Fact: Learning French is fun.
I mean, what’s better than traveling to a destination that speaks French natively and being able to understand and be understood?
What a rush of adrenaline and satisfaction!
Not to mention those strange yet adorable French noises—what a treat!
But then there’s French grammar.
Even though it’s essential to understand the French language and to speak well, grammar can be difficult and discouraging to French learners. There are verb tenses and proper word placements, and don’t even get me started on all those extra letters that come into play once gender and number agreement happens.
So, how do you combat that French grammar dread?
My slick tips will show you how to make grammar much easier to approach and master. Then, nothing will be holding you back from declaring your love of French!
What’s Up with French Grammar?
So, as I think we’ve already established, French is awesome. Yet while being one of the most studied languages in the world, the language itself isn’t the easiest to get along with, and sometimes this makes learners easily discouraged. But why is it this way?
It’s no secret that French grammar is complicated by its various verb forms and tenses, multiple levels of agreement between nouns and adjectives, and those sneaky silent letters.
The primary reason has to do with language evolution. French derived from Latin, and though it has changed over the years, the complicated, inflectional grammar has remained. Add in the Gauls, the Franks and a sprinkling of the Normans, and it’s no wonder French is messy like French onion soup.
But don’t sweat it. Remember why you’re learning French and that you’ll need grammar to get there. Besides, knowledge is power, right? Now that you know why French is so finicky, you can set yourself up for greatness with these tips!
5 Handy Tips to Make French Grammar Easy as Pie
Ready to make French grammar as easy as tourtière (pie)? Check out these top five tips.
1. Don’t Ignore It
One of the biggest pitfalls of beginners is to focus too much on vocabulary, not on grammar. And why wouldn’t they? Unless you’re a grammar nerd like me, the romanticism of learning the French language isn’t in how words join together on a syntactic level, it’s about how glorious these sentences sound on the tongue. Thus, the tendency to memorize words and whole phrases is the easy route to go, right?
But like my mother always told me, nothing good comes without hard work. Without grammar, words cannot organically link together to make completely new thoughts or sentences. At some point or another, you will need to learn grammar to experience true growth and create unique phrases with the words you already know.
So, why avoid it? Start studying grammar right off the bat. Don’t wait until you’ve memorized a few hundred words. That’s not to say that you need to run out and buy an 800-page grammar guide and begin dissecting the inner workings of noun and adjective agreement. Start off small. Maybe try learning the present tense for verbs while you learn basic greetings. Besides, by tackling little grammar chunks as you learn words and phrases, you will save yourself from the inevitable grammar bomb later on.
2. Don’t Just Memorize, Synthesize
Unlike vocabulary learning, memorization may be marginally helpful for grammar. What does that mean for you as a French learner?
I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re going to need to practice. The only way to properly acquire grammar completely is repetition.
But don’t sweat it, repetition is easy. There are loads of places online where you can take tests and quizzes to practice French grammar. The University of Texas has a great resource for practicing French grammar, and you can access other practice materials at Columbia University’s website, at Immigration Québec or here.
Make it a habit to do some grammar exercises after you have studied a concept. This is a great way to solidify your knowledge. But don’t just do exercises once. Return to them often and seek out new ones to practice.
Further, you can practice French grammar without exercises or textbooks at all. Try this out: While you’re reading a French book, listening to French radio or watching French television, make notes of any examples of the grammar you’ve previously mastered.
For example, if you’ve just studied negative constructions with ne and pas, it might be helpful to find examples of that in the book or on the radio. This will act as good examples and will help you know how French grammar is actually used in real-life situations.
An incredible way to get this type of authentic practice is with FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. These are videos that native French speakers actually enjoy watching on the regular!
3. Don’t Try to Compare It to English
As native English speakers, it’s hard not to translate things into English, whether you’re trying to master vocabulary, common phrases or grammatical constructions. The problem with that, though, is that French and English are two completely different languages, and some grammar concepts just don’t exist in English.
For example, there is no liaison (the dropping of letters between articles le and la (the) and nouns starting with a vowel), and agreement between nouns and adjectives in English is minimal.
The solution? Instead of trying to find English equivalents for French grammar concepts, strive to understand why a certain grammatical change is happening. For example, why is there an extra -e on adjectives after they follow certain nouns? Hint: Those nouns might be feminine.
4. Focus on Verbs
Now, I’m a little biased. Full disclosure: I love verbs. They’re the most interesting pieces of grammar for me, and they’re always the first grammatical concepts I tackle when I learn a new language.
However, I start with verbs because I know that verbs are both the most complicated and the most useful part of any language—especially French. Spoiler alert: French has so many verb tenses to learn!
But don’t let that scare you: small, manageable chunks, remember? Start with the present tense and simple noun/adjective agreement, and work from there. It’s also helpful to tackle certain verb tenses as you go. If you’re reading and you see a verb form you don’t understand, look it up and understand why it’s being used. There are sometimes very minute details that make verbs act the way they do.
Aside from that, the best way to tackle verbs is to cheat. Now, I normally don’t condone this, and if you’re taking an actual course at school, run now, but verb conjugators are extremely useful. Try out Verbix. It’s a life-changer.
5. Review, Review, Review
There’s no way around it: The best way to retain grammatical processes is to use them again and again. Once you learn something, whether it be negative constructions or that pesky concordance des temps (agreement of verb tenses), review it regularly.
But reviewing can be easy and fun! Do grammar exercises often, and go back to your notes. If you make your notes clear, concise and in a way that you’re sure to understand, reviewing will be painless. Try using colors. Colors make everything better.
Also, don’t forget to read a lot. Reading is a good way to see grammar in action and to review without feeling like you’re reviewing. While reading, identify grammatical constructions you’ve learned and understand why they’ve occurred. For example, why is there an extra –s on that adjective? Hint: Is the noun plural?
And while you’re reviewing grammar on your own, don’t ignore the resources available for you online and for free!
So, what’s the hold up? Rip the Band-Aid off that painful French grammar, and get to work. Besides, learning grammar can be fun, and once you’ve become comfortable enough with French grammar, you’ll find you can communicate in French easily.
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