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How to Teach English to a French Speaker

Updated on October 30, 2015

Teaching English as a Second Language

How To Teach English To French People

Learning a new language is not an easy thing. And teaching your mother tongue to someone who never spoke it is not easy either.

In the chart of difficulties in teaching a language, there is one that beats all the others: teaching English as a foreign language to French speakers.

Don't take me wrong, though. French speakers are not stupid or less intelligents than others. They just have some particularities than no other speaker has. Most of these particularities are entire part of their mother tongue: French; which is not a "singing" language. (This does not apply to Quebecois).

To help you ease the process and better understand how a French speaker comprehends a foreign language, read this page dedicated to teaching English to a French student.

NB. This article does not claim any scientific validity and is primarily a collection of simple and effective tips to help you teach simple English to French person. Moreover, it has been written by a former English student, not a teacher: because a teacher considers something easy does not imply that it is actually easy.

Learning Engish as a Second Language Should Not Lead To Stress

Get your students relaxed and confident.
Get your students relaxed and confident. | Source

Make Sure Your French Student Gets Relaxed

Less stress leads to more positive results

French speakers - at least Europeans - have a Latin mind and don't like to get stressed. Latin people have less discipline than Germans, Brits or Americans. For instance, while any French speaker would agree with you when you say "don't whine, do it!" the sentence does not have the same meaning for them than it has for you. Aggressiveness is not an option either. Work to their rhythm, it will be profitable to both you and your student.

It is also important to know that all French speakers do not speak alike. For instance, Belgians, French and Swiss do not share the exact same pronunciation of some letters and words. Sometimes, even the meaning and the context of use of these words can be different. Last but not least, their accent is quite different and therefore their ability to learn English or any other foreign language's pronunciation.

As simple example, while Belgians and Swiss use "seventy" and "ninety", French use "sixty-ten" and "eighty-ten". French and Belgians use "four-twenty" but Swiss use "eighty". When a Belgian pronounces the letter "W", French say "V". A "mop" in French means a "rag" in Belgian. And so on.

Complicated, uh?

English Grammar Exercises


Help Your French Student Build Their Sentences

Common mistakes in English grammar

Grammar is an essential part of teaching a foreign language. It is thus very important to let your English student know how to structure/build their sentences. Indeed, French is a complicated, yet beautiful, language with sentences built in a certain way. However, when a French speaker translates their sentences, their English or any other foreign language, becomes a massacre.

So, you will have to convince your student that they don't have to pay attention to how the sentence would sound in French. The only important thing, when learning a new language is to worry about how the sentence would sound in this very new language.

For instance, explain why they are going to write "Hope to HEAR from you soon" to someone whom they are expecting to get a LETTER from. Or why they are going to meet your friends ON Friday (in French would mean "upon") and not simply Friday.

Teaching English Conjuguation


Language Learning - Explain English Conjuguation

Present perfect, present continuous... what???

English conjuguation... my personal nightmare. When I ended my English courses, I was actually level C1 on the European Language Chart. However, I still have to think twice when I write something that involves conjuguation and I'm pretty sure that I still make mistakes.

Therefore it is highly important to teach your French speaking student that they have to forget ALL about French tenses.

Let's take an example. We use simple past in literature and not in everyday language. Problem: the English simple past is NOT the same as the French one. You will thus have to teach your student that is is very important to keep it in mind.

Another example is that we do not have present and past continuous tenses in French so give them tips on when and how they will have to use it. It is really important to spend some time on this matter as otherwise, your student might end up speaking some kind of extra-terrestrial language.

How to Teach English As a Foreign Language

When starting to teach English or any foreign language, it is important to know how the whole scheme works.

Indeed, being good at speaking a language is necessary but being a teacher is more than that. Not only this requires educational skills but it also asks for sacrifices as it is a real "priesthood".

Therefore, it is necessary to take measures and getting as much information as possible on the topic. Having some how to teach videos will also help a lot.

Could You Speak Slowly, Please?

Do not speak too fast as your students might not understand what you say.
Do not speak too fast as your students might not understand what you say. | Source

Do Not Speak Too Fast When Teaching English To a French Speaker

Tips for French speakers learning English

Another thing to keep in mind when you teach English to a French speaker is to not speaking to fast.

I've had English classes with both Americans, Brits and Belgians. Obviously, Belgians were the ones who spoke the most slowly and in the most understandable way. The reason being that they too were basically French speakers. My American and English professors spoke normally but not too fast, in a way that we clearly understood what they said.

So, make a point of speaking clearly and do not eat parts of your words. Your English student might just copycat what they heard and therefore their sentences will be disastrous.

The Phonetic Alphabet


Study The Sounds Easily "Heard" by French Speakers

Phonetic alphabet might trouble your French students

Unlike other people on Earth who hear/understand or comprehend seven (or more) different sounds, French speakers only comprehend up to two sounds (perhaps even three) of a language. This is due mostly to our French sounds, which are "dumb sounds" or "silent sounds" and even "nasal sounds"; i.e. "an", "in", "un", "on", "eu", "au", "ai", "ouin", "oin", "ion", "eau", etc.

