French Language: Complete Guide

Updated: 11. Jul, 2022

French is a beautiful language, with its harmonious interplay of words; its soft Frenchy Rs are a particular highlight. Even in its sound, the French language has an obvious elegance. Many beginners, however, cannot learn it due to the difficulty of grammar and spelling.

In this article, we will examine the simplest guide on how to learn French. 

Overview of French

France embraced French as a language in the 6th-9th century. Now, more than 200 million individuals in 43 countries across five continents use French as their first or second language. French is a Romance language that evolved from Latin.

About 29 nations use French as their official language. These countries include Vanuatu and other French overseas territories in Oceania, Canada and Haiti in North America, French Guiana in South America, more than a dozen African countries, and five European states.

After English, one of the most often taught second languages is French. Additionally, one of the official languages of the Olympic Games is French. Also, one of the official languages of the UN is French. Your chances of interacting with people in a nation that doesn’t speak English are higher if you speak French. 

Dialects

Several French dialects, varieties, types, creoles, and accents exist worldwide. Currently, about 300 million people speak French. This number includes native speakers, those who use French as a second or third language, and students not living in French-speaking regions.

France has many tongues that are native to its lands. They are often referred to as patois (a regional form of communication, i.e., dialects, mainly French), but the term usually has negative connotations.

According to linguists, there are about 75 regional languages in France. Occitan, Breton, Basque, Corsican, Alsatian, and several Melanesian languages like Tahitian are among those that are taught in schools. Four hundred thousand students each year study a regional language in France’s public and private schools. Moreover, for their baccalaureate examinations, students must be able to study a topic in a local language.  

Alphabet

The first step for anyone learning French should be to learn to read the French alphabet. Getting familiar with the French alphabet and the individual letter sounds is important.

Over 28% of English words have a French antecedent, and the French alphabet has many of the same letters as the English alphabet. As a result, it ranks among the simplest languages for English speakers to learn. There is one exception, however, and that is the use of accents on certain letters. Getting the alphabet’s pronunciation correct is perhaps the largest obstacle facing English speakers attempting to learn French.

The contemporary French alphabet has 26 scripted letters. However, there are at least 38 distinct phonetic sounds in contemporary French. There are certain differences in how letters in the English and French alphabets express sounds despite their similar alphabets. In French, numerous sounds exist. These different sounds can be used to spell out the same set of letters, or syllables, at several positions within words. It comes down to learning to recognize these patterns and applying them to your speech.

Numbers

In French, there are two major categories of numbers. These are Ordinal and Cardinal numbers.

Cardinal numerals represent quantities like two cats or nine rabbits, referred to in French as “Deux chats” and “Neuf lapins,” respectively. When learning to count, you may notice numerous parallels between the terms “cani” and “canine” used in English. If you’re looking to describe a person’s rank or position, then ordinal numerals (les nombres ordinaux) are the best way to go about it. Examples of ordinal numbers are sixth or ninth. In French, they are ‘Sixième’ for the sixth and ‘Neuvième’ for the ninth.

Like English ordinal numbers, the Ordinal positional numerals have distinct representations. Similar to how English ordinal numbers are written, French ordinal numbers are written with a hyphen, as in “Vingt-cinquième.” In addition, the first ten ordinal numbers have special terms designated to them. The remaining numbers are created by adding “ième” to the cardinal number.

Sentence Structure  and Syntax 

The subject, the verb, and the object are the three main components of a French sentence. French grammar generally uses the same subject-verb-object word order as English.

With a few exceptions, the arrangement of additional words in a French sentence normally matches that of an English one. Adjectives often follow the nouns they describe in French grammar instead of appearing before them as they do in English. Additionally, in many situations, the verb must appear before the object and reflexive pronouns “him,” “themselves,” and “us.”

However, French may also be slightly more lenient with sentence structure than English. For example, if the context and the verb’s conclusion make it apparent who is doing the action, you can often omit the subject. In addition, unlike in English, it is not always necessary to rearrange words or add auxiliary verbs like “do” or “does,” albeit certain rules must be mastered.

Grammar in French

Here are some things you should note about French grammar.

Verbs

French can be challenging to learn since verbs must agree in gender and number when conjugating. Verbs ending in -er, -ir, and -re are the three categories into which most French verbs fall when being conjugated. Certain irregular French verbs don’t fall neatly into any of these categories. Depending on the verb category, there are basic conjugation rules that must be followed, as well as variants based on the subject and verb tense.

Several instances of reflexive verbs pertain to daily routines in French that express something a person does to herself. For example, “I wash myself” is reflexive in English since it relates to something we do to ourselves. However, the reflexive in French has a little different structure: For instance, the French might use the phrase Je me lave, which means “I wash myself,” while getting dressed in the morning. The reflexive portion of the sentence is “me,” which refers to the person to whom the washing is being done.

Gender of nouns and adjectives

A noun can be either feminine or masculine. Adjectives that match may be either masculine or feminine. It is crucial to comprehend what you are dealing with. A few trends make it simpler to identify these groups even if there are no set standards for doing so.

In French, adjectives and the nouns they modify must be in agreement. As a result, the gender (i.e., masculine or feminine) and number (i.e., singular or plural) of the noun to which they refer must be reflected in the French adjective endings. Furthermore, in contrast to English, many adjectives in French come after the noun they are describing.

Even if they are not too difficult to understand, they sometimes need a little more effort. Various word categories have distinct endings.

