French is one of the world’s most diverse and beautiful languages, with people from every background and all corners of the earth breathing new life into it every day. Despite this, many people think that France is the only (or simply the best, by default) place to study French. We don’t mean to be frank, but…WRONG. French is the 18th most widely spoken language in the world and the official language of 29 different countries across three continents, meaning that those with their eyes on the language of love have some serious options when it comes to choosing where to learn French abroad.
With over 80 million native speakers, it can be daunting to try to select a region or dialect that is best for you. Between Europe, Africa, or North America, francophiles have their pick of environments, from the deserts of Burkina Faso to the beaches of Guadeloupe. To help you narrow down your search, we have highlighted four of the top locations for French language learners; opt away from the norm of France and think outside la boîte!
Frequently overlooked due to its popular neighbor, Belgium is becoming the top destination for students seeking out a more affordable location in Europe to study French abroad (and to gorge their faces with mouth-watering waffles). Despite being so small, Belgium is home to many different types of people (over 11 million, to be exact), and the country has three official languages (including French) and over 40 different universities. Talk about packing an academic punch!
Language students here will be exposed to a very global education, as Belgium has historically been one of the most important political locations in the world. It is a founding member of the EU, it hosts several of the EU seats, and it is the home to many international organizations, like NATO. Among other reasons to study in Belgium, it is also in the center of Europe, making weekend travel very easy.
Popular Cities to Learn French in Belgium:
In addition to obtaining a global mindset and improved language skills, students seek out Belgium for its very affordable and unique locations. The most popular location to study French in Belgium is definitely Brussels, the capital of Belgium, which a lot of people actually refer to as the capital of Europe due to its historical and political significance. With over 12 universities and several private language schools, this small city has a lot to choose from.
Another popular option is Liege, which is a city of about 200,000 people and seven colleges. Despite its size, Liege is one of the biggest educational hubs in Belgium, with over 30,000 higher education students from all over the world. It has also been suggested that Liege was the birthplace of Charlemagne, so if you want to gain some serious power while studying French in Belgium, Liege is probably your best option.
For language learners eyeing a beach destination to study French, Haiti is a top contender. Located in the middle of the Caribbean, Haiti is home to about four million French speakers (or 42% of their population), and is one of two independent nations in the Americas to have French as an official language. Even though it is an ocean away from France, Haitian French is surprisingly quite similar to standard French, with the main difference lying in the intonation. A subtle creole-based tone is characteristic of Haitian French, giving speakers a bit more flair than those studying in France. Who doesn’t want to spice up the way they talk?
Haiti is unfortunately known for its economic problems, but this island nation has persevered through devastating natural disasters and is becoming a very popular travel destination. While its beaches and natural beauty rival any of its neighbors, what makes Haiti truly special is its unique history as a slave trade capital and dedication to its African roots. Haiti is also located in between the Dominican Republic and Cuba, so between the strong ties to Africa and its Hispanic surroundings, language learners who choose this region are sure to have a very multicultural experience.
In addition to the language and cultural benefits of studying here, this region is also perfect for anyone with a heart for relief work, development economics, or working with people who are less fortunate. What better way to truly learn a language than by surrounding yourself with locals that need help?
Popular Cities to Learn French in Haiti:
Because Haiti is a largely rural country, the majority of students head to Port-au-Prince, home to about a million people and seven universities. The capital city is located on the Gulf of Gonave and boasts some amazing sites, ruins, and very colorful buildings, including the Musée National, which allegedly houses an anchor from Christopher Columbus’ ship. While the area is not exactly the image of beach paradise, it remains as one of the most vibrant locations in the Caribbean despite the crippling 2010 earthquake, and it truly lives up to its liberté, égalité, fraternité mindset. Its energy and chaos is totally unique to the area, and students will enjoy diving full speed into this headstrong community.
