French Language Guide
French is known to be the language of love because of its melodious rhythm. But its beauty is not the only reason why learning French is a great idea today. Becoming fluent in French, for example, will prove useful if you intend to travel to a French-speaking country and it can be a career asset if you want to look for a job at one of the many multinational companies that use French as their working language. Furthermore, by learning French, you’ll be expanding your social circle. French is not only spoken natively in France but in 30 other countries, so by mastering the language, you’ll be able to make new friends from all over the world.
Plus, French is not so difficult to learn for English speakers. These two languages have been in contact since the times of the Norman Conquest so they share a lot of linguistic structures and vocabulary. With patience, consistency, and motivation, you’ll soon find yourself speaking French like a native! So, if you are looking to learn French, take a look at the guide below with everything you need to take your skills to the next level.
How Many People Speak French and Where Is it Spoken?
French is among the ten most spoken languages in the world, with over 275 million native and non-native speakers scattered around the planet. Plus, French is the official language of 31 countries, namely:
All of these places have their own French dialect, with differences in vocabulary and sentence structure. If you’d like to learn more about these different versions of French, you can take a look at our article about the main French spoken accents and varieties or at this one about the top dialects of the French language.
French & English: How Are They Related?
French and English have been related since the time of the Norman Conquest of England, back in the 11th century. When William the Conqueror became king, French became the language of the government, the court, and the nobility while English continued to be used by the common people.
This meant that over 10,000 French terms entered the English language at the time and the process never stopped. Most of these words are still used today, including:
- Beef (which derives from boeuf)
- Royal (which derives from roial)
And there are many more! So, as an English speaker, you’ll soon realize you know a lot more French than you imagined. In addition to isolated words, many French expressions are also widely used in English, such as avant-garde or carte blanche.
English spelling also changed under the influence of French. In the past, Old English wrote present-day “qu” as “cw” or present-day “sh” as “sc”. But once it started being in close contact with French after the Norman Conquest, the original English word “cwen” became “queen” and “scip” became “ship”. Finally, in terms of word order, some legal and medical expressions took the French style of putting adjectives after the noun, such as surgeon general or attorney general.
Learn The French Grammar System
While the French grammar system can be hard to learn, it’s not impossible. You just need to be aware of the differences with the English system and practice a lot. Take a look at our guide below and learn French grammar for free!
French is a gendered language. This means that nouns, adjectives, and some articles can either be masculine or feminine. Gender is grammatical, so it’s not always related to what the word represents. For example, a person (une personne) is feminine in French, no matter you are talking about a man or a woman.
Unfortunately, there are no fixed rules to learn the gender of nouns, so you’ll have to study them case by case. For instance, you’ll have to memorize that chanson is feminine while coton is masculine. Plus, nouns can be singular or plural, which is usually marked with an “s” (which is not pronounced in spoken discourse).
How to identify the gender of French nouns
While there are no fixed rules to learn the gender of French nouns, the endings of these words can help you understand whether they are masculine or feminine.
of Feminine Nouns
|-ance, as in une abondance (abundance)|
|-ière, as in une cafetière (a coffee shop)|
|-sion/tion, as in une adoption (an adoption)|
|-ie, as in une acadèmie (an academy)|
|-esse, as in une caresse (a caress)|
|-ette, as in une baguette (a piece of bread)|
of Masculine Nouns
|-eau, as in le bateau (the boat)|
|-ège, as in un collège (a university)|
|-ème, as in le problème (a problem)|
|-er, as in le boucher (the butcher)|
|-et, as in un navet (a turnip)|
|-isme, as in le cyclisme (cycling)|
|-ent, as in le gouvernement (the government)|
French adjectives, similar to nouns, are inflected for gender and number. Plus, the order of adjectives is a bit different from that of English. Most of them are placed after the noun, others go before, and some others can either go after or before the noun:
- Adjectives that go after the noun: Most adjectives go after the noun they describe. For instance, a white house is a maison blanche in French.
- Adjectives that go before the noun: Adjectives that correspond to the acronym BAGS always go before the noun. These include B for beauty, A for age, G for goodness, and S for size. For example, a beautiful house is une belle maison while a small car is une petite voiture. Another example includes ordinal adjectives (such as first, second, third), as in le premier jour de la semaine (the first day of the week).
French verbs, similar to other Romance languages, have inflections for person, tense, and mood. This means that there are 6 different conjugations for a verb in the same tense and mood, something that never occurs in English. Let’s take a look at the following examples:
|I (Je)||Will eat||Mangerai|
|You (tu)||Will eat||Mangeras|
|He/She (il/elle)||Will eat||Mangera|
|We (nous)||Will eat||Mangerons|
|You (vous)||Will eat||Mangerez|
|They (ils/elles)||Will eat||Mangeront|
As you can see, there are many more conjugations in French than there are in English. But don’t worry: there are many rules and tips that will help you know exactly how to conjugate verbs in French (unless they are irregular!).
