Language

Understand why you struggle to learn French

🧐 Identify your weaknesses and needs : are you facing your level's typical issues ? if not, what makes you stagnate ? and, most of all, what do you need to thrive ?

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Quick scan-reading version

This article’s goal is quite basic, yet ambitious : 

  • either, helping you putting your first foot on the ladder 
  • or, if you’re already on track, to help you better run the ship so that you meet your goals (rather than difficulties 😉 


Since I’m expecting quite some changes in your life as a result, I had way too many things to write for just one article. For this reason, you are here on the first article in a series of four : we’ll get through the development stages of understanding how to unlock yourself, then define concrete goals, and finally, what to implement in your daily life in order to get into action. But, first thing’s first : the state of play’s diagnosis

Is French really harder than other languages ?

Your brain after facing French language’s hardship 🤯 (but no worries, I’ll give you solutions soon enough 😉) Picture by 0fjd125gk87 on Pixabay

Let’s begin with what we all begin with : when it comes to understanding the reasons why people struggle to learn French, most teachers start by reassuring their students and tell them that they already know a lot more French than they think. And it’s somehow true : after all, French and English are two languages quite alike when compared to Asian or African languages. You’ll sure find some similarities both in grammar and vocabulary, helping you more than once. And that is even more true if you already speak another latin language : Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Romanian. I, as a French native, cannot count all the times I’ve spoken Spanish entirely basing myself on French structure, and that – I must confess, to my own surprise – it actually was all grammatically correct !

So yeah, you may have more background than you think. Still, learning the French language remains quite a challenge to overcome, to the point where some students even wonder if it’s worth the pain and the hardship until they finally reach fluency. And don’t get me wrong : this doesn’t just concern people who’ve never learned French at all, but also (and should I say, even more ?) those who’ve already studied it during their scholarship. How’s that ? Well, those former and beginner to intermediate learners already know what’s waiting for them. Ask any foreigner who’s dug into learning French, and you’ll always get the same complaints about : 

  • The spelling 
  • The pronunciation 
  • The accent marks 
  • The liaison 
  • The genders (feminine and masculine nouns)
  • The conjugation and irregular verbs 
  • The grammar exceptions 
  • Plurals and agreement 
  • False friends (vocabulary)
  • Counting logic

So many things you have to memorize, find your way amongst when it’s right or wrong … alright, you can have similar struggles when learning other languages – I for instance genuinely hate Spanish conjugations just for that, and German is renowned for its complicated grammar -, but … do those other languages actually accumulate so many difficulties ? Probably not. Well at least, that’s what I’ve been told from all the French learners I’ve exchanged with.

Okay now, you may ask me for : 

Solutions to sweeten French struggle

People’s brain when we grow our common knowledge solutions to overpass language learning 🙄 Picture by PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

At that point, we all hear (and give) the same type of advice, which I’ve classified in the three following categories : 

The routine technique

We’ve all heard this advice – for pretty much any skill we want to acquire : scheduling some fixed time slot, every day at the same hour, in order to practice everyday. Well, it is true that practicing within short sessions regularly will do better effects than a full afternoon every weekend. Though, I personally struggle with respecting some fixed hour for practice, and prefer to integrate the exercise throughout the day. Also, everyday seems a bit too much to schedule for me, so I prefer to foresee three or four sessions a week, and insert them whenever the time feels right for me 🙂

The "have fun while learning" technique

Who hasn’t heard, thought of, and / or tried to learn a language while watching series, movies, or while reading books ? It is particularly powerful to synchronize hearing and reading : watching a movie in French with French subtitles, or else, reading a book while listening to the audiobook version.  

The other side of “having fun” is to integrate French learning into your social life : making friends, learning with a language partner, or even dating. 

All of those advice are good supports, but they’re often not enough, especially when you’re a beginner : you’ll first be very dependant on lessons, vocabulary lists, grammar reminders and conjugation tabs. Only once you start mastering these fundations, then using all of these “media” will be way more in reach for you.

