Trying to figure out whether any language is difficult is highly dependent on the individual learning. Subjective factors including the student’s native language, number of other languages spoken, and personal motivation all play a part in determining a language’s difficulty.
It can be hard to call any language harder or easier to learn than another, but we will attempt in this article to answer the age old question: “how hard is French to learn?”
How Hard is it to Learn French?
French is an Indo-European language just like English, but it is a Romance language descended from Vulgar Latin. Still, both French and English descended from a common ancestor and therefore have some similarities. It is likely that native English speakers might think learning French is easier than speakers of other languages.
Let’s begin by going over some reasons students might think French is difficult to learn. We will also discuss how French might be easy to learn, as well as compare it to languages that are broadly considered difficult.
Why French is Difficult to Learn
The following are some reasons why French can seem difficult to learn.
French pronunciation tends to be much softer than English. It can be hard for the native English speaker to train himself to make these totally new sounds.
French grammar is different from English grammar, and this reason alone makes it difficult for new students. Adjusting to new rules takes some time.
Unlike English, French nouns are masculine or feminine. Definite articles include le (M), la (F) and les (plural). Indefinite articles will vary with noun gender as well. There are no set rules as to why a noun takes a certain gender, so these must be memorized.
French words sound like they are all mashed into one. Though it sounds much prettier than English, it can be hard to decipher where one word ends and the next begins.
Ways in Which French is Easy to Learn
On the other hand, French can seem easy to learn, too. The French language shares the same alphabet and quite a few cognates with English so you don’t need to learn new letters or completely new vocabulary.
English can be quite confusing if you are not a native speaker. French spellings are much more structured and therefore easier to learn. For example, there are many cases in English of words like moon and book that are both spelled with oo but sound completely different. French words that use the same vowels sound alike.
There is a pattern for conjugating French verbs, both regular and irregular. Conjugation can seem quite difficult at first, but once you know the pattern it becomes easier.
As mentioned French and English share quite a few cognates since they are both Indo-European languages. Cognates are words that mean the same thing and are spelled similarly in different languages. For example, the French biologie is biology in English.
How does French Compare to Other Difficult Languages
Because language learning depends on a variety of subjective variables, it is difficult to definitively answer the question “is French hard to learn?” When considering other languages like Russian or Chinese, two of the DLI’s Category IV languages, you can see how French can be perceived as easier to learn.
The Russian languages uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which is almost completely different from the Latin alphabet used by French and English. Likewise, the Chinese language uses 2400 basic characters that are nothing like the Latin Alphabet. Learning Russian or Chinese is like learning a completely new concept, whereas learning French has some familiar ideas with it.
How Long Does it Take to Learn French
There are many factors that determine how long it takes to learn to speak French. From the type of course the learner are enrolled in to the native language of the learner. French may be easier for an English or Spanish speaker to pick up than it would be for a Chinese speaker because they are more similar. A few other factors include:
- Learner’s motivation
- Amount of time spent studying
- Intensity and length of the class
How Long Does it Take to Speak Fluent French?
Becoming completely fluent in French can take up to five years, but this is not guaranteed. Fluency can be affected by a number of factors, but mostly it depends on the learner’s desire to become fluent. One of the most effective ways of gaining fluency is by immersing oneself into the language. If it is possible to live and work in a French-speaking community and use the language daily, it will speed up the time it takes to become fluent.
The French Alphabet
French uses the 26-character Latin alphabet like English which helps to take the pressure off learning a new system. In fact, the only difference is the pronunciation of those letters. Remember when we mentioned that French sounds softer than English? That is the key difference. For example, the English H is pronounced ash in French. Similarly, you will notice the English G, A and Y are pronounced shay, ah and ee-grehk, respectively.
The Best Free Resources for Learning French
If you are considering learning how to speak French, but you aren’t sure you want to dive right in, you can always try out some of these free resources. Duolingo is an interactive, game-like platform designed to make learning fun with a variety of fill-in-the-blank, speaking, and reading exercises. It is colorful and keeps learning interesting and fun. However, you won’t find in-depth coverage of grammar rules and such. Still, it is a great way to see if you want to take French learning to the next level.
Another free French learning site is Learn French. It offers a variety of everyday scenarios you can work through with recorded pronunciations. There are over 350 audio lessons to practice. You can even use Skype to have one-on-one French conversations with others.
The Best Paid Resources for Learning French
One of the most thorough courses we found for the price is FrenchPod101 by Innovative Languages. Structured courses begin for as low as $4 per month and offer four levels of expertise from absolute beginner through the advanced speaker. There are audio and video lessons, interactive learning tools, and even one-on-one instruction available. Click the image below to read our review:
Rocket French from Rocket Languages offers a good, one-time payment option (if you’re sick of monthly payments like us…). The course is well-structured and material is comprehensive. We found it to be a good option for people already enrolled in a high school or university French course.
The Mimic Method, developed by Idahosa Ness, is another paid resource for learning French. Ness is a polyglot and musician and believes sound is the basis of learning a new language. Like the Pimsleur Method, the Mimic Method teaches you to speak French by immersing you in conversations and music in order to teach you French in a way you learned your mother language, by listening and mimicking. Click the image below to read our detailed review of the Mimic Method:
So, is French Hard to Learn?
French may be difficult for some and easier for others, but overall it is one of the easier languages for a native English speaker to learn. Of course, motivation and dedication to becoming fluent in French will play a major role, but anyone who puts in the time and commitment can succeed in learning to speak French.
Michael has been an avid language learner and traveler for many years. His goal with LanguageTsar is to discover the most fun and effective ways to learn a language. He is currently learning Japanese, French and Indonesian.