Everyone wants to know “what’s the hardest thing to learn in French?”
As a native French speaker, I hesitated. What was difficult for me will be completely different for an English speaker who learns French as a second language. It will also be different depending on what level you are at in your journey and what other languages you’ve been exposed to.
To put it simply: everyone learns differently.
What is easy for one person may seem difficult for another. But, in an effort to answer this eternal question, I’ve come up with 6 contenders for The Hardest Thing to Learn in French.
Each one is sorted into three categories:
Have a read through the list and let us know which one you think is the hardest.
As you start your French journey, you’ll begin to discover that the sounds you use in every day English are very different to the kinds of sounds you need to speak French. Many adult learners struggle to shape their mouth correctly to create these sounds.
Without a good teacher, it can be tricky to learn how to shape your mouth, tongue and throat to produce these new sounds.
As a lifelong teacher, I have noticed a trend in English schooling where students tend to skip over the technical framework of their native language i.e. different parts of the sentence structure and different tyoes of sentences. Paired with technical gramar jargon, this can make it difficult to understand a new concept.
Affirmatives, negatives, interrogatives, pronouns and articles, adjectives and adverbs, compound tenses and reflexive verbs… if we don’t know what these mean in English,understanding them in French becomes extra difficult, non? I often hear students complain ‘I wish we were taught grammar when I was at school’. Chances are you’ll learn it in parralel with your French lessons.
By this intermediate stage, many learners will have encountered around 5-15 tenses and have learned how to conjugate verbs in many ways. Some may even have memorised the rules for conjugation plus the fiddly exeptions.
The struggle comes from trying to move fluidly between different tenses in conversation, without losing flow. This can make conversation clunky and slow, and some students may avoid conversation practice at this stage. (if you struggle with this, check out our French verb tense lookup guide)
Progressing to intermediate also means learning new ways to say the same or similar things. Synonyms, or words that share the same meaning, will become a key part of your new vocabulary training at this stage.
You’ll expand your repertoire to talk about the same general topics like work, family, hobbies. You may lose that “new and shiny” feeling, and everything becomes a matter or refining how you express yourself so it can be a hard thing to accept and invest your energy in.
Don’t worry you’ll also usually add new topics like current affairs, feelings, people’s behaviours etc. So don’t doubt yourself during this intermediate stage, it’s all about refining and practicing.
Speed & Flow
As students begin to reach an advanced level, they’re learning to assemble fancier sentences quickly. A key part of this is learning to adapt to a speed and flow. This means no longer being stuck in the constant micro decision-making process:
Which tense should I use? Which subject? Am I conjugating this verb properly? What’s that word again? Am I using the right pronoun? Is it in the right position?
Practice and exposure to new words and phrases is the only way to improve your speed and flow.
Understanding spoken French
Arguably the most difficult part of learning French is learning to understand others. This is especially hard because the amount of words a native French speaker knows will always outpace a French learner, even at an advanced level. A native speaker will use colloquialisms and idioms, and may even use modern, slang or “street French” – a type of French commonly used in conversation amongst natives and in movies, but isn’t taught in books.
Learning to understand only comes from repeated practice, ideally with a range of conversation partners, different accents, different speeds of speech…
Each French student will struggle with something different.
And each student may struggle with different things at different parts of their learning journey. This is totally normal, each level has different challenges!
Whatever you are having trouble with, our friendly team of French tutors are ready to help you reach your next level. Simply contact us here.