Actually, we do not pronounce all letters of a word (cf. the four nasal vowels) and most ending consonants of our words remain silent unless they are followed by a vowel. Wikipedia's International Phonetic Alphabet is a good resource.

When you teach English to French speakers, have some tips ready for them to understand how to pronounce your language properly.

Use the phonetic alphabet

Any language teacher makes use of the phonetic alphabet. While this might look complicated to some, it is important to teach your English student how to pronounce the letters/sounds/words and recognize their signs.

Show Your French Students How To Pronounce Words

Showing your students how to pronounce English sounds might ease their understanding.
Showing your students how to pronounce English sounds might ease their understanding. | Source

Use Graphics to help your Student understand the Sounds

How do I teach a French person to say the "th" sound?

While it is important to recognize the phonetic alphabet, it is more important to recall that French speakers only recognize one or two sounds and the phonetic alphabet might not be sufficient to help them pronounce English properly.

To help them with English pronunciation, I would suggest to create some graphics. The graphics above might look funny but it would really "show" a French speaker how to pronounce English words. Actually, I translated the english words into French sounds - some of them sound by sound. And I insisted on some sounds as, for instance, the French pronunciation of the letter "W" in France is "V" and in Belgium is "W" like in English.

Example 1 French pronunciation of Orleans --> Orl-é-an (French "é" - dumb "an" - silent "s") --> Orl-ay-an

Example 2 French pronunciation of journey --> j-ou-rn-ée (dumb "ou" - French "é") --> J-oo-rn-ay

I'm pretty sure you would not want your student to pronounce English in this horrible way!

How do I teach a French person to say the "th" sound?

Easy: tell them to do like if they would have ONE hair on their tongue (in French language, one can have whether one or more hair).

Suggest Additional Materials To Learn English

A great tip to help you teach English to French speakers is to recommend some additonal materials. As a matter of fact, most students will not keep on speaking your language once the class has ended. They will not watch TV or listen to the radio in English either - or very few of them will do so. Then their environment might be French speaking and not of any help.

For such a reason you can help your students perfect their English pronunciation using modern tools such as Kindle, DVD and more. One of the tools I'd recommend for those who face problems with pronunciation is this set that will enable them to greatly improve their way to comprehend the sounds. It is also available on paperback version that comes with 2 DVDs.

French Pronunciation Specificities

One English Language Might Hide Another


Tell your French Student that American English Might Be Easier To Learn

Is there any shortcut to easily teach English?

One of the things I learned when I started my journey on the Internet is that American English is different than British English. Indeed, as a French speaker, I had to recall many specifications of the oral English. How do you pronounce "Worcestershire sauce" or even "'Worcester Sauce"; which is supposed to be easier to pronounce?

I discovered that Americans pronounce the words like I would do - by pronouncing almost all letters of the words. Your students might find it easier too.

Showing Off Their New Knowledge


Have your French Student Make a Public Presentation

Tip to catch your French student's mistakes

One of the best ways to know how much your student evolved is through a presentation.

Let them choose the topic of their presentation. If you teach a particular field of the language - for instance Commercial English - ask them to make a presentation related to one Commercial related niche, such as marketing, negotiation, dealing with complaints, etc. Ask them to use the vocabulary you taught during the classes.

A presentation will enable your student to use their fresh knowledge. Take note of all errors during the presentation and correct them orally afterwards. Send your student a written copy of their mistakes along with the corrections so that they will better understand where and when they made them.



Tell your French Student How Much they Improved their Knowledge

Congratulations are essential!

After their presentation, give your student an English assessment chart so that they can learn how much they progressed and improved their English practice.

Above all, make your student happy and congratulate them for their efforts. They will thank you for the fantastic job you did and will be grateful for ever!

This page is dedicated to my three wonderful English teachers: Lena (USA), Christine (UK) and Nathalie (Belgium). Thank you so much for the great job you did.

© 2009 justholidays

English Teacher's Corner

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    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E. Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I found it very interesting to see what learning English looks like from a French-speaker's point of view.

    • profile image

      susan369 3 years ago

      I think part of the reason it's difficult to teach any language to French people is because they are reluctant learners. They like their own language l lot (quite rightly, I guess) and they tend to think they do not need to speak another.

    • profile image

      captureenglish 3 years ago

      helpful lens for teacher whoever want to learn or teach

    • profile image

      budgetgeek 4 years ago

      I teach English to French learners myself and I 100% agree with all the points raised in this lens. Good job!

