8 Undeniable Reasons Why French is Hard for English Speakers to Learn

By OptiLingo • 8 minute read

Learning French isn't so hard if you have the right methods

8 Reasons Why People Struggle When Learning French

Learning French seems very hard if you’re an English speaker. But, luckily, it’s actually much easier to learn than you think. If you’re a native English speaker, you have a huge advantage in learning French. Thanks to the similarities between the two languages, you already know a lot more than you think. We’ve broken down all the reasons why French may be hard to learn, and how you can overcome them easily. You can reach French fluency fast, if you apply the right learning methods.

Is French Worth Learning?

The short answer is: absolutely. French is one of the most popular languages in the world. At nearly 80 million native speakers and 220 million speakers worldwide, it stands behind only Mandarin, Spanish, English, Arabic, and Hindi as the 6th most spoken language in the world. This means that French is a popular choice in many education programs throughout English speaking countries.

How Long Does it Take to Learn French?

Learners who worry about how hard it is to learn French often want to know how long it will take to reach French fluency. While, of course, there’s no certain answer for how long it takes to learn a language, there’s definitely some good news. French is a Category I language according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). This means that the average time to learn French for native English speakers is 600 hours or 28 weeks of study. That’s fairly easy compared to other languages.

Is french hard to learn in Paris?

Is French Hard to Learn?

The right answer to this is quite simple: French is NOT hard to learn, if you use the right language learning methods, and you enjoy them. Learning French becomes a fun activity, and you won’t worry about any of the difficulties of French. Of course, you need the right motivations for learning French too, and then your enthusiasm will give your language learning an extra boost.

That being said, there are a lot of differences between French and English. This means, that as a language, there are definitely harder parts to learn than others. Here are the 8 most challenging reasons why French would be hard to learn. But, don’t worry, we also included how to overcome these difficulties.

1. French Pronunciation is Challenging

The French language is widely known as being a beautiful language. But to speak the “language of love” properly, you have to be able to pronounce it correctly. 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. 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. Nasal vowels, back of the throat “r”s, and silent letters make French pronunciation one of the biggest obstacles in learning French.

But, there’s one simple cure to this: practice. Practicing your pronunciation, and speaking the language from Day 1 is how you can reach fluency fast. You’ll sound like a native speaker in no time.

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2. There Are a Lot of French Accent Marks

While French has the same amount of vowels as English, there are a variety of accents that have different pronunciations:

  • Cedilla: Ç (Cédille)
  • Acute Accent: é (Accent Aigu)
  • Circumflex: â (Accent Circonflexe)
  • Grave Accent: à (Accent Grave)
  • Dieresis/Umlaut: ë (Accent Tréma)

This can make the words look formidable as well if you’re not familiar with them. But, the good news is, they’re not impossible to master at all. With a handy guide to French accent marks, you can learn how to use them really easily.

3. The Difficulty of French Liaison

Liaison further complicates French pronunciation. Liaison is when you pronounce the ending consonants of some words if a vowel or the letter “h” comes after it. An example would be, “les enfants” where you would pronounce the “s” because an “e” begins the next word.

However strange this may be, I promise you’ll get used to it. It’s a strange aspect of French, but once you’re fluent, you won’t even think about it.

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4. Why is French Spelling so Hard?

If you thought the French pronunciation was complicated, spelling in French isn’t any easier. With French, you must not only remember how to spell the word when many of the letters aren’t used, but you’ll also have to remember all the accents and abbreviate articles correctly according to their gender.

The critical point to remember here is that spelling takes practice in any language. And the more you do it, the better you become. Many people have difficulty spelling even in their native language. In English, words like conscious and rhyme are often misspelled or confused for example. This is something you’ll want to keep in mind if you can’t seem to nail the spelling of l’écureuil (squirrel). Practice makes perfect.

5. French Genders

Of course. You knew this would come sooner or later. The French language has gendered nouns. Words are either masculine or feminine in French. This means that words will have either a masculine “le” or feminine “la” article. Indefinite articles will use either the masculine “un” or feminine “une.” And if the noun is plural, then it’s “les” or “des.”

The truth is that there is no logic or pattern to which words have which gender. To remember which article goes with which word, you’ll just have to remember the article with the word. Learning the words that way will connect the two components so that you’ll see them as one complete unit.

6. Counting Logic in French vs. English

Counting in French isn’t the same as counting in English. While cruising from 1 to 60 is relatively straightforward, things turn weird at 70. This is because French uses a “vigesimal system” after 60. Instead of saying a version of “70” they say, “soixante-dix” or sixty and ten. And then at 80, it gets even stranger, “quatre-vingts” or four twenties.

This continues until you arrive at the word for 99, “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” or four twenties, ten and nine. French counting can be frustrating at first, but the system has a kind of quirk to it that you accept as strange and even remember it easier because it’s so different.

7. Loanwords vs False Cognates in French

English and French have a lot of similarities. English has plenty of loanwords and cognates from French. These are words with similar or the same spelling, pronunciation, and meaning. This makes French much easier to learn for English native speakers. You already know a huge chunk of the vocabulary. Attention, brutality, and continent are a few examples of cognates you can trust.

But, the opposite is also true. There are a lot of false cognates in French, words that sound similar, but their meaning is totally different. Some examples of these are “libraries”, which means bookstore, or “journée”, which means day. And there are plenty more.

counting in french is hard

False cognates can create confusion for French beginners. Luckily, it’s quite fun to learn about them and remember them. Just like you know the difference between “chips” and “crisps” in American and British English, you’ll start to naturally remember the false cognates in French. Meanwhile, your French vocabulary will grow a lot.

8. The Numerous Exceptions of French Grammar

And like with any language, there are exceptions to the rules. French grammar can be very complicated at first, but there are plenty of resources to help support you on your journey to learn French. You want to keep those handy because it’s always best to take the time to make sure you’re learning the language properly.

So Is French Really That Hard to Learn?

At the end of the day, the difficulty of a language depends on you. You can easily learn any language you want. The key to mastering any language is to understand what makes it difficult. Once you know that, learning any language is easy. And French is no different.

You also need the right language learning resources to learn French easier. You need a method that is fun, and gets you results. And that’s exactly what OptiLingo offers.

With OptiLingo, learning French becomes easy. This app gives you all the most common French words and phrases, so you learn exactly how the locals speak. You won’t need to worry about memorizing grammar and gender pronouns. All of that will come naturally. And OptiLingo makes you speak the language. So, you can start practicing your pronunciation from the first day. Download the app today, and discover how much easier learning French can be!