French is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world.
In France alone, there are more than 76 million native speakers, with around 200million more people across the globe speaking French with a high degree of fluency.
French language study was once a staple of secondary school education in the United Kingdom. However, there’s been a significant downward trend in exam rates in the past 20 years.
One of the main reasons why learners are abandoning French GCSE and A-level courses is the perceived difficulty of the language.
Unfamiliar pronunciation, complex verb rules and perplexing prepositions can make mastering French a daunting prospect for many English speakers.
Although school-age learners are turning their backs on language study, many employers still put a premium on multilingual proficiency.
As such, many adults are now seeking out alternative language learning solutions to boost their employability.
French Speakers in the UK
In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated as many as 23 per cent of the population has at least a basic understanding of the French language.
This number may seem impressive, but it’s worth considering that there are approximately 300,000 French-born individuals currently residing in the UK.
Sadly, only a fraction of non-native French speakers can communicate fluently in the language.
The number of students taking French exams at A-level has been in decline for many years.
In 2019, only 1 in every 100 students sitting an A-level exam in England were studying French.
In recent years, French has fallen behind Spanish in terms of popularity with GCSE and A-level students.
Language study looks likely to suffer further decline in the years to come.
In 2021, approximately 40 percent of KS3 students reported receiving no virtual language tuition during COVID-19 lockdowns. This is almost certain to have a detrimental impact on the amount of students choosing to continue their language studies into KS4 and beyond.
Why is French So Challenging for English Speakers?
Many non-native speakers of French find mastering the pronunciation of the language difficult.
This is to be expected.
The French language has many unique sounds that English speakers will have no experience of.
Perfecting the pronunciation of French vowels is often considered one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.
Another thing you’ll need to tackle when learning French is liaison.
This refers to instances when two words become one.
Fusing multiple words together can make pronunciation even more taxing.
However, in order to achieve true fluency, you’ll need to have a firm handle on liaison.
Becoming fluent in French will also require you to wrap your head around verb conjugation.
As with English, the majority of French verbs are regular and are broadly divided into three distinct groups.
However, understanding which verb ending to deploy isn’t as straightforward as it is with English.
Although some people suggest using cheat sheets to make quick work of French verbs, you will never achieve genuine fluency if you take this approach.
Repetition, in-depth study and memorisation are the only tried and tested methods of perfecting your use of French verbs.
Gendered nouns present a further headache when it comes to learning French.
Some nouns are considered masculine, while others are deemed feminine.
You will need to ensure you are using the correctly gendered article when using nouns when writing or speaking in French.
Unfortunately, there’s no clear logic when it comes to discerning the correct gender for an individual noun.
The only sure-fire way to ensure you are using the correct article for any given noun is to memorise which articles fit with which words.
This is no easy task, however.
The French language has a vast vocabulary of more than 130,000 individual words.
When it comes to learning French, continued practice is the only way to go.
For adult learners looking to learn French as a second language, it’s also worth avoiding phrase books and written material as chief study aids.
The only way to perfect pronunciation and nail gendered nouns is to embark on long-term study with a native speaker.
This is a contributed article.