Beginner French students might become frustrated with French grammar rules, exceptions to the rules and other mistakes they will make on their learning path. Learning any language is hard, but learning French is especially so. After all, the French actor Fabrice Luchini said: "French is so rich and so sacred that learning it is like learning a foreign language." Yes, Fabrice Luchini is French—and even he feels that it is foreign to him, a native French speaker.
- Acquiring a new skill, whether it is playing the guitar or learning French, involves making and correcting mistakes.
- You learn from your mistakes.
- At first you will make a lot of mistakes, but as time goes by and your skills develop, you will make fewer and fewer mistakes to a point where you won't make any and you can call yourself fluent.
By knowing in advance what mistakes to look for, you will be able to strategize and take a different learning approach. Watch out for these top 3 common French mistakes:
1. Grammatical Gender
Unlike English, French categorizes nouns into two categories: masculine and feminine.
In English we use the article "the" regardless of the noun gender:
- the boy
- the girl
In French, we use "le" as a masculine article and "la" as a feminine article:
- le garçon (the boy)
- la fille (the girl)
The reason why this is important, besides the fact that you want to be understood when you speak, is that other words in French must change their form or endings to agree with the gender of the noun to which they refer. For example:
- son garçon (his boy)
- sa fille (his girl)
Just like grammatical genders, French verbs have to be memorized. I would say verbs are the most difficult part on your path to fluency. In French, you will find regular verbs, irregular verbs, modal verbs, pronominal verbs, and each verb can have up to 6 different forms when you conjugate it.
Let's take the verb "to go" (aller), for example.
In English, all the conjugated forms are the same for any given tense except the 3rd person singular he and she:
I go, you go, he/she goes, we go, you go, they go. Easy right?
How about in French? je vais, tu vas, il va, nous allons, vous allez, ils vont
6 different forms. Ouch!
Where do we start with prepositions? Ask any of my students and they will tell you prepositions are their all-time pet peeve while learning French. Prepositions connect words together and they usually have a spatial or temporal meaning.
If there is one thing you need to remember from this article, it is to never ever try to translate from English to French. First of all, when you learn a language, you must learn, think, talk, dream, sing, and fully immerse yourself in the target language. You must not translate from your mother tongue to your new language.
Second of all, by avoiding direct translation, you will sidestep many faux-pas and awkward moments along the way.
Don't assume that because one preposition is used in English, the same preposition will be used in French. A totally different preposition might be used, or even no preposition at all.
Now that you have an overview of the 3 most common mistakes while learning French, you will be able to pinpoint and eliminate those mistakes. And remember: learning a language is much more than learning grammar, practicing and drilling. Learning French is living French.
I want to help you to not only study French grammar, but also to take you on a journey to France through songs, movies, readings, karaoke, newspapers, and more. I want you to think in French; I want you to dream in French; I want you to listen to French radio on your daily commute; I want you to pack your Netflix queue with French movies.
If you believe learning French is easy, if you believe I will help you, if you believe you can be fluent, you will be fluent.