Mistakes to avoid while learning French

While learning a new language, we are generally taught the things we need to do, the words we need to say, and the different rules we should learn. Far away from the do’s, in this article, we are going to learn about the don’ts. There are many mistakes to avoid while learning French. And by stating so, we do admit that you are going to make mistakes while learning a new language. And that is the best way to learn and discover its different linguistic elements.  Do not give up trying and using new and various constructions. However, always keep in mind the following statements. Let’s discover some of the most common mistakes in French and see how to avoid them. 

1.Usage of definite and indefinite articles

Articles are important to define or offer more information about a certain topic or object. In English, we only have “the” as a definite article and “a”/ “an” as indefinite articles. Unfortunately, this is not the case in French and there are different articles to be used depending on the word’s nature. But do not let this put you down. It’s pretty easy ! Here is a list of the definite and indefinite articles and French with examples: 

Indefinite articles: 

  • Un – used with masculine singular nouns. For example: un bateau (a boat), un appartement (an apartment). 
  • Une – used with masculine feminine nouns. For example: une fille (a girl), une voiture (a car). 
  • Des – used with both masculine and feminine plural nouns. For example: des bateaux (boats), des voitures (cars). 

Definite articles: 

  • Le – used with masculine singular nouns. For example: le livre (the book), le petit garçon (the little boy). 
  • La – used with feminine singular nouns. For example: la table (the table), la beauté (the beauty).
  • Les – used with both masculine and feminine plural nouns. For example: Les rues (the streets), les oranges (the oranges). 
  • L’ – used with both masculine and feminine singular nouns, only if the noun begins with a vowel. For example: L’armoire (the closet). In fact, normally, we would say le armoire, but since it is a bit difficult to pronounce, we omit the ‘e’ from le and add an apostrophe. 

Partitive articles: 

Partitive articles refer to an unspecified quantity of food (like chocolate), liquid (like water), or some other uncountable noun (like money). English has no equivalent to this kind of article. In fact, the partitive is usually translated by the adjectives “some” or “any”, if we ever use an article. 

Singular Du (de+le) , de l’De la, de l’
PluralDes Des 

For example: 

  • J’ai bu du jus hier – I drank (some) juice yesterday. 
  • J’ai préparé des pâtes – I cooked/prepared (some) pasta. 
  • Tu as de la chance – you are lucky. 

Be careful, le, la, and les (the) aren’t the default articles in French. The indefinite and partitive articles are. This is an important mistake to avoid when using French. Always bear in mind that article usage is quite different between French and English so you need to be careful.  

The tricky part now is to figure out which words are feminine and which words are masculine. This is something you progressively learn with practice. So do not hesitate to speak and try to identify objects around you using the above listed articles and French Prepositions. 

2.French equivalents for English constructions

Avoid making these mistakes in French

One of the most common mistakes made when learning French, or any other language is trying to translate the sentences as they are using the same constructions. That is totally wrong. Try as much as you can not to translate things and make them in your mind in the desired language. 

For example, there are tenses that exist in English and not in French like progressive tenses. In English, we have the simple present and the -ing form to talk about the present. In French, we only have le présent

  • I am talking to my friend / I talk to my friend – Je parle à mon ami. 
  • They are watching TV – Ils regardent la télé. 

To use the -ing form in the past, you can use l’imparfait. Il can be used to express an ongoing action in the past. Here are a few examples:

  • They were thinking about the party – Elles pensaient à la fête. 
  • My sister was reading when you came. – Ma soeur lisait quand tu est venu. 

3.Mixing up similar words

French language is mainly derived from Latin language, which covers around 60% of the English vocabulary. The chances of finding similar words in both languages are pretty high. That’s good news indeed! However, having the same word in two languages does not necessarily mean they have the same meaning and can be used in the same context. That does not also mean that all words can be used in both languages. Yes, even if we change the pronunciation from English to French or the other way around. As tempting as it is, it is not always acceptable to invent our own cognates. 

A cognate is a word that looks and means the same in both French and English. For example, an animal is un animal in French. The English adjective patient is patient in French. However, some tricky words look the same in both languages but don’t mean the same! They are called false cognates and are often referred to as “false friends”. Obviously! The following list gives you a sampling of some common mistakes to avoid while learning French words

English wordFrench Meaning of the French word 
Actually Actuellement Currently 
A demand Une demande A request 
Assist Assister To attend 
College Collège Junior high 
Commode Commode (adj)Practical 
Deception Déception Disappointment 
Entrée Entrée appetizer/starter 
Eventually Éventuellement Possibly 
Gross Gros Fat 
Location Location Rental 
To pass (an exam) Passer (un examen) To take an exam 
Patron Patron Boss 
To rest Rester To stay 
Rude Rude Harsh 
true cognates of english and french

4.Mixing up similar verbs 

To listen or to hear? When to use each? Don’t regarder (to watch) and voir (to see) have the same meaning? Trust us, you are not the only one asking these questions. It is good to have a large vocabulary, but then we start to have confusion. If two words have the same meaning, then when to use which? Do not worry, we are going to explain the difference for certain French verbs. These are mistakes to avoid while learning French, that you need to be aware of.

Savoir and connaître:

There are two different verbs for “to know” in French, connaître and savoir, but they are not interchangeable. 

  • Connaître is used to say that you know a place, a book, or a person, as in being familiar with them. For example: Je connais bien cette personne (I know this person very well).
  • Savoir is used for all remaining cases. For example: Vous savez lire en anglais? (Do you know how to read in English?)

Parler and dire: 

  • Dire (to say/tell) is used when we are reporting a speech or using someone else’s words. For example: Ma mère m’a dit de sortir à 8h (My mother told me to go out at 8).
    Tu as dit que tu allais venir chez moi (You said you were going to come to my house). 
  • Parler (to talk) is used alone in the same way as to talk. When it is followed by “à” it means to talk to. When it is followed by “de” it means to talk about. For example: La fille parle à son père (the girl talks to her father)
    Le voisin parle de son expérience à l’étranger (the neighbour talks about his experience abroad) 
Voir and regarder: 
  • Voir (to see) is used to say that you are seeing something. For example: Je vois la lune (I see the moon).
    Note: When voir is used alone without a direct object to the sentence, it means “to understand”. For example: Je vois (I understand)
  • Regarder (to watch) is used to say that you are actively looking at or watching something. For example: On regarde la télé (we watch TV). 

It is also the case for entendre (to hear) and écouter (to listen). For example: 

  • J’écoute de la musique (I listen to music).  
  • J’entends un bruit (I hear a sound).

Making mistakes is completely normal while learning a new language. In fact, it is essential to fully grasp the grammatical constructions of a language and its specific vocabulary. So do make mistakes to learn. Do try new constructions and different sentences. Do make learning fun by forming and imagining new situations. I hope by now you know mistakes to avoid while learning French. But make sure that, whatever you do, you do not make the kind of mistakes we have just explained in the present article. Good luck!