According to the International Organisation of La Francophonie, the French language is spoken by about 250 million people worldwide. Many international business transactions rely on French as a common language, and being able to speak, read, and write French is a great asset in traveling. Thankfully, English speakers who want to learn French will find it fairly easy as long as they continue practicing their skills. However, there are a few common difficulties that they will face upon making the decision to learn French.
One of the main difficulties for English speakers who want to learn French is that all French nouns have a gender assigned to them. This will likely seem counter-intuitive to English speakers, who are accustomed to gender-unspecific nouns and pronouns. In English we would refer to “a house” or “a door,” but those phrases in French would be written as “une maison” or “une porte.” The pronoun preceding the French nouns must change in accordance with the gender of the noun. This also affects the formation of verbs; a verb must agree with its subject not only in number but in gender as well. Thankfully, there are clues as to the gender of a French noun: those that end in the letter “e” are usually feminine.
English speakers will also likely experience some difficulty in pronouncing some of the phonemes, or units of sound, of the French language. They will likely find it difficult to pronounce the famous rolling “r” of French speech and the unusually forceful and deep sound of the “u.” The French language uses several accents, such as the accent grave and the accent aigu, that give different pronunciations to the same letters – something to which English speakers are not accustomed.
Lastly, English speakers who are learning French will likely find themselves confused when talking with a native French speaker because the native speaker’s words are shortened and “elided;” this means that when two vowel sounds occur in close proximity, such as at the end and beginning of two nearby words, one of the vowel sounds is eliminated in speech. The French language places great emphasis on the flow and rhythm of the language, which can confuse those who are just starting out in learning it.
It’s always a daunting task to start learning a new language, and English speakers who want to learn French will face certain difficulties. With practice and careful observation of other French speakers, however, English speakers can learn a language that will serve them for years to come.