The positive mindset technique

That’s clearly the one I’m least convicted by, although I must say it does have a point. On the one hand, it is relevant to focus on similarities instead of differences in order to seek patterns, for them to be either in grammar rules, in conjugation structure, or even in matching sound and spelling. That way, you can see difficulties as tools to better understand the underlying obstacles to your understanding of the language’s working. That is true, alright. Yet, on the other hand, I must say that not only this kind of details and curiosity might be easier to reach for people with natural affinities with languages and literary topics – rather than people who have less “intuition” with that – and it may not be as obvious and easy as they say. Also, I am personally not such a fan of the “dictatorship of positivism” we tend to be imposed on, and this is the feeling I get when I hear the advice of “all you’ve got to do is focus on all of the richness of the information that is just waiting for you to seize !” (caricaturing here). 

My point is : it is relevant to be observant with patterns in order to learn to see the gearwheels of a language, but you’re allowed to find it difficult, you’re allowed to feel discouraged, and you’re allowed to complain (very French 😉 ) about this technique if it doesn’t feel enough to unlock you.

So, how to overcome French-ability issues ?

Your light of hope on your French learning struggle, after reading this article. # Humble and Blessed 👼 And yup, I'm going all lightbulb design on this article. Picture by ColiN00B on Pixabay

As you can see, there is no cough sirup to magically sweeten your throat and make perfect French get out of it. Yet trust me, I’d love to be able to propose such a miracle – I’d become a billionaire !

What I can propose, on the other hand, is to better understand how and why you, personally, struggle with learning French. I cannot claim you’ll find a full introspection and revelation technique, though, I do hope my advice will give you some new insight on keys to make your learning journey less of a painful chore 🙂

From my perspective, learning French is like pretty much anything else : we’ve never got time for it. And that’s the point. One doesn’t have time, one makes time. As they say : if you want something done, ask a busy one. 

That’s where the sinews of war comes in : what we want to get into is : 

  • Motivation : turning it from low to high, cause that’s the fuel you’ll need to : 
    • first, find time in order to practice enough
    • then, remain endurant : being able to stick to it and keep on getting into action again and again over time
  • Clarity : tackling overwhelm by : 
    • knowing where to start and what to learn or practice
    • focusing on relevant stuff only, and not drawing oneself into useless details

       

  • Getting over yourself : not being afraid to making mistakes, allowing yourself to suck at pronunciation and get stuck in conversation, at first : cause only practice makes perfect

     

Well, that’s a bit of a program … ! That’s the reason why I was earlier mentioning having made a  series of articles to help you on all of these aspects. Now, just a reminder here : 

  • These are no magic potion, but rather advice to help you get a new perspective on what you could do
  • Since this is pretty much relying on you … I do not expect you to remain passive along the way 😉 you will be called on reflecting on your needs, on what you long for, and on what you think could work out for you. Ready to get involved ? 🙂

This article is the introduction of the series alright, still I’ll be giving you some material to start over with, right here, right now 😉 

Your French language diagnosis : Understand your weaknesses and needs

1. Every studying level’s got their reasons to struggle with French

When you finally feel less alone, after finding that we all go through the same damn stuggles 🥹 Picture by Myriam-Fotos on Pixabay

Yep, you’ve read me : the biggest pitfall independent learners fall in, is to stagnate at their levelno matter their initial level

I have observed it at many times, and you’ll see that I am no exception of this rule myself, concerning the languages I learn 🤭

Let me explain : 

  • When we’re a beginner, we’re all enthusiastic, we’re getting the books / apps / youtube channels, and start initiating by ourselves … and then comes the time when it starts being hard to go the distance ; or else, we simply get stuck on some language point we didn’t get and there we block in our progress ; or else again, we see that we understand the grammar rules we’re taught, yet we don’t really have any means to put into practice and to assimilate those basic rules
  • When we already are at an intermediate level – for instance, because we took classes until high school -, we are able to practice a little bit, either by having simple conversations, or by going through contents that are not too complicated to understand … but we quite feel that we are soon limited, and we regularly hit the glass ceiling where we stopped learning. The thing is, going beyond it needs us to face the old demons we’ve never succeeded to win over so far : grammar rules that have always left us  perplexed, conjugation tabs that we’ve learned 50 times and also forgot 50 times … experiencing big bug moments in the middle of a sentence, while facing a conversation partner we’re ashamed to keep waiting for the next part of the sentence … 🤦🏽‍♀️

