5 Ways English Frustrates The French

It’s been almost a month now since I’ve been an English teacher, and I’ve noticed something: most French students learning English are having troubles in the same areas. Some are surprising, some less so. Here are a few.

    • “TH”
      This one’s so true that it’s made it into our stereotype of the French (zee wine instead of the wine). The sound “th” makes is one of the most common in English: this, the, then, that, through, there, them, theoretically, tether… – there’s a lot of them. 

      However, this sound does not exist in French. Period. End of story. Some of my students have lived into their 60’s without ever having to have made this noise with their mouths.

      And no one has ever really explained to them how to do it, and most of them try to do it with their teeth, like you would for “s”. Or for “z”, for zat matter.

    • “HE/SHE/IT”
      I can’t quite say that there’s no word for it in French, but there isn’t one simple translation, in the way that I, as an English speaker, would expect there to be.

      French, as you might know, is made up of gendered nouns. To me, a table is an it. To a French speaker, the table is a he. Every person, place, or thing in French has a gender. So when they start learning English, the idea that a thing can be neuter is pretty difficult to remember.

      So you end up with some French students stubbornly saying things like “he is a very old table”. Then you have others hyper-correcting and ripping “he” and “she” out of their vocabulary (e.g. “It called me again this morning“).

    • “I AM (walk)ING”
      My grammar-oriented friends will recognize this as the present continuous (or present progressive) time. In other words, it’s something we’re doing. Right now. When we say it. “I am picking my nose and writing this sentence”.

      This one’s pretty easy to understand. Putting aside terribly complex stuff, French really only has one tense for present. We could say “I walk to work” or “I am walking to work” and it means something different. In French, it would be “je marche” and “je marche“. Same verb form. So they don’t typically remember to use the p. continuous for things they are doing.

    • “I THOUGHT I SAW a puttytat!”
      They do, however, use the p. continuous for the past. In explaining their holiday, they will say something like “I am building the ultimate tree house last month“.

      Again, an easy explanation. There’s a very common verb tense in French called passé composé (composed past). It’s formed exactly like our present perfect: that is, you have the subject, then the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ (avoir in French), and the past participle of the verb. Same exact form. Two different meanings.

      And in certain other situations, the passé composé is formed using the verb ‘to be’ (etre), which looks a lot like our p. continuous.

      So you can see how they get confused.

      This one makes me laugh every time: one of the exercises I do with them has a bunch of pictures of survival items on a page. I point to the items and ask if they know what it is called in English.

      And when I point to the first-aid kit, someone is going to tell me it’s called the “medical trousers”.

      Ami explained this one to me today. A kit is called a trousse in French (pronounced like English truce), so when they see the word trousers, they just assume. I have the same problem when I point to the sewing kit.


Ok, that’s it for now, and I’m nearly caught back up to where I’m supposed to be – I think I’m caught up to yesterday. Today’s post will be up as soon as I think of it. Ciao.


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