A piece of baguette

My Project French is going quite well!

I’ve found a nice and efficient combo of learning methods which work for me.  For a couple of months now, I’ve been learning with

  • An online/mobile app course from Babbel
  • Goldlist
  • Audiobooks

I think I’ll blog in a bit more detail about each method soon!

This time, however, I wanted to share some thoughts about how I find learning French – which aspects of it are easy, which are difficult.

I can’t actually come up with too many easy things. As a whole, French just is not a piece of cake. More like a piece of baguette, with a tough crust you need to get through before it gets easier to chew. (Such a clever analogy, I know.)

A pretty nice share of the vocabulary is easy to memorize due to similarity to English. It also makes guessing the meaning of many words possible, and I find I can read even rather complicated texts, although my oral skills are not very advanced.

For instance, last summer I did an internship where I had to go through a lot of texts from the European Commission, and just for fun, I checked some of the reports in French. I was surprised to be able to actually read through several pages of “COMMUNICATION DE LA COMMISSION AU PARLEMENT EUROPÉEN, AU CONSEIL, AU COMITÉ ÉCONOMIQUE ET SOCIAL EUROPÉEN ET AU COMITÉ DES RÉGIONS: Feuille de route pour une Europe efficace dans l’utilisation des ressources” , and the like, quite effortlessly! Pretty awesome.

The most difficult aspects are related to verbs, I think.

Irregular verbs are a pain in the back, as in any language. I’m so happy my French teacher made us memorize a whole lot of them early on. That’s one of the few things I think have stuck in my head pretty well from those lessons (in addition to useful sentences like “Je détéste les olives.”).

And when to use imperfect and passé composé? Imperfect is for describing a state, or continuous or incomplete action in the past, and passé composé is for already completed or single events, right?

That’s strange to me – in Finnish, the imperfect describes something that happened not too long ago and is somehow new information, whereas the perfect describes something that happened maybe longer ago, but is somehow related to something that is currently happening…

Err, wait. Now that I tried explaining the Finnish tenses, I started to feel that maybe the French way actually makes more sense. Well, I never said Finnish was easy, did I?? Maybe this is not one of the difficult things in French, after all, at least now that I know how it works. But I remember it used to be confusing!

Finally, I have to admit I have no idea what the subjunctive is used for, I just vaguely remember from my French lessons back in school, that there is such a thing, and that it is weird. Brr.

In addition to verbs being tricky in many ways, I feel that the French way to build sentences takes some effort to grasp. It’s hard to explain, but I take an example from a book, originally in English:

“The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think they could bear if anyone found out about the Potters.”

And the French translation goes:

“Les Dursley avaient tout ce qu’ils voulaient. La seule chose indésirable qu’ils possédaient, c’était un secret dont ils craignaient plus que tout qu’on le découvre un jour. Si jamais quiconque venait à entendre parler des Potter, ils étaient convaincus qu’ils ne s’en remettraient pas.”
The Dursleys had everything they wanted. The only unwanted thing they had, it was a secret of which they were afraid more than anything that would be found out one day. If ever anyone would hear about the Potters, they were certain they could not bear it.”

(Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling)

Of course, it’s a book, and spoken language is different, but I think that particular something is there in spoken language, too.

Somehow the sentences seem more complicated, there’s always an additional curlicue.
I actually kind of like that. It’s like making every sentence a carefully, lovingly wrapped and decorated gift.

I guess that is something you can pick up through just hearing and reading a lot of French. After all, anything can become easy, with enough practice.

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