A Guide To Learning French in France
French is known as the language of love, and the heart of the language is the motherland of France. Hemingway’s France and La Revolucion may be long gone, but the spirit of bohemian life lives on. France is a fabulous place to learn Français while pondering the meaning of life (and love) in dark cafés, tasting many a variety of stinky cheese (over 400, to be exact), and venturing to both sunny beaches and snow capped mountains. Start everyday with a bonjour, and say oui to French language programs in France.
Sharing a border with eight countries, it’s tempting to use France as a jumping off point for that European backpacking trip. However, with 12 regions to explore within its borders, all with distinct cuisines, cultures, and dialects, it’s not likely you’ll be in any hurry to leave once you settle in.
Without a doubt, Paris is a top choice for French language study in France. There are hundreds of French language schools in Paris to choose from, and no shortage of entertainment outside the classroom. As the most visited country in the world, most tourists are sure to trek to the top of the iconic Eiffel Tower or brave the lines at the Louvre to see Mona Lisa’s smirk; check these off of your bucket list, but put your newfound language skills to the test as well. The beauty of Paris is in the day-to-day life: shopping for a baguette at the market, meeting a friend on the metro, or getting lost (and hopefully found) in one of the 20 arrondissements. Other cities may claim to be the Paris of this or the Paris of that, but there is, in fact, only one Paris.
For a smaller city experience, yet with still just as much to keep you occupied, hop on the TGV (the super fast train) toward the German border to Strasbourg. While the German influence is easy to see in this Alsatian capital, it’s not too much to confuse your French language study. Instead, it is just enough to make this cross-cultural city stand out, like its impressive Gothic cathedral perched in the middle of the town. Wander into medieval Petit France and cozy into a winstub (an Alsatian tavern), or practice your French by ordering some tarte flambée. It’s like pizza, but better. Contrast the ancient with the modern by taking a river tour to see the Council of Europe’s glass palace.
Along the southeastern coast lies the lovely city of Nice. Relax on the Place Masséna and soak in the sun characteristic of the warm Mediterranean climate. If you want to completely chill out in between classes, Nice is the place to escargot. It’s not only a city to unwind, but it’s also a place ripe with inspiration. Matisse and Chagall retreated to Nice when they needed encouragement. Who knows what enlightenment might be waiting?
As a mecca of French language courses, the simple rule of competition keeps French language programs in France fighting for students, who are constantly demanding a high standard of education. Consider your goals and then choose a French language program in France that can help you achieve them.
There is practically a French language school on every corner in France, and many schools offer full service housing, airport pickup, and cultural excursions all in one. Many French language schools in France offer a choice of either a standard program or an intensive program. Standard programs generally teach about two to three hours per day, while intensive French language programs may require six to eight hours of time per day, five days a week. When you add in time for homework and cultural activities, such as a cooking class, museum tour, or language partner, it can be more than a full day of action.
French language courses in France are also offered by universities. While these might require a bit more of planning and generally higher fees, classes mirror the format of most western universities and any credits earned can usually be transferred back home. Additionally, classmates will likely be from all over the continent, which is great for diversity, but potentially distracting when you are trying to practice French.
In larger cities, like Paris, securing accommodation can be tricky, so take advantage of any assistance your host school may provide. If living in a homestay is an option, it will certainly add to the immersive quality of your French language study in France. Many families will not speak English, so it will be sink or swim in a homestay. Hand motions come in handy, as does a game of pictionary if needed. But with all the time spent studying grammar points, you may be surprised at how well you can communicate. Beyond the basics, you’ll also engage in meaningful conversations with your host family, which is an opportunity to truly understand how French people live and think.
If you immerse yourself and talk to everyone you meet, your French language skills will improve dramatically in a short period of time. Expect a month or so to jump from one level to the next if you dive in head first. For more timid folks or those studying French a couple of hours a day, improvement will be slower, but still beats repeating verb conjugations in a classroom back home.
Although there are some two dozen French dialects, France is definitely the place to learn the basics and the most purest form of the language. The French spoken in France can be a building block to speaking and understanding French in any Francophone country you may visit thereafter. French Polynesia, anyone?
There is little difference in the French spoken throughout France from region to region, although there is a small difference in accent. French speakers in the south of the country may be slightly easier to understand, but the grammar and vocabulary are nearly identical, despite a few regional variations in word choice.
Now, do be aware that French is not the only language spoken in France. There’s Alsatian (a Germanic language), Provencal (a Romance language), Breton (a Celtic language), and the mysterious Basque language. In places where these distinct languages are spoken, there may be an influence on the daily lexicon. If you are hearing the word Ich more than you’re used to in Strasbourg, for example, it’s not a response to your lack of showering for days. It may just be an Alsatian speaker saying me, myself, and I.
Furthermore, France has a large youth population, and with kids comes street slang and new words on a daily basis. Be prepared to learn local lingo and expressions that are not found in any textbook, but beneficial to any real-life conversation!
French may have taken a bit of a back seat to the more popular languages of Spanish and Mandarin, but anyone who says that taking time to learn French in France is a waste of time is flat out wrong.
An official language in 29 countries, French is an important diplomatic language and sits on the world stage as an international language of business, literature, and science. It’s also an official language for many major global organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and the International Olympic Committee. Learning French in France will give you a huge advantage if you want to work internationally in almost any capacity.
And, another thing about learning French in France? Well, the opportunity to live and learn in one of the cultural centers of the world is not something that should be passed up. The French way of life is one that appreciates the finer things in life (namely food, art, and wine), but with a je ne sais quoi attitude that doesn’t take life too seriously. During an French language program in France you’ll learn not just how to say la vie, but also what it means to c’est la vie!
Although intensive French language study in France is the best way to learn the language fast, it’s called intensive language study for a reason. It’s intense. No, not like camping (get it, in tents?). It will be tough work learning French in France. Speaking and understanding French is more difficult for native English speakers than reading it; all those extra consonants take some getting used to.
With a little patience and a lot of practice, you’ll be on your way toward French fluency and be one step closer to your dream of working for the UN, launching your fashion empire, or simply reading Molière. If you’d rather spend your days in dark Parisian café’s, that’s totally fine too. Whatever your ambition, learning French in France, the land of fromage and baguettes, can help you get there.
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