Bonjour to English: 10 Common English Challenges for French Speakers.

Parlez-vous Anglais? Oui? Fantastique! But when it comes to mastering English, even the most fluent French speakers encounter their fair share of challenges. From tricky pronunciation to grammatical head-scratchers, the journey from “Bonjour” to fluent English can be a confusing rollercoaster ride. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, let’s dive into the 10 most common English challenges for our French-speaking friends.

1. “Th” Trouble

French speakers often stumble over the “th” sound, which doesn’t exist in French. This sound requires placing the tongue between the teeth to begin. The tendency among French speakers is to replace it with a “z” or “s” sound, making “think” sound more like “sink.”

To overcome this, practice repeating words like “thin” and “that” in the mirror, checking your tongue placement, until you get the hang of it (you can even try recording yourself and listening back). Listen to native English speakers to mimic the sound accurately. With patience and practice, “th” will no longer be the thorn in your English pronunciation.

2. Pronunciation Predicaments

English pronunciation can be tricky, with words like “wrist” and “beach” defying phonetic expectations. For instance, “wrist” doesn’t have a ‘w’ sound at the beginning and “island” is pronounced with no ‘s’ sound! To tackle pronunciation hurdles, focus on common mispronunciations for French speakers and practice them regularly.

Take a note of words that are difficult for you to pronounce or that sound very different to how they are spelled. Try to use one of them in a sentence today. Listening to native speakers and mimicking their pronunciation can help a lot with this issue. If this seems difficult, don’t worry! With time, practice, and feedback from your teacher, your pronunciation will become clearer and more confident.

3. Article Agonies

Understanding English articles (“a,” “an,” and “the”) can be tricky for French learners because French nouns have gender, while English ones don’t. This difference leads to confusion when deciding which article to use in English sentences.

Let’s look at an example: In French, you might say, “C’est l’anniversaire de mon frère aujourd’hui,” which translates directly to “This is the birthday of my brother today.” However, this is not correct English. The correct sentence would be: “It’s my brother’s birthday today.”

To conquer this challenge, think of the articles as a set of keys we use to unlock meaning. “A” and “an” are like generic keys you use when you’re talking about any object. “The” is like a specific key that unlocks one unique thing or gives special meaning to a word. You can learn lots more about article use in English here.

4. Tense Tangles

English verb tenses, like the present perfect and continuous, might seem confusing at first. For instance, in French, it’s common to say “Je suis allé.” However, if you translate this exactly into English it means “I have gone.” Unless this used in a present perfect sentence, is not completely correct English.

Verb tenses are time markers. The present simple is often used to describe habitual actions, e.g. “I go to school,” while the present continuous is used for an action that is in progress at the current moment, e.g. “I am going to school (now).” The past simple is used to refer to actions that occurred at a specific time in the past, e.g. “I went to school yesterday.” The present perfect is used to connect past actions to the present and don’t relate to a specific time period, e.g. “I have finished my homework.”

It can be a little tricky at first, but with some time and effort, you’ll soon get the hang of it!

5. False Friend Fiascos

“Faux amis,” or false friends, are linguistic look-alikes, resembling words you know in French but which have entirely different meanings in English.

Take, for instance, the English word “actually.” In French, “actuellement” means “currently” or “at present.” However, in English, “actually” means “in reality” or “truthfully.” This is a common word in both languages, and can cause some miscommunications if you don’t know the difference!

To steer clear of these translation hiccups, compile a handy list of these deceptive words and learn their English meanings to ensure your conversations are free from any mishaps. This list will be a useful addition to your linguistic passport.

6. Word Order Wobbles

English word order differs from French, especially in questions and negations. For instance, instead of “Aimez-vous les chats?” which directly translates to “Like you do cats?” But, it should be “Do you like cats?” In English, we usually put the “to be” verb before other verbs when asking someone a question.

To tackle this, read as much English as you can and watch movies with English audio and subtitles. Podcasts can also be a great resource for listening to a wide range of grammar structures. Make a note of the construction of basic negative and interrogative sentences and highlight the patterns you observe. This can help break the habit of mimicking French sentence structure in English and will really help you sound like a native speaker.

7. Preposition Perplexity

Navigating the world of prepositions like “on,” “in,” and “at” can be akin to solving a complex puzzle for French speakers. Imagine this scenario: You might say, “I am in the plane” when you should be saying “I am on the plane.” Most English speakers will understand what you mean, but correct usage of prepositions will do wonders for your English fluency.

To master these, think of prepositions as the tiny connectors in a sentence that dictates where things are happening. “At” is used for locations, “in” is specifically where in a location you are, while “on” is more specific and can pertain more to what surface you are physically on. For example, “I’m at the airport,” signifies your location, while “I’m in the terminal” describes where within the airport you are and ‘I’m on the fourth floor’ signifies in a more specific way where you are standing.

And there’s more! Some prepositions come in pairs, like “in” and “on,” depending on whether you’re talking about the interior or the surface of something. For instance, “I’m in the car” means you’re inside, while “I’m on the car” implies you’re on the roof. But then again for public transport, we use “on the train”, “on the bus” and “on the plane” (it’s not easy!). The best way to learn prepositions is learning general rules, set phrases and using them as often as you can in daily life. Before you know it, they will be second nature and you will be on your way to English fluency!

8. Pluralization Puzzles

Overusing or forgetting plurals is a classic error among French speakers. For instance, saying “one cat, two cat” instead of “one cat, two cats.”

To fix this, practice forming plurals correctly and be mindful of pluralization rules in English. Some plurals take different endings, which is especially important when writing in English, so this can take some getting used to. Consistent practice will lead to improved accuracy. When going about your day today, try practicing the plurals to yourself based on what you see, for example, “There are three buses” or “I see five dogs.” After some conscious plurals practice, it’ll soon be second nature to you.

9. Verb Conjugation Conundrums

English verb conjugation is simpler compared to French, but irregular verb forms can still pose challenges. For example, “I sing, you sang, he has sung” can be complex and follows no obvious pattern. To overcome this, familiarise yourself with the irregular verbs in English and practise their conjugation. Regular practice will make these forms more intuitive.

Choose 3 or 4 verbs to work on each week, and try to use them correctly in your conversations. Here are the 5 most common irregular verbs to start with.

10. Literal Translation Traps

Translating idioms word-for-word can lead to comical misunderstandings. English idioms like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “When pigs fly” have no direct French equivalent. To conquer this challenge, ask your teacher for some common English idioms and understand their figurative meanings rather than translating them literally. This will help you communicate more effectively in English. These idioms will differ slightly depending on which English-speaking country you go to, so try to make a country specific list to help you communicate with local native speakers.

Mastering English as a French speaker is a journey that requires patience and consistent effort. By addressing these common challenges, you’ll become more confident and proficient in English communication.


From the tongue-twisting “th” to tricky articles and confusing prepositions, the journey from “Bonjour” to fluent English is an adventure. 

Embrace the oddities, laugh at the mix-ups, and celebrate the breakthroughs. After all, language learning is a process, and a fun one if you adopt a more relaxed and playful attitude.

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