Should I Intern in France in French or English? 

by Laura Jelich

With a reputation for strong work ethic, stellar pro-employee benefits, and a special emphasis on the work experience “stage,”  it’s no secret that France has much to offer international interns. So, while your internship destination may have been an easy choice, the real question is, will you choose to spend your work experience talking in the country’s official tongue or your own native English language? An internship in French might sound like a good idea in theory, but are you sure you are ready?

Love locks in the city of Paris, France

Inevitably, some interns will have their minds made up for them based solely upon what is available to them. Those with an adequate French-speaking ability and an internship provider(s) that offers them the chance to choose, however, may find themselves on an emotional seesaw as they lean towards one option over the other and back again. So, for those find themselves in exactly this sort of predicament, read on for some decision-making assistance!

In order to decide if you should commit to a French internship or opt for an English experience instead, it is important to ask yourself a few key questions to gauge which path for internships in France for international students is best for YOU.

Is this your first time abroad?

This question might seem irrelevant at first, and maybe it is, but it is still an important factor to consider. If the whole “abroad” thing is brand-spanking-new for you, maybe one giant leap at a time will suffice. Maybe living, working, and maneuvering around in a foreign country will be enough to adapt to without also having to do it while speaking a foreign language the entire time. You can’t know for sure, because you haven’t done this before (what you can know, however, is that either way you are going to have the experience of a lifetime and should be proud of yourself for taking the initiative to venture away in the first place).

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

If you have been abroad before, you may have a better grasp on whether or not you can handle the additional challenge of a French-speaking internship. If you struggled to adjust when you went to an English-speaking location last time, maybe the presence of any language barrier at all will be enough to push your boundaries without committing to a work experience with one.

Conversely, maybe your confidence and miming abilities thrived during your volunteer experience in Thailand and you are chomping at the bit to take it to the next level and test drive your French while interning abroad in France. Based on your past experiences, you can likely make an educated guess as to how either decision will affect you this time around.

If this is, in fact, your first stint abroad, yet you’ve never been the type to consider any speed but all-out, you may be the exception that makes this question irrelevant. If you never even considered NOT speaking French during your internship abroad in France, then more power to you! You go Glen Coco!

Exactly how confident are you in your French-speaking ability?

You are still reading this, so you likely possess a solid working-level of French. Whether or not you choose a French-speaking internship, this will prove a huge advantage. As a country extremely proud of it’s culture, having a grasp of their language will earn you some respect and gold stars while interning abroad in France. What you now have to determine, is if the level you are at is enough to realistically allow you to thrive in an internship conducted entirely in French. A reasonable rule of thumb to reference might go something like this:

  • One to three semesters of college French = Probably not the best idea but bon chance to ya!
  • Minimum four semesters of college French = Serious learning curve but with likely success!
  • Over six semesters of college French and/or killing 300 level courses = You’re golden, vas-y!
The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile in Paris, France

If you’re still on the fence, imagine yourself doing your daily internship duties. Will speaking French help or hinder your growth and performance? Are you constantly going to be nervous to speak up and contribute because you are self-conscious about speaking French? Are you going to have to spend twice as much time doing simple tasks because you are figuring out what the heck the assignment is instead of putting effort into its solutions? Or, do you prefer to go big or go home? Do you think, dream, and feel inspired by speaking such a beautiful and romantic language? If the pressure of having to speak non-stop French impacts your performance one way or the other, either by intimidating or motivating you, it is definitely worth taking into consideration.

For those concerned about affecting potential language-acquisition opportunities, it is worth noting that choosing internships in France for English speakers doesn’t necessarily mean you must reign in your French-language abilities. Not only will you still be living in a French-speaking country, but, as mentioned above, it would serve you well to still show your appreciation for and competency of the French language even in the workplace. The extent of your daily use and immersion outside of your internships will, however, depend somewhat upon your chosen internship location. Paris, for example, is an especially globalized (and exhilarating) city where one can likely get around without ever having to use French at all.

Just because French internships aren’t quite for you doesn’t mean that French itself isn’t for you.
Le Café La Nuit at Place du Forum, France

Will your area of work expertise specifically benefit from being conducted in French?

Recognized as a cultural center and extremely influential in countless industries, There is a wide spectrum of businesses, agencies, organizations, and universities for interns to choose from. You may find yourself working for an individual, family-run, nationwide, or global agenda. Each area of expertise and corresponding duties will be affected by language in different ways and to varying degrees.

French is the second most widely spoken language worldwide, after English, and plays a large role in international business as a common official working language. France itself also boasts the title of top most visited country by international tourists. Therefore, those entering positions within the realms of communication, foreign services, international development, tourism, and hospitality may especially benefit from a French-focused job description. Conversely, interns filling English-driven positions, such as TEFL and other education internships, may find that creating an English-speaking atmosphere is actually be considered desirable.

Because blanket statements are never 100 percent accurate, it is important to individually evaluate your own internship position and duties, the structure of the organization, and the specific world into which its influence extends. Do you see the majority of professionals preferring exclusively English or speaking several tongues? Is French a major force in the work of the industry or is it spoken simply because of the organization’s location?

Now what? Choose a program!

It can seem like a big decision, but do your best to answer these questions truthfully, follow your gut, and don’t let fear rationalize its way into your decision-making. Research different internships in France to find a program provider that offers the support and experience you are looking for. Maybe you’re weighing your options between ELI, IES Internships, or CISabroad, or having a hard time deciding between Paris, Lyon, or Nice. Take your time and be choosy, read reviews, and weigh and pros and cons of all the different program providers.

At the end of the day, you will be living, working, and learning abroad in France and it is sure to be an incredible, challenging, and fulfilling experience.