Why you may be struggling with French - and what you can do about it

Six problems and solutions to help you improve your language skills

What are the common pitfalls when learning French?

Learning a language is not easy. It takes time and commitment. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it can feel as though you are failing to make progress. 

We look at some of the most common reasons you might be struggling to learn French, and what strategies you can use to overcome them. 

Your method of learning French 


Language learning apps have increased in popularity over recent years and can be a great resource. But relying too heavily on them instead of plunging into the sometimes terrifying prospect of speaking French can hold you back. 

“10 minutes a day on an app is good, but will not prepare you for a genuine conversation with an actual person,” says a British colleague at The Connexion


The only way to truly get to grips with French is to speak it. 

One option that is more relaxed than trying to strike up random conversations in shops is to attend a language exchange, meetup or “language cafe”. 

Read more: Tips on how to practise your French conversation skills in France

One of the joys of language meetups is that people are there for the same reason, which takes away much of the awkwardness that can come with trying to make random conversations. 

You might meet a French person keen to improve their English, so could spend half the time speaking in English and half the time in French. 

Read more: Try these eight daily life hacks to improve your French

Not enough listening


Do you find yourself sometimes struggling to understand when people talk to you, hearing a barrage of rapid-fire French rather than individual words? Or have you ever missed what someone said the first time, and were too embarrassed to ask them to repeat themselves?

These are very common issues, and could point to the fact that your listening skills need sharpening. 


Try to switch everything you usually listen to in English into French. Swap English-language radio for French and change the language on your favourite TV series into French (perhaps with French subtitles to help you understand more easily).

Read more: French podcasts to help improve your language skills

Podcasts in French are another great resource. They can range from easy, beginner-level French in language-learning podcasts to native-level French in a wide-range of subjects. Choose one on a topic that interests you to make listening even more fun.

Not having a good foundation


You moved to France full of high hopes. Your mentality was “I’ll soak up French once I’m there, surrounded by the language”. But you find the longer you have lived in France, the less realistic this idea is. 

The reality is it is very difficult to soak up a language when you have no foundation to build on, and understand almost zero to begin with. 


Taking some initial French classes, either in a group or with a private teacher, will help build a foundation that you can then build on through listening, speaking and reading in your own time. 

It will be much easier to soak up the French that surrounds you with this basic foundation in grammar and vocabulary. 

There are many different kinds of French teachers and teaching methods out there, so if one does not work for you, do not despair – search around for a teacher who is a better fit. 

Read more: Why am I finding it so hard to become fluent in French?

Fear of making mistakes 


Speaking French makes you nervous. You are worried you will make a mistake and be judged. You know you are not perfect, so why even try? 

A lack of confidence is an incredibly common issue with language learners. Learning French can be embarrassing. You will definitely make mistakes and no one likes to look silly. 

“You are so worried you will mess up or there will be the slightest bit of confusion on the other person’s part that you just shut down,” says a Connexion colleague. 


One sure-fire way to boost your confidence is to take action. Try out your French. You will likely find that the world will not end, and you might actually feel pleased with yourself for giving it a go. And the more you practise, the more confident you will feel. 

Making mistakes is all part of learning a language, so just remember everyone who has learned French has been through exactly the same thing. 

Read more: Could this method help if you lack confidence in learning French?

Translating too literally


A common mistake native English speakers make when learning French is translating literally from English. 

This can end up sounding unnatural and odd in French. 


This is one area that will really improve if you listen to more French. The more you listen to native French, be it on the television, radio or podcasts, the more you will notice French turns of phrase. 

In conversation, try to use the French you know, rather than reaching for a translator or translating each individual word.

Read more: The science behind why it is never too late to learn French

Focusing too much on grammar 


Many people who move to France having learned French at school find themselves almost paralysed by the grammar of the language. 

School tends to put a focus on grammar over speaking and conversation, which can lead to people struggling once they are confronted with real-life situations in France.

Trying to think of the correct verb conjugation on the spot, or whether or not you should be using the subjective can put you off even trying. 

Read more: How long should it take to learn French for everyday use?


Stop obsessing over grammar. While it is, of course, important, it is essential that you dive in and have a go at speaking at the same time as learning the grammatical rules of the language. 

Waiting to speak until you’ve “cracked” French grammar could mean you never open your mouth. Getting your point across is much more important than doing it perfectly. 

And the more you try, the more you will learn. 

Read more: Seven beginner mistakes in French to avoid