      Merci pour votre lens et felicitations!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great in depth insight! Wow! Actually I am learning French and unfortunately English is the second language to me. So the reverse is also true. It is too difficult to learn French for English speakers as well. But I would like to thank you since you raised an important issue in my Life. Merci

    • ESLinsider LM profile image

      ESLinsider LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: For the 11 year old I would recommend "Let's Go" or "English Time". Those break the language done bit by bit. I prefer the older editions to the newer ones. Those have 6 books with book 6 being the most advanced. They're good for elementary kids.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      There is a web application where you can teach any language with your vocabulary and lyrics, here is the link:

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      Thanks so much for this! I teach english to French speakers in Reunion Island (who also speak Créole, so it's even more complicated). Great tips

    • Millionairemomma profile image

      Millionairemomma 4 years ago

      My observation has been quite different from yours. I took Chinese with French students. They learned it quite easily....and without effort! Chinese is surely harder than English! I think everyone is unique. Congrats on the purple star.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Very useful tips.Thank you. Could anybody recommend a book to teach english specifically for teenage children ( 15-16) and an 11 year old. I have undertaken to teach English to French students in above age groups for one week. They have basic English and I have reasonable French. Many thanks again. I live in Limerick and book shops are not specific enough on the subject

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I wrote this page as an English student, not a teacher. What you as a teacher think is easy or normal, isn't necessarily for us, students.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 5 years ago

      I wish I had learned the French language when I was younger, I just don't think I'm capable for it now...Dom I bet you have an elegant accent!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      As an English teacher in France, I have to respectfully disagree with a few of your tips. While it's true that French and English grammar differ considerably in some places, it's not necessarily useful to encourage students to simply ignore their own knowledge of French. Rather, it's often more useful to make connections, highlighting both similarities and differences. You can't simply expect them to be immediately capable of evaluating whether something "sounds right" in English; they first have to build up an understanding of English grammar in their own minds. An effective way to do so is to encourage them to construct their knowledge of English grammar comparatively with their extant knowledge of French. Secondly, the idea that French speakers can only understand one or two sounds is highly questionable. You don't even explain what you mean by that or offer any evidence to support that case. But it's simply not true and in no way prohibits French speakers from learning to speak other languages fluently. Yes, French has it's quirks, but so do all languages, English hardly being an exception. From the standpoint of linguistic science, French and its speakers aren't at all unique.

    • CoolFoto profile image

      CoolFoto 5 years ago

      Excellent lens. I once thought about being an ESL teacher, but, went to law school instead. I am an American who learned French in Elementary school, high school, and college (1 semester). You are blessed by a Travel Angel. Keep up the good work!

    • profile image

      Obscure_Treasures 5 years ago

      After reading your comment on my lens Best Of Thailand I became curious to go through a few of yours.This lens of yours about How to Teach English to a French Speaker is really awesome. Godd job. keep it up.

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 5 years ago

      @justholidays: Ok, got your point. Well, I guess it would be hard for a French or an English or a Greek to copy "click languages" xD

      Anyway, compared, for example, to Greek language, which has lost all its prosodic values, I still find French sounds extremely variable.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 5 years ago

      @NoYouAreNot: I studied English by myself when I was 10 years old - through the Beatles' songs and getting help from a dictionnary my father gave me.

      Then, I studied Dutch; which is my country's official and national second language; then Spanish; which is my stepfather's native tongue, leaving English aside.

      I only re-studied English two years ago at Berlitz. This is where I finally understood that for Frenchies (not Belgians since they already have an "singing" accent because of Dutch) it's hard to understand the different ways to pronounce English words. Just takes to mention the "TH" sound... which Frenchies pronounce "Z".

      However, having studied the fact, I decided that, instead of many, I don't think that French pronunciation of foreign languages is a fun thing neither some kind of joke. It's just because their language prevents them from understanding those sounds.

      Now agree or not, and this isn't meant to offend you in any way, but since I'm a French speaker, I think I'm more able to tell if it's hard to understand and "copy" or not than someone who's speaking French as a second or third language.

      Apart from Provençal and Mediterranean accents, French isn't a singing language at all. Instead it's a "flat" language; which I love more than any other in the world.

      PS. Those 2 recognized two sounds (which are those French speakers are able to copy) is a fact taught by many professors and confirmed by studies. Just run a search on the Web. As for me, I just provided tips for English teachers... this lens isn't meant to bash "Frenchies" who I'm part of.

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 5 years ago

      I am Greek, and I have studied both French and English since I was seven years old. I have a Bachelor in French Language and a teaching licence in (British) English. English pronunciation is difficult for French people, and French pronunciation is difficult for English people.

      But -- I squarely disagree with the statement that French is not a "singing language" -- it is so musical!

      And -- I'd like to add that French language includes so many different sounds; sounds from the pharynx, from the palate, from the nose, from the back of the mouth, from the front of the mouth, from almost everywhere but the ears! I think it's doing them injustice, by saying that they "only recognize two sounds."

    • profile image

      Trireme 5 years ago

      Hi i spent some time in the Philippines where English is taught predominantly by American teachers however some students i met expressed a desire to learn British English, so it is quite handy to be able to highlight the comparisons between the two.

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