Common problems of learning english as a second language for native french speakers.In light of my current experience, teaching english as a second language at ISAT (Institut Superieure d’Automobile et Transport), in France, I choose to elaborate on the grammatical and phonetic difficulties that the french native speaker experiences throughout his/her learning process. This paper presents the most essential grammatical and phonetic linguistic challenges taken from my teaching experience, concluding with a brief summary of counter techniques.
I believe that the french language is a very difficult and complex language, containing complicated grammatical forms and conjugations, verb tenses, and exceptions to every rule, which can be learnt over a significant period of interaction and immersion in the language. The english and french language interaction throughout history is evident through similar structures, forms and cognates present in both languages. The areas of overlap include: auxiliaries, participles, active/passive voice, and past/present/future tenses. In my opinion, in comparison to the french language, english grammar seemed much more straightforward and easy to apply
. Surprisingly, in regards to grammar, there are several points that pose great difficulty for the french learner. As the indication of the proper verb tense lies in the context of the sentence, the choice of the proper verb tense is confusing for the native french speaker because the indications differ only slightly. There is a multitude of examples where the french language applies a different verb tense than that of english, to convey the same idea and time period. english contains twelve verb tenses; present simple, present continuous, present perfect, present perfect continuous, past simple, past continuous. The past tenses include: past simple, past continuous, past perfect and past perfect continuous. The future tenses include: the future simple, the future continuous, the future perfect, the future perfect continuous, and be going + infinitive (already seen present simple and present continuous).
According to my teaching experience and through extensive research I have found that the french native speaker has difficulty identifying the difference between present simple and present continuous, in specific, the duration of an action based on the context, to be able to apply the proper tense. Furthermore, the present perfect and present perfect continuous contain the same problem with the addition of the concept of a past activity presented from a present perspective, which is very confusing for the native french speaker. As the same four structures are presented in all three tenses, these problems of confusion and chronological disorientation are repeated on every level. The french language does not contain the equivalent of the present continuous and therefore it is a concept that is difficult to relate to.
Another difficulty pertaining to grammar is found in the syntax or sentence word order, which differs form the french form quite significantly. The distortion of subject + verb+ object form poses great difficulty. In addition, the proper placement of the article, the pronoun and the adverb within the english sentence is often contrary to that of the french word order and therefore poses additional difficulty for the french native speaker.
In regards to spoken form of the language, the english alphabet contains the same 26 letters as the french alphabet with the exception of the french diacritics, (é acute accent, è,à,ù, grave accent, ç, cedilla, a e i o u circumflex, e i u, dieresis). These french diacritics lead to phonetic difficulty for the native french speaker in regards to pronunciation and intonation of the english language. Spelling errors may result from the frequent lack of correspondence between the pronunciation of english words and their spelling.
A typical pronunciation problem is the inability to correctly articulate the vowel sounds in minimal pairs such as ship / sheep, live / leave, full / fool, as the tip of the tongue is not used in spoken french, learners often have problems with words containing the letters th (/?/ /ð/), such as then, think and clothes. Additionally, a common feature of english spoken by french learners is the omission of the /h/ sound at the beginning of words. This sound does not exist in french and leads to problems such as 'Ave you 'eard about 'arry?, or overcompensation by pronouncing the /h/ in words like hour, honour. This results from the students attempting to mimic the sound production of their native tongue.
Throughout this past semester, I have incorporated numerous exercises and drills to mediate the specific learning challenges of the native french speaker. To counter some of the phonetic difficulties, I found it most beneficial to go over the phonetic alphabet in order to provide the students with a universal reference point. Moreover, pictures and diagrams of the vocal tract during specific sound production provide a visual reference that the students can mimic, especially for the more difficult sounds, such as the ‘th’ sound, in particular, the placement of the tongue. Pronunciation drills are extremely effective and must be done repetitively to counter the innate pronunciation tendencies. As for the grammar difficulties, a thorough explanation of each verb tense and sentence structure is always beneficial. As the students strengthen their understanding of the basic points, I encourage their continuing development with more complex activities and exercises, which incorporate numerous tenses and grammar points unilaterally. Lastly, I always encourage maximum exposure to the english language outside of class through multi –media forms, weather this be accomplished through music, movies, TV, papers, journals or travels. Especially encouraging a systematic exposure to the language on a daily basis, as this will accelerate the student’s progress enormously.