“French is hard!” is a common sentence heard from language learners. Though it might be stressful to listen to learners saying that, it shows that there is something deep happening: They have entered their uncomfortable learning zones!
These are four of some challenges faced by French learners. This list is not exhaustive, I just focused on the common ones I often hear from learners.
- The gender: How do you know a word is masculine or feminine? That’s one of the first questions asked by a new French learner. I generally give two obvious answers to help the learners: Have a good bilingual dictionary and master your vocabulary while learning.
- Accents: é; à è û; ë ê ô. How do you master these accents? Two activities can help in this: Visual focus and phonetic activities. Take a time to make vocal rehearsals with words having an accent. Singing in French can be very good for that because it’s funny and you learn in an informal way.
- Pronominal or Reflexive verbs: I can see the stress on the students’ face when they try to translate the « Vous vous appelez comment? » in English. This is new for learners and they have to integrate it by just accepting that it’s French. S’appeler, se laver, se brosser, se coucher, se promener, se fâcher, etc. are a category of verbs mostly used to communicate on emotion, one’s body or location. They should not confuse these with verbs in English that are commonly used with reflexives pronouns.
- French and irregularities: After given a rule in grammar to French students, you can witness a smile on their faces because English also has many rules and some are similar to French. Suddenly, there are irregularities and you hear them complain again: “Banange! That French!”. If you accept that there are irregularities, your brain will also accept it as part of a new competence to develop.
All these uncomfortable situations are due to the fact that most learners still think in English while they are at the beginning (and even intermediate) level. Therefore, it’s a very good sign if you start noticing differences between French and English (there are also some similarities!).It shows that you are starting to think in French, and it’s an excellent process to develop new languages abilities. So move forward and don’t be discouraged!
Dear Students and French Trainer, this article was introductive and I would like to hear your own experience on the challenges you encountered as a French Learner or a French Trainer.
Hervé-Boris NGATE, Psychologist / Language and Cross-Cultural Trainer.
 Exclamation in Luganda, spoken in central Uganda