Many people find the prospect of speaking French very scary. We’re put off by its difficult spelling and really fear making a mistake! Some of us might have traumatic memories of failing French tests at school have been put off learning French ever since.
But fear not! Because as this post is going to explain, French is actually one of the easiest European languages to learn. In many ways, it’s even easier than learning English! And as French is a world language, spoken by over 220 million people, learning French can give you access to a huge chunk of the world.
So ignore the nay-sayers – let’s find out why learning French is actually pretty facile !
Talking in English about something that happened in the past is like opening a Pandora’s box of different nuances, implications, and subtleties. In French, however, it’s a lot simple.
I did, I have done, and I did do in spoken French is just j’ai fait.
I used to do, I was doing, and I would do in spoken French is just je faisais.
That’s pretty much all there is to it!
One of the biggest challenges for English speakers when learning French is getting used to the idea that every word has its own gender. A French table is a ‘she’, but a French wine is a ‘he’.
However, unlike in German where genders are so unpredictable that they drive all students to the breach of insanity, in French, there are patterns that are actually quite easy to spot.
If a word ends in -age, -ment, -il, -ail, -eil, -euil, -eau, -eu, -er, -oir, -isme, -ing, -ard, -am, -um, -em, -it, -est, -an, -and, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont, -ème, or ège, then it’s usually masculine.
If a word ends in -tion, -sion, -son, -ure, -ude, -ade, -ée, -té, -ière, -euse, -ance, -ence, or -ie, then it’s usually feminine.
In English our verbs pretty much stay the same, no matter who is doing them. I speak, you speak, we speak and so on. The only exception is he, she or it, who actually speaks.
In French, things look deceptively different, although actually it’s pretty easy. The verb parler, which means ‘to speak’ looks like this:
At first glance this might seem intimidating. But in actual fact, four of these are pronounced exactly the same way. Because ‘s’ at the end is silent, je, tu, il and elle all really just parle, and the -ent in ils parlent and elles parlent is also silent, so sounds exactly the same as je parle.
That leaves three endings: parle, parlons and parlez. But things get even simpler when you realise that vous parlez is pronounced exactly the same as the infinitive form parler which means ‘to speak’.
So that leaves parlons, which is the most different of all the forms. But to make matters even simpler, French people rarely if ever say nous parlons. Instead, they just use the word on, which sort-of translates to ‘one’, and follows exactly the same pattern is il/elle parle. So ‘we speak’ is on parle in colloquial French.
So when learning the verb parler (to speak), the only forms you really need to learn are parle (which you say for I, you, he, she, it, we, and they) and parlez, which sounds the same as the infinitive, and is only used for formal and plural ‘you’.
Some languages start out quite easy and then get harder. But French is one of those languages that starts out quite hard, but then gets easier. Especially if you speak English already.
Many of the basic words in French are quite different to English: apple is pomme, car is voiture, mother is mère and so on.
But as you get more advanced in French, you’ll realise that so many of the words are extremely similar, if not identical to English. Agriculture is agriculture, decision is décision, direction is direction, and so on.
You may actually know more French words than you think! Check out this recent article on the Memrise blog for more on that.
That’s because English was heavily influenced by French after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. French became the language of the courts, of government and the law, and so many more complex words in English come directly from French.
According to some estimates, 40-45% of English vocabulary is shared with French!
France has an extremely rich and influential culture, and the traces of that are all around us to see. In the Western World and elsewhere, we are used to restaurants having French names, or even having entirely French place names on our maps.
That’s given us a familiarity with French that we might not have with many other languages. It might be entirely subconscious, but when you learn about those funny looking accents like the French ^ symbol, you may recognise it from words like Côte, which is a restaurant chain in the UK.
Equally, there are so many cities and streets in the UK and USA with names like Montpelier, Lacrosse, Belfort, and Bellevue. When you start learning French, and finally find out what these things mean, then you should have a little lightbulb going off in your head. These are things you’ve known your whole life, you just needed to start learning some French to work out what they meant!
Learning a language is never easy, but picking up some French is nowhere near as hard as you might think.