Honestly, this is in my opinion the most difficult part of the learning process, because it’s the most unrewarding one : we don’t have the same room for improvement we had in the beginning, and we are not well at ease enough to be autonomous. This step is actually so common that it is weel known under the name of “learning plateau“. Not easy to go through that desert, but the final destination is worth the effort !  🍀

  • And when we’re finally at an advanced level, we do master the syntax and grammar rules, we know the vast majority of everyday vocabulary, in short, we can easily understand and express ourselves in pretty much any daily context … that is when we tend to lean on our knowledge : alright, our vocabulary could be enriched, of course, our expression could be more fluent and spontaneous, and sure, our accent could be purer. But after all, those are just a matter of marginal improvements, and on the whole, the machine works on its own, so …. it’s getting hard to motivate oneself to take one’s ability up to the next level, while the one we’re currently in is already so comfortable

To be truly honest, I am facing each one of these stagnation stages at the very moment I’m writing these lines :  beginner for Korean, intermediate for Spanish, and advanced for English. 

So, if you’ve identified yourself in one or several of the descriptions above when it comes to learning French, just know that you’re not alone, (far from it) ! 😉

So alright, knowing that we struggle moving forward and why is one thing, but isn’t enough to get to our final destination ! 

2. Identify your personal blockage points with French language

When you start to find your own solutions to practice 🤞 French Picture by ColiN00B on Pixablay
I personally have my little idea of what’s missing me to get the machine back on the progression track, and I will do my best to directly integrate it in my classes – as a French teacher.  But, I don’t want to completely break the back of work for you either because, if I sure want to give you complete classes, I still want you to be proactive and a player of your own progress I will thus tell you more about my vision of unlocking oneself and of the keys for resilience, in the next article, that will be dedicated to that topic 👀 In the meantime, I invite you to contemplate the following questions : 
  • Concerning your French learning, what rang a bell, or not, in the difficulties’ descriptions above ?
  • What would you complete or change the described blockages with,  in order to make them precisely reflect your personal situation ?
    • what feelings have you been through ?
    • what questions or doubts have gone through your mind ?
    • what language points have you been struggling with
    • what circumstances is your learning going under 
    • etc ?
  • If you’re already on track, well, there still might be a reason you’ve been reading this article until here.
    • What are, according to you, the “hidden blockage points” in your learning ?  I’m talking about the ones : 
      •  that are not that easily perceived,
      • yet still help you from being on top of your learning abilities ?
  • Now, you may be aware that mastering a language involves four skills : reading, writing, listinening, and speaking. We all are more or less at ease with each of these exercises. If you’re, say, an upper-intermediate learner : what skills do you think you indeed are upper-intermediate (or more) at, and what other skills could you have remained a lower-intermediate at ?
    • In other words, what are your pain points and what are your natural advantages ? 

Anticipating solutions : what do you need to unlock your French ?

When feeling relieved to finally have insights on your French learning 🤩 Picture by Pexels on Pixabay

Yep, I’m asking you to think of it before reading the next article, because I want you to have your own approach and that you start your reflection without being conditioned by what I’m going to tell you ! 

  • So : The previous section was about finding words to describe what’s restraining you.
  • Now, let’s take a step further : what do you think you’d need to go beyond those struggles ?
    • what other circumstances or study environment do you need ?
    • thus, what changes would be benefic ?
    • what scenarios do you visualize when it comes to the version of yourself who moves forward in his / her practice


If it can help you actually do this exercise, and that the feeling of being accountable to someone motivates you, you can send me your reflexions 😉 no need to rack your brain over the form (presentation, making full sentences, etc) : what I want is that you feel yourself moving forward in your reflection, and that you get into action
, and for that purpose, a just list of ideas put down on paper is great already 😊 remember that “done” is always worth better than “perfect yet not finished”

These reflections are preparing the next episode’s fundations, where we’re going to find the roots of your motivation : why did you want to learn French in the first place ? Cause when one struggles, chances might be that this person wants to learn French … to learn French. And, if you’ve bumped into Alter-Frenchie’s website presentation, you know by now that learning French cannot be a goal in itself : it’s a tool, a way, that is meant to lead you to something further. That is when you get to connect to your why 😉
I’ll see you there ! 

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