- Verbs with an infinitive ending in -er take regular endings. For instance, the ones for the present tense are -e. -es, -ons, -ez, and -ent.
- Verbs that end in -ir also take regular endings. You’ll need to remember the ones for each person and tense. For example, the endings for the present tense are: - is, -it- issons, -issez, -issent.
- -re ending verbs take the following endings in the present tense: -re, -s, -s, -ons, -ez-, and -ent.
Plus, you should not forget to learn the conjugation of verbs together with their pronunciation. Otherwise, you may know that mangerez goes with vous, but if you have no clue how to pronounce it, you won’t be able to use it in conversation.
Most Common Verbs in French and How to Use Them
It’s wise to start your language journey with words you are likely to encounter in everyday life. For instance, there are 10-12 verbs which are very frequently used and you should learn as soon as possible! Find them in the table below
|English Version||French Verb||Example|
|Be||Être||Je suis un homme.|
|Have||Avoir||Tu as un chien.|
|Make||Faire||Je fais mes devoirs.|
|Go||Aller||Nous allons à l'université.|
|Can||Pouvoir||Je peux parler français.|
|Know||Savoir||Je sais parler français.|
|Put||Mettre||Je mets une pomme sur la table.|
|Come||Venir||Je viens de Paris.|
|Say||Dire||Il a dit qu'il m'aimait.|
|Want||Vouloir||Je veux un livre.|
|Speak||Parler||Je parle français.|
|Give||Donner||Elle a donné sa vie.|
|See||Voir||Je vois la lumière.|
|Eat||Manger||Nous mangeouns du pain.|
|Drink||Boire||Tu as bu du vin.|
|Live||Habiter||J'habite à Paris.|
|Need||Avoir Besoin||J'ai besoin d'argent.|
Learn The French Pronunciation System
Although the French language has almost the same alphabet as the English one, when it comes to the pronunciation system, they differ widely. For example, the difference between a, à, and â can be hard to grasp and produce. If you’d like more guidance on how to pronounce vowels in French, you can take a look at this video (or contact us to get started with French lessons with native-speaking tutors!). Anyway, find below some tips on how to pronounce French sounds like a pro!
For the vowel sounds:
|avoir (to have)||It's pronounced like the "a" in adventure|
|It's pronounced like the "e" in elementary|
|It's pronouncedlike the "e" in very|
|It's pronounced like the "i" in finish|
|It's pronounced like the "o" in October|
|Victor||It's pronounced like the "o" in shop|
|It's pronounced like the "u" in furious. It's halfway between the "ee" sound and the "ooh" movement of the lips. Try saying "ooh" while pronouncing "ee".|
For the nasal vowel sounds (in, en/an, on)
|[ɛ̃]in – im – ain – ein||vin
|It's pronounced like the "en" in entrance or event (without tapping your tongue).|
|[ɑ̃]an – am – en – em||sans
|It's pronounced like the "un" un "under", "fun" (without tapping your tongue)|
|[ɔ̃]on – oms||maison
|It's pronounced like the "on" in on (without tapping your tongue)|
1. The French Silent Letters
Have you noticed that some words in French have letters at the end that are not pronounced? You’ve probably heard some of them, such as Descartes or rendezvous. Luckily, there are some rules that will help you understand when and how to use silent letters in French:
- The letter “e” at the end is not pronounced, unless the syllable is stressed or a monosyllable.
- Letters p, g, m, n, s, t, x, z, and d are usually silent in final position. Some examples include trop (too), sang (blood), or vous (you).
- The “h” is typically silent, too, especially when it appears at the beginning of words, such as homme or hôpital.
The R Sound
The French R is one of the sounds with which foreign-language speakers struggle the most. To correctly pronounce it, you’ll need to use your throat! You’ll need to produce a sound similar to our “k” but with your throat closed, as if you were trying to gargle. Find in this YouTube video by French Truly a few examples and practice!
The Double L
Double Ls in French can have two pronunciations: /l/ as in lion or /sh/ as in she. How do you know which one should you use? Well, though the rules are a bit inconsistent, there are a few tips that can help you:
- If there’s a vowel (a, e, o, u, or y) before the double l, you should pronounce it as /l/, as in elle (she) or balle (dance).
- If there’s an i before the ll, you should pronounce it as /sh/, as in mouiller (to get wet) or taille (size).
- The same happens if there’s no vowel before the cluster -ille, as in fille (girl) or bille (marble).
Tools to Learn French Online for Free
If you would like to try some tools to learn French for beginners, here are some great suggestions:
- Join Conversation Exchange if you are learning French online for free and don’t have a partner with whom to practice. This is a free forum where you’ll meet other people learning French to put your skills into play.
- Visit The News in Slow French, even if you are learning French as a beginner. This site, as the name shows, simplifies grammar and sentence structure and uses easy vocabulary so you can start listening to the news even if your level is elementary.