A country of many cultural influences, Switzerland is one of the more popular alternatives to France for students. There are very few differences between standard French and Swiss French, so Switzerland has become an ideal location for hopeful French speakers who want to study standard French, but desire a location that is a bit more unique. French is one of four official languages in Switzerland, with about 1.8 million people, or 23 percent of the population, speaking it natively. Located in the middle of Europe and surrounded by both the snowcapped Alps and deep blue lakes, Switzerland is largely regarded as an adventurer’s (and fondue-lover’s) paradise.
Popular Cities to Learn French in Switzerland:
Geographically, about one-fourth of Switzerland falls under French-speaking territory. However, as the second largest city in Switzerland, Geneva is the most popular area. With a population of about 200,000 people, Geneva is a nice-sized city for immersion in the local Swiss culture while still having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. With over a dozen different universities and several language schools, one thing is for sure: French language learners in Geneva will learn a lot more than how to say “more croissants, please.”
Very different from its international counterpart, Fribourg has become a desirable alternative to the hustle and bustle of Geneva. Located on the La Sarine River and the cultural divide between French and German Switzerland, Fribourg is home to about 40,000 people and one of the top universities in the country. This region also happens to be surrounded by lush natural beauty and its Old City is one of the best preserved in Switzerland, so it attracts both history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike. With German speakers located right on the other side of the river, students will have a blast becoming part of a small, but DEFINITELY multicultural city.
Despite what most people think, French language options extend as far as Africa, so don’t get stuck just considering Europe and the Americas. Known as being one of the most politically stable and safe countries in Africa, Senegal is a top choice for French language learners who want the excitement of Africa without the risk of some of its neighbors. Don’t be quick to brush it off, though...just because Senegal is stable doesn’t mean it is even remotely boring. Students here can perfect their conjugations while soaking up the sun surrounded by pink flamingos OR practice their tenses while doing a safari on the Fathala Reserve. Sign us up, s'il vous plaît!
With French as its official language, Senegal is often regarded as one place to learn French abroad for cheap. What is particularly exciting about Senegal is the opportunity to also learn some native dialects, such as Wolof in the Dakar region or even Portuguese Creole. Can’t beat studying abroad to learn one language and coming home knowing two, right? There are many language school options in Senegal, and students can pick from four week French immersion classes to full semesters at one of their universities. If you want an experience deep in the heart of Africa while simultaneously learning one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, Senegal is a fantastic option.
Popular Cities to Learn French in Senegal:
The capital and largest city in Senegal, Dakar is the go-to choice for many language students. Its unique position on the western edge of Africa has made it a huge departure point for European and transAtlantic trade, boosting it into an international hub of economics and politics. Home to over one million people, there is always something exciting happening in the city, whether it be huge drum circles on sidewalks or lively markets on weekends. Despite its somewhat troubled history of colonization and slave trade, Dakar is a perfect example of historical colonial influences coexisting with strong African roots, making a truly unique environment for students.
A quieter but still exciting option, St. Louis is the fifth largest city in Senegal with 175,000 people. This small city’s claim to fame includes being the capital of the French colony until 1902, when the capital was moved to Dakar. Now, the area remains a popular tourist destination, particularly because it lets off a strong French influence but without the bundles of tourists and huge price tags of France. Instead of an expensive float down the Seine, opt for a romantic and casual row down the St. Louis wharf on one of the brightly painted pirogues, and don’t hesitate to check out the constant festivals and events happening in the city center. Even though it’s tempting, don’t forget about your studies as you’re cruising around the waterfront, as this small city is also a center of educational excellence and home to two highly-regarded universities.
There are nearly endless options when it comes to how to learn French abroad, so students should not be afraid to look outside of France’s borders for the perfect fit. Whether it be on the sunny coast of Monaco, the dusty desert roads of Morocco, or the cobble-stoned, snowy streets of Canada, French language learners have unlimited opportunities. Don’t be afraid to say oui oui to a location halfway across the world from France - just because it’s not “standard” doesn’t mean it’s not parfait!