Learning French as a Native Language vs as a Secondary Language

We recently had a discussion with our winter intern, Paco, about learning French as a native language vs as a secondary language. Paco is a student from France and learned French as his first language, so we were curious to see what tips, differences, and mistakes he sees people make who learned French as their first language vs as a secondary language.

Here are some of his thoughts:

Here are few concepts that you need to understand to start learning French. They are basics in France, but most foreign people find those concepts tough to learn:

    – The formal mode. In French, there are two ways to address people, depending on the type of relationship. So you need to use the pronoun “vous” instead of “tu” which both translate to “you” in English. The “vous” is used to talk to people younger or the same age, known or unknown (if these unknown people are under twenty). The “tu” is also used to talk to older family members, or older colleagues or relatives who have asked for “you”.
    – Definite article. One of the toughest concepts to learn for foreign people is the definite article. In France, every single word is either masculine or feminine so when you use a word, most of the time you need to put the article “le(masculine), la(feminine)” which translate to “the” in English. And then there is the plural, “les” which also translates to “the” but for plural nouns.
    – Conjugation. In English there are 16 modes of conjugation, and most of them are not used every time. In French, there is 22 mode of conjugation, and you use them every time. In fact, for every special moment, when you order something at the restaurant, or in a common conversation, you use many forms of conjugation.

As a French student in New York City I had the opportunity to talk with some people who learn French in the United States and there are some common mistakes I hear from non-native speakers which are:

    – The word order. In English, when you use an adjective, you put in front of the noun, while in French you put it behind the noun.

“A blue hat” -> “Un chapeau bleu”

    – Contraction with “h” mute. You probably know about the contraction of some words in French before a vowel. For example: je ai -> j’ai ; le aspect -> l’aspect. You also know that the “h” in French is not pronounced. For example “hiver” (winter) is pronounced “iver”. But, whether the “h” acts as a vowel or a consonant, you have to use a contraction before a word starting with an “h”. This is not a simple concept for foreigners learning French.
    – The verb “Manquer”. This is a confusing but also interesting verb. Some of you are starting to say “What’s confusing about this verb, isn’t that a simple 1st group verb?”. Translation: miss you. If you are doing a word-by-word translation, you will have “I” = “Je”, “miss” = “manquer”, “you” = “tu” -> “Je te manque“. Sounds correct, no? Unfortunately, the answer is “NO”, the order is wrong. The right sentence should be “Tu me manques.” You can learn more about this tricky very here.

Thank you, Paco for your insight on this interesting topic! You can meet Paco and ask him questions of your own at our upcoming Trial classes on 12/18/2017. RSVP here!