- Download free language learning apps like Duolingo, Drops, or Memrise into your phone and start learning French vocabulary in an interactive manner. They have short lessons for those with a busy schedule, so you’ll be able to learn French even if you only have a few minutes to study every day.
- YouTube is an amazing resource to learn French for free if you need to put your listening skills into practice. For instance, Learn French with Vincent is one of the most popular channels, as the lessons are short, engaging, and interactive!
- Reading the news in French is an amazing option to enhance your reading skills while being informed about what is going on in the world. For this, you can use free newspapers like Le Huff Post, which also have English versions so you can compare and check if there’s something you don’t understand.
Some Tips to Learn French Online
- Using songs is an excellent strategy to learn French on your own. If you need some suggestions, you can read our article with 5 spectacular songs to help you learn French or follow our French playlists on Spotify to keep on learning!
- Students looking to perfect their listening skills while learning something new can also use podcasts to learn French. Find here 6 of our top podcast picks to make your French skills soar.
- Those who prefer learning languages with films or TV series can read our articles on 5 great films to help you learn French or these 5 amazing Netflix series to improve your language ability.
- Social media is also useful to learn French! You’ll learn slang and colloquial phrases for everyday use. For instance, find here 5 French Instagram accounts you should follow if you are studying French.
How Long Does it Take to Learn French?
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer here. How fast or how slow you learn French will depend on several factors, such as:
Your Mother Tongue.
If you speak only English, experts claim it will take you approximately 600 hours to become fluent in French. But if you are a native speaker of a Romance language (such as Spanish or Portuguese), this time is reduced to 400 hours due to similarities between languages.
How Motivated You Are
It’s not the same to learn French because it’s an obligation as studying the language because it will help you advance in your career (and get a salary raise). Those who have a strong motivation to learn French will advance much quicker than those who don’t. Having a teacher will also help you stay motivated and focused during your French learning process.
Time and Consistency
Some people say that quality should go over quantity, but in this case, both are important. It’s of no use to have an amazing French class today and take the next one in a month, without practicing in the middle. When learning French, what matters is consistency. Even if you only have 15 minutes per day to study, don’t stop! Learn new words, use an app, try to complete at least one exercise and soon you’ll notice results.
Learning Alone or Learning With Others
Learning French on your own, without a teacher, has a number of advantages, such as not spending money and deciding when and how you study. But self-study also has limitations, especially if you are trying to develop speaking skills. While speaking on your own is useful, having a professional tutor would be ideal to learn effective conversation abilities and you get useful feedback on what you still need to improve.
But if you prefer to learn French for free, you should at least try to find like-minded students or native speakers with whom to practice.
A Short Guide to French Idioms
A big part of sounding like a native in French is knowing colloquialisms and slang. For instance, idioms are phrases that usually make no sense if interpreted literally, so you need to know their meaning to understand what they refer to.
While there are thousands of idioms (and many of them depend on the type of French you are learning), here we present you with a few colloquial phrases you should know if you want to truly be fluent in French!
|Idiom||Meaning||Example in French||English translation|
|En avoir marre||To be fed up with.||J’en ai marre de tes excuses||I’m fed up with your excuses|
|Avoir la flemme||To feel lazy.||Ils ont la flemme de nettoyer leur chambre||They are too lazy to tidy up their room|
|Tourner la page||To turn the page.||Quand rien ne va plus, il faut savoir tourner la page||When things are not working anymore, it’s time to turn the page|
|Avoir la gueule de bois||To have a hangover.||J’ai fait la fête hier et aujourd’hui j’ai la gueule de bois||I partied yesterday and today I have a hangover|
|Sage comme une image||To be good as gold||Elle a été sage comme une image ce soir||She was good as gold this evening|
|Au ras des paquerettes||To have no interest.||Cette conversation vole au ras des paquerettes||This conversation is of no interest, very basic|
|Être mal en point||To be in a bad shape.||Il a eu un accident de voiture, il est mal en point||He had a car accident, he is in a bad shape|
|Croire dur comme fer||To strongly believe in something.||Le nouveau PDG croit dur comme fer au rôle des femmes pour la société||The new CEO strongly believes in the role of women for the company|
Plus, we have more resources for you!
- Find here 11 idioms to enrich your French vocabulary.
- Read this article to learn new French slang terms to help you sound and feel like a local.
- Take a look at these unique Canadian French idioms if you plan to go to Canada.
All in all, learning French is a worthwhile investment for your future. With all the resources and tips shared above, we are sure you’ll achieve fluency in a short time! Furthermore, you can take a look at our blog or follow us on Instagram or Facebook to find even more interesting materials to help you study French on your own.
And if you need you need more help to learn French, why not start studying with one of our world-class tutors? Contact us today and we will pair you up with one of our experienced teachers, such as Piera and Bruno, who shared their expertise with us to make this guide. With their guidance, you’ll soon find yourself having conversations in fluent French!
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