Learning a new languagemayseem an intimidating experience to some people. This need not be the case. There is no such thing as a person who is unable to learn a new language. The first step is to believe you can learn French, because you really can. The second step is to relax and enjoy the process.
As an English speaker, you will find that French is actually one of the easiest languages to learn.
It shares a common alphabet with English, sentence structure is very similar, and the languages share a lot of common words. Where the two languages diverge the most is when it comes to grammar.
With a little practice, these differences won’t seem so big. That said, before you jump into your first lesson, let’s cover a few of the major differences between English and French.
There are many differences between these two European languages, but these are the top 10 you should be aware of.
1) French nouns have genders
English is one of the simplest European languages because all nouns have the same articles. This means that English nouns are gender neutral, except for nouns that refer specifically to a living creature that has a gender, such as “hen” and “rooster.”
All French nouns are either masculine or feminine. As a new learner, at times, it may feel like there is little or no logical reason why a given word takes a particular gender: for example, a football is feminine while a handkerchief is masculine. Some French words are gendered based on their endings. By paying attention to common endings, you can start to guess some genders.
Gender affects sentence construction as well. Each word’s article must match the gender of its noun. In other words, the English word “the” may be masculine or feminine. Other parts of speech, including relative pronouns and adjectives, must also match the gender of the noun.
2) Adjectives come after nouns
Something you may not notice when speaking English is that adjectives come before the nouns they describe. This is not the case in French, where the adjective most often comes after the noun it describes. Whereas in English, we’d say, “She is a smart girl”, in French, one would say the equivalent of “She is a girl smart.”
In English, verbs are negated by adding the negation before the verb: “I never hesitate”, “I don’t procrastinate” — or just after auxiliaries like “be” and “have”. French uses double-negation surrounding the verb, as if saying “I not hesitate ever” or “I not procrastinate not”.
Negating adjectives is much easier though: like in English, you can just add a prefix (“inefficient”) or “not” (“not lazy”).
4.) There are many false cognates
As noted earlier, French and English share many common words. These are called “cognates”, and there are many of them. But not every similar-sounding word has the same meaning. For example, the French word meaning “to attend” looks like “to assist”, and the French word meaning “great” looks exactly like “formidable”. These are called “false friends” or “false cognates”.
5.) In French, “to do” is not an auxiliary verb
In English, we often use “to do” as an auxiliary to create interrogations, negations and emphasis: “Do you learn?”, “I don’t learn”, “I DO learn”. French does not do this (and here the first “do” is such a “to do” being used as auxiliary). For questions, they invert subjects and verbs (“Learn you?”), use questioning intonations (“You learn?”), or add something before the question (“Is it that you learn?”). For negations, see above. For emphasis, they use adverbs.
6.) In French, the verb “to have” can be used to express feeling
In English, we talk about feelings using some form of a “being” verb, like “am.” In French, the verb “to have” is often used instead. For example, instead of saying “I am 20 years old,” a French-speaker would say “I have 20 years”. This is similar for many other traits, such as hunger (“I have hunger”) or fear (“I have fear”).
7.) French has fewer prepositions
English relies heavily on prepositions to provide details in discussions because we focus on describing where something is oriented in time and space. For example, “The cat is sitting on top of the chair, and the dog is sleeping under it.” While French certainly has prepositions, there are fewer of them in French than there are in English. This can cause some ambiguity for English speakers who are accustomed to more precise descriptions of location, but having fewer words to choose from can also make it much easier to remember all of them.
8.) French uses tenses differently
English speakers use tense largely to show if something happened in the past, present, or will happen in the future. French takes a slightly different approach, using tense to convey specific meaning. This isn’t entirely foreign to English speakers because we tend to use perfect tense in the professional world. It is similar in French, but it is used in every day speech, not just to show professionalism.
9.) Sentences are capitalized and punctuated differently
One of the most noticeable differences in punctuation between English and French is that French often uses contractions. Articles and pronouns are contracted, combining them with other words to simplify speech, like we do in English in “I’ll” or “won’t”. Once you learn how to do it correctly, you will find it much easier – it just takes a bit of work to get it to feel natural.
10.) Spelling is a bit harder in French
It’s the only European that is more notorious for its difficult spelling than English — the good news is French is a large reason why English is so difficult to spell, and both languages share many spellings. Like English, there are a lot of silent letters, just not typically the same letters. As you learn vocabulary, take the time to memorize how each word is spelled so that you can consistently spell it correctly. You can also imagine the word as you speak, and over time it will get easier to see the patterns.