5 Tips for English Speakers on Learning French Grammar
Learning another language is hard. This is a very cliché phrase that I'm sure any learner has heard ad naseaum and many I'm sure wish they could stop hearing this. I'm not here to discourage anyone from learning French, my goal is quite the opposite, I want to encourage you and for this reason I've come up with a series of tips that can make the process go smoother. As always if you feel I've missed anything, I'd be more than happy to read your insight in the comments below.
1. Don't translate English into French
I've spoken 2 languages since childhood, and one thing that has always been apparent to me was the fact that something that made sense in one language did not necessarily make sense in another. Basically just translating the words doesn't make the phrase grammatically correct, for each language has its own rules and in order to make sense in it you need to know those rules. As an example with French, the verb Avoir- to have is used in a variety of ways for which the equivalent verb in English to have is not used. If someone asks me how old I am, in English I would respond with "I am ___ years old". The literal French translation is "Je suis____ans." But this is not correct for in French you use Avoir to indicate age, so the correct response would be "J'ai ______ans." Now in English that would be translated as "I have _____years old." Do you see how that doesn't make sense in English? This is why I say that knowing grammar rules is important because direct translation will never be correct.
2. Learn the bones of the language.
When I think about learning a language I really consider it as something that can be a fill in the blanks process. What I mean by this is that by learning the basics of the language, which includes verbs, grammar rules, sentence structure and articles, I can then fill in the rest of the information as I go along. Gradually I will add more complicated things to my sentences but at least from the beginning I was familiar with the structure. I've studied several indo European languages including Latin and Ancient Greek and from this I learned that there is a pattern to this language group that extends into every language within it. Some languages in this group are more complicated than others (Russian), some are easier (English) and some are in between (French), but the basic grammatical structure for all of them is the same. To begin learning French you first need to understand what the structure is and from there you can fill in what you don't know. As a hint I will say that French is a language where word order is important (subject + object + verb) but it is more complicated than English because it has more grammatical tenses and genders.
3. Study the Verbs.
Verbs are words that indicate action, when you want to say something in a sentence there is almost always going to be a verb there. For this reason I would say begin learning the verbs first, in French verbs conjugate but nouns do not decline, so learning nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc…. can be an easier process than learning verbs. So I would recommend beginning with the hard stuff and studying verbs. With French there are 3 categories of verbs (er, ir, re) and a ton of irregular verbs. I would recommend purchasing a Bescherelle to help you. Start with the basics and learn the various conjugations for Avoir, Être, Faire and Aller, and then go from there.
4. Learn the little bits of speech.
Think of the English words "a", "the", "it", and others like them. These small words exist to link other words together, without them English wouldn't make sense. French is no different, there are a lot of small words that fall into various categories of meaning without which the language would not make sense. Think of someone for whom English is a second language who makes mistakes in the use of these small words. To avoid sounding like a novice, master these elements of grammar as much as you can. Some examples of these link words are: le, la, les, l', des. du, de la, d', cet, cette, c'est, ce sont, un, une, ma, mon, mes, etc…
Map of France
5. Don't forget Gender
French is a language for which gender is important, words have gender and gender and the gender usually matches in a sentence or phrase. English does not have this concept in the same way. In English the word "the" is neutral and so are the nouns and adjectives. In French the equivalent of "the" is "le", "la", "l'", and you use the one that matches the gender of the noun. For example "la chaise" = " the chair" it is feminine. When learning the concepts of French grammar always remember gender and take it into consideration when writing anything.
What method do you think is most effective to learn a new language?
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This is my Bible for French Verbs, I could not study French without it. It is a comprehensive guide to most French Verbs, the format is easy to read and understand.