It is widely believed that any attempts to speak French will surely meet with your interlocutor’s disapproval if you don’t possess an advanced knowledge of French grammar and vocabulary, combined with a flawless pronunciation.
Another stereotype is that the French are not fond of foreigners trying to speak their language, and may find any such attempts ridiculous. Is all of the above true? How many hours of study entitle you to casually order a café with a croissant? What about deeper linguistic knowledge? Let’s just put it like this: is French hard?
Something to keep up a beginner’s spirits
Let’s start with the easy aspects of French. Above all, it is worth keeping in mind that the Latin alphabet, utilised by most European languages, allows for learning new words from the very beginning of one’s studies. Furthermore, most structures are similar to ours and easy to follow: phrase components and word order (subject, predicate, object), question formation by a proper intonation or adding a particle at the beginning of the sentence, etc. Besides, the popularity of the language of love certainly makes matters easier. Not only it translates into a vast availability of teachers and study material, but above all, into the set of French words we already know – be it from music, cuisine or general culture.
C’est la vie and let’s go!
Is French hard? Not really – once you realise that you already know many words in French, and even use them on a daily basis, since they passed smoothly from French into your native language. Let’s take a look at a few examples from English: cider (le cidre), soup (la soupe), marinade (la marinade), cream (la crème), or champagne (le champagne). Intentionally or not, we tend to use a number of other French words and structures: en face, à propos, déjà vu, crème de la crème, rendez-vous, or vis-à-vis.
However, there are grounds for the common belief that French is hard to learn. Although we are familiar with the French letters, the pronunciation rules make the whole thing rather tricky. French is dominated by vowels. Their pronunciation may be varying very slightly, yet these subtle differences can change the meaning of an entire word. Moreover, the general belief that several rules in the French grammar have no practical use in real life is… true. While taking notes on any topic, you will probably need additional space in your notebook in order to make a list of all the exceptions. Furthermore, some grammatical structures in French – subjonctif, for example – may have no equivalent in your native language, which makes it difficult to learn their proper use.
Comme si, comme ça
So can we give a clear answer to the initial question: is French hard? Obviously, everything depends on the major issue: your expectations and your individual predispositions. Are you satisfied with the ability to say hello and wish someone a good day? Good news – this will be quite easy. Is your goal having a smooth conversation about economy or reading Victor Hugo’s works in French? This can be accomplished with a lot of effort and natural language skills. The French talk too fast or use incomprehensible abbreviations? Ask them to slow down, and they will most likely be glad to help you out. So, instead of living in constant fear of committing a faux pas, just imagine everyone listening to you and saying: Chapeau bas!