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5 Easily Correctable French Mistakes

By Brian J. Donovan

As a teacher, I've seen first hand some of the most common mistakes students make when learning French as a second language. Here are five of the most repeated errors I've witnessed.

5 Common French Mistakes & How to Correct Them I've put together five of the more common mistakes I seem to have to correct a lot when going over written homework assignments.  Some students, perhaps, just can't help it, but I know I've covered this stuff multiple times.  I'm a big fan of repetition to help the students remember things.  After I hand back the papers, I usually put some examples on the board and ask what's wrong here, to see how many students can spot the errors and make the corrections.

1.  E's and S's for Feminine and Plural: It's just basic agreement, but something students may have to get used to over time--especially considering we're constantly telling them that these two letters are usually silent at the ends of words when we speak in French.  "...but you do have to write them." doesn't sink in as much as the first half of that sentence, "You don't pronounce them, ..."  You can create lots of sentences with multiple adjectives and have the students do the agreement as a practice exercise.

2. Être used for Age Instead of Avoir: Beginners sometimes tend to think in English and translate directly, so it's natural for them to want to use the verb "to be" (être) for age, instead of the verb "to have" (avoir).  And they often forget "ans" after the number, too!

Here's one way I have fun with âge/avoir practice in class: 

  • Once you've done your lesson on age and numbers, ask a student: Quel âge as-tu ? / Tu as quel âge ? (I use both.). 
  • Repeat back the student's age and also tell the class (Tu/Il, Elle). 
  • Then, choose another student and repeat the first step. 
  • Repeat that student's age but also refer back to the first student's age (Il a / Elle a / Ils ont / Elles ont) and so on.
  • Continue around the room, repeating ages, referring to the different students you've already asked and asking the class about some of them (Quel âge as-t-il ?). I like to slowly speed it up to keep them on their toes, and I move around a lot, so they don't know who'll be next!

3. Un/Une, Mon/Ma, Le/La, etc... Sometimes students mix up which article or possessive adjective to use with nouns, so I'll see "mon mère" (perhaps because the student is male) or "J'ai un frère et un sœur." (perhaps thinkign that one is one). Occasionally, I also see "J'ai une la mère qui s'appelle Jane." where they use both the definite and indefinite articles. Yes, of course I've explained the differences--as I'm sure have you.  Many times.  But some students might need it just one more time...

4. Ne...pas. I find that some students put the "ne" and "pas" together instead of surrounding the verb in the present tense.  The idea of having two parts for the negative is foreign to some.  Wait til they get to!

I tend to repeat it a lot, and I'll sometimes ask them to tell me how they would make something negative, even if we don't need the negative--especially if it involves a vowel, because of the n'.  For example, if I'm asking about "Je suis," I might also ask, "Et au négatif ?/And in the negative?  What would that be?"  I find "J'ai" is a good one to use, because of the change from J' to Je.

5. Verb Conjugation: Some students mix up the conjugations while some get stuck on the infinitive and forget to conjugate. Or maybe they put in the infinitive and meant to go back and figure out the conjugation. In any case, verb agreement, as with adjective agreement, is something they need to get used to over time. I always recommend that they do it right away, instead of waiting.  And I recommend they use note cards with the important verbs--like the irregulars--so they can look at them every day.

I'm sure there are more examples, but these are the five most common.  Or should I say, these are the 5 I seem to correct the most!  Missing accents? Not so bad, though still important. Bonne chance and happy correcting.