Why French is Harder Than English

If you’ve read the article “Why French is Easier Than English” you’ll have read about some great reasons why English speakers have an easier time learning French. However, there are also several reasons why French is actually harder to learn than English.

We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite difficulties that put English speakers at a disadvantage compared to their French counterparts. Although there are likely dozens of reasons why French is more difficult than English these five reasons are our favorites.  Hopefully at least one of these will be familiar to you. Let’s go through them…

Bescherelle – L’Art de Conjuguer

Reason #1 – Conjugations – As far as standard European languages go, English speakers get the bad end of the deal when it comes to conjugations. So much so that the majority of English speakers don’t even know what conjugations are.

Because of this, when anglophones jump into the French language they are usually baffled by the complicated conjugations that come with it. No matter which way you slice it, French conjugations are far more difficult than those of English. Let’s look at some examples to better demonstrate this…

 

To Eat

I eat

You eat

He/She eats

We eat

You eat

They eat

 

Manger

Je mange

Tu manges

Il/Elle mange

Nous mangeons

Vous mangez

Ils mangent

 

By just looking at the above examples it’s obvious that the French conjugations are much more difficult. The only time the English verb changes is in what is knows as the 3rd person (he/she) and all that has to be done is to add an “S”.

In the French example however, almost all of the forms are different. Unfortunately it isn’t just the French present tense where these complicated forms exist as it also applies to every other verb tense. All of this is to say that most people would agree that when it comes to conjugations French is far more difficult.

Reason #2 – Genders – Who could talk about any romance language and not talk about noun genders. This is another element where English speakers get the short end of the deal. Most European language haves gendered nouns to some degree.

Because of this, if a native speaker of a given European language (other than English) tries to learn French, they at least understand what genders are and aren’t going in completely unaware of the concept entirely.

However, even when English speakers understand exactly what gendered-nouns are, they still have to learn the gender of each and every noun that they encounter. To make things worse, French has very limited rules as to how to figure out which word is masculine and which is feminine.

Other classic romance languages such as Spanish or Italian have rules that can help you figure out which gender to use for which nouns.

Of course there are exceptions to these rules, but overall they can get you pretty far. In French, there are a few rules here and there for learning which gender to use for which noun, but for the most part you are on your own. Definitely a very basic and difficult part of French for native English speakers.

Reason #3 – Higher Expectations – We like to include things in our lists that a lot of people experience, but rarely think about. This is exactly one of those things. The big advantage that French speakers learning English have over English natives learning French is that the societal expectations for them are much much lower.

Because English is a language used so frequently for traveling most people don’t expect that much out of those who aren’t native speakers.

Therefore the French don’t have to speak English to the same level as a native-English speaker who is learning French. If an anglophone wishes to be taken seriously while speaking French they must achieve a much higher level than a French speaker learning English.

This is because the majority of people who they’ll be speaking with are French natives and not French learners like them. This isn’t said to speak poorly of anyone, but rather to just point out the reality of language learning between English and French.

Reason #4 – Oral Comprehension – It’s hard to say that any language is more difficult to understand than another because if you don’t speak a given language it’s always going to be difficult to understand.

However there is one element of French pronunciation that makes comprehension especially difficult for English speakers. That element is liaisons. Liaisons for the beginner French learner make the French language so much more difficult to understand.

Bringing the sound from a previous word over to the beginning of the next word is unintuitive, illogical, and hard to remember for beginner French learners. Even in practicing oral comprehension it can be incredibly difficult to know if two words joined together with a liaison is indeed two words or if it just happens to be one word that you’ve never heard before.

Couple that with certain liaisons being obligatory, others being optional, and others entirely being forbidden and you have huge problem for English speakers.

The English language doesn’t have such liaisons in any capacity. Each word in a sentence is separate from the others making it much easier for learners.

Reason #5 – The French Subjunctive – Few verb tenses in French are as scary of the subjunctive. Just like verb conjugations, the English subjunctive also exists, although it’s undeniably far easier than its French counterpart. So much so that most native English speakers don’t even know what the subjunctive is.

French learners on the other hand study the French subjunctive in school so they’re much more informed on what it is. When learning the French subjunctive you have to learn a different set of conjugations for all verbs.

You also have to learn in which instances you employ the subjunctive, which unfortunately isn’t very logical.

Just like when figuring out whether a noun is masculine or feminine there are a few rules to learning the French subjunctive. However they’re a little vague and overall hard to understand. You’re better off just trying to memorize when and where to use it.

You can easily put this towards the top of the list of points that English speakers struggle with. Below is an example of the verb “aller” in the subjunctive tense…

Aller

Je vais

Tu vas

Il/elle va

Nous allons

Vous allez

Ils vont

 

Aller au subjonctif

J’aille

Tu ailles

Il/elle aille

Nous allions

Vous alliez

Ils/elles aillent

 

Doesn’t even look at the same, does it? This is only a taste of the struggles but the French subjunctive has to offer.

Going through what we’ve discussed we have five reasons why French is harder than English. The first one is conjugations. Yes, conjugations definitely exist in English.

However they’re so much easier that English speakers are generally unaware of what conjugations even are. In French they change much more often making them really be a pain in the neck to master.

Next, gendered nouns pose a big problem for English speakers as they don’t exist at all in the English language. Not only do you have to understand that nouns are either masculine or feminine, you must also learn which gender to use with which noun.

Unlike some other romance languages French is less straightforward and requires more memorization regarding which gender to use where.

Reason #3 is about how English speakers learning French have higher expectations placed on them than vice versa. In order to be respected as a French speaker your level of French must be much greater than the French person who wants to be respected as an English speaker. It may be unfortunate for English speakers, but it’s the truth.

Reason #4 tells us that liaisons make it difficult to not only pronounce French sentences but also to understand them. If you’re having trouble understanding French sentences to begin with, then having words and sentences joined together as they are when using liaisons can make it very difficult to differentiate between everything.

Couple that with the fact that some liaisons are mandatory, optional and forbidden and you make what is already considered a difficult process even more difficult.

Finally, the French subjunctive has English speakers scratching their head about this new tense that they didn’t even know existed. Not to mention when and where exactly it’s used. Although the subjunctive tense exists in English as well, it is near child’s play compared to its French cousin.

What other reasons do you know of regarding why French is more difficult than English? Comment below in Tell us about them. There are no doubt tons of reasons why French is harder one difficult in English, however the five reasons listed in this article are our favorites. If you have other reasons would love to hear about them.

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