Adding an -e to an adjective’s masculine single form is the most typical approach to making it feminine. Other rules for changing a masculine adjective to a feminine adjective include:

  • Some adjectives that are singularly male already end in -e. For those, leave them alone without the additional -e to produce the feminine singular. Most adjectives with a vowel and a consonant at the end should be doubled before the feminine suffix (-e) is added. Bon becomes bonne, for instance, while mignon becomes mignonne.
  • Replace the “-eur” or “-eux” ending adjectives with “-euse” to get the feminine form.
  • If an adjective ends in “-teur,” add -trice to get the feminine version.
  • If an adjective ends in -er, change it to -ère to make it feminine. For example, change dernière (last) to dernière, first (first) to première, and “cher” (expensive) to chère.
  • Most adjectives with an -et ending need to be changed to a -ète to create the feminine. For instance, the word discret (discreet) becomes discrète (discrète).
  • To make feminine adjectives that end in -f, change the -f to -ve, as in “neuf” (new) becoming “neuve” and “sportif” (athletic) becoming sportive.
  • The “-ain” suffix on nationality adjectives, like américain and mexicain, does not double the -n. Instead, you should only add the -e.

Most nouns can be changed from singular to plural by adding an additional s. For instance, you would use the plural fleurs instead of the single fleur when discussing a bouquet of flowers. However, there are a few exceptions to the norms for nouns with vowel ends.

Most nouns with “-au” ending add an x to create the plural form. For instance, the word bateau (boat) becomes “bateaux” (boats). Others that end in -al take on a -aux, but you actually insert -aux in place of -al rather than adding it on end. For instance, the plural form of the word journal (newspaper) is “journaux” (newspapers).

Most nouns with the last letters s, z, or x do not change when they become plural. Instead, they may be recognized by their article. For instance, a virus becomes “das virus” when used in the plural. 

Adverb

Adverbs are words that modify verbs. In French, terms like “rapidement,” which means rapidly, often finish in -ent. There are three types of adverbs. Adverbs of manner are in the first category. Among them are phrases like “lentement” (slowly) and “exactement” (exactly).

The second set is adverbs of place. Words like “ici” (here) and over there (là-bas) are in this category. The third type of adverb is time adverbs. Among them are phrases like “aujourd’hui” (today) and “demain” (tomorrow).

Vocabulary 

Understanding fundamental vocabulary, expressions, and numbers are one of the most crucial things to accomplish while beginning to learn French.

Even though English is a Germanic language and is not related to French, more than 25% of English words have Latin roots, and around the same percentage of English terms have French roots (so, indirectly from Latin). Thousands of Greek terms have also been incorporated into both English and French. This implies that a large portion of the French language you already know has Greek and Latin roots. You probably won’t have any problem figuring out the English translations of French terms like “artiste,” “académique,” or “génération.”

There are nearly a million words in the French language. Conversations can become uncomfortable when you just know a few random words of French and are attempting to link them together. Beginners often start learning phrases that will be useful while conversing with French speakers and to introduce themselves and ask simple inquiries. As a result, the words that should be the first in your French vocabulary should be ones that you already know and can use in your everyday life.

Different Ways to Learn French Fast

The method that causes you the least friction is the quickest and simplest approach to learning French. You could prefer to stay with a more fun and engaging approach or use textbook pages. The secret to success is self-awareness. Listed below are just a few methods for learning French quickly:

1. French learning schools

Classroom training is the most frequent way to study French in a school or university setting. Teachers who are competent in French can detect mistakes and appealingly convey information that is available to help students study more often. Even if classroom learning may be less customized, having other students to chat and practice with is a great asset for any language learner.

2. Language apps

They are all top-notch. These apps let you learn French at your pace. These expert-designed online apps are either free or paid for. In addition, many of the greatest programs on the market are continually updated with new, fresh information so that you can enjoy the most relevant French learning experience possible. 

3. News

Today’s news media is so pervasive that the day’s most important stories appear on your radar without you even being aware of them. So it would be amazing if you could study French and read the news simultaneously.

4. Private French tutor

One of the most effective ways to quickly advance in French is to work closely with a qualified private French instructor. A private French tutor can focus only on improving your pronunciation and other problematic elements of the language. The French tutoring does not have to be inconvenient. Many lesson sessions can take place through video conference rather than face-to-face instruction.

5. French Movies and TV

Foreign language acquisition via movies is quite effective. You can view movies in French if you want to watch them in your leisure time. You will learn more about the language’s culture and communication patterns via this exercise. French movies also encourage you to think in that language, which is another advantage.

To develop your hearing and understanding skills, you can start by watching movies with French subtitles. After some time, try turning them off. You’ll learn new vocabulary and common idioms, and be able to follow along as the actors say phrases, which is a great way to develop your understanding and accent. Also, don’t be afraid to pause, record, and repeat certain words.

6. Audio and podcasts

If you want to learn the fundamentals of French without having to look at a computer or a page, there are several audio-only resources available online. You can listen to French audio courses while driving, preparing supper, or going for a stroll in your neighborhood, making them ideal for multitasking.

It’s also a good idea to listen to French podcasts or audiobooks while doing something else that takes your visual focus, like cooking or cleaning. The good news is that there are many free and low-cost audio resources to choose from.

7. Stay Consistent

Working at learning a language daily is the most crucial thing you can do. It is far more beneficial to study for 15-20 minutes each day rather than four hours per week.

Even anything seemingly easy like learning French becomes very hard if you simply practice once a week, as the inconsistent villain demonstrates.

Whatever you want to do while studying is fine as long as you achieve something. However, if you commit to a short, daily study session of just 30 minutes, you will watch yourself advance quickly. 

Conclusion 

Trying to learn a new language on your own may be difficult, but following the steps outlined in this article is beneficial. Whenever possible, try to communicate in French and work on your reading, listening, and writing skills. Additionally, we recommend completing weekly summaries of everything you’ve learned in order to keep it fresh in your memory and stay motivated.

Table of contents