invasion of Britain in the 11th century. ...
- 2 - Gender. ...
- 3 -Prononciation. ...
- 4 -Conjugation. ...
- 5 -Subjunctive.
French Pronunciation is Challenging
And this can be a problem for English speakers. French pronunciation tends to make English speakers' heads spin. The French language tends to be difficult to pronounce at first because there are simply sounds that native English speakers aren't used to making.
The French education system offers an inflexible approach to education; one where the teacher has absolute authority, tough grading and rote learning are the norm, and high academic standards are demanded in reading, writing and arithmetic. The French don't expect children to have 'fun' at school.What are the cons of learning French? ›
- Cost of Learning: Notice that learning the French language can be expensive especially if you pick a college course or personal tuition. ...
- Cost of Opportunity: Look! ...
- New Literature Will Squeeze Your Soul: ...
- Time Consuming: ...
- People Will Be Mean To You:
But the French economy also faces many structural challenges, including a relatively weak competitiveness position, high unemployment and weak public finances compared to other Western European countries.Is French harder than Spanish? ›
Learning Spanish or French
All in all, neither language is definitively more or less difficult than the other. Spanish is arguably somewhat easier for the first year or so of learning, in large part because beginners may struggle less with pronunciation than their French-studying colleagues.
One such change is that the last syllable of French words were pronounced less and less historically, which is why today, you often don't pronounce the last letters in French words. A similar thing happened in English; the silent “e” at the end of words used to actually be pronounced.Why French is so easy? ›
The vocab is very similar to English
After the Norman invasion of 1066, French vocab infiltrated English so much that a lot of the words we use are of French origin. This makes actually learning the vocabulary relatively easy.
French pupils scored an average of 7.63 out of 10 on the life satisfaction scale, just below Switzerland, with Mexico coming top (data was unavailable for some countries like Australia).Are French people well educated? ›
Since 2006, the share of French people aged 25 and over with tertiary or upper secondary education has been increasing year by year until 2021. In 2006, 67 percent were in higher education, this rate has risen to 82.2 percent in 2021.Do French students have a lot of homework? ›
In addition to having a long school day, students in France typically have four hours of homework per day; therefore, there isn't time to participate in clubs and sports, while a typical American has about 1-2 hours of homework per night.Is French harder than Chinese? ›
We drew parallels between Chinese and German, French, Spanish, Italian and even English and we discovered that not only is the pronunciation of Chinese much simpler than French, but its grammar is also more straightforward and easy to learn than German, Spanish, Italian and English.Is it better to take Spanish or French? ›
If you live in the United States or plan to travel throughout Latin America, Spanish is probably going to be much more useful to you. However, if you're in Canada, or planning to travel or do business there, knowing French is going to be more helpful — it's an official language of the country, after all.