Want to learn French in France? Learning a foreign language can be difficult, especially if you’re learning it from abroad. Prior to studying abroad for my third year, I had studied French in high school and college for five-years. Although it’s quite a time, I was able to practice the language in a limited way.
I was able to read and write French by the time I arrived in Nantes, the western region of France. Although I was able to read signs and children’s books as well as the minimalist works by Samuel Beckett, my speaking skills were not up to par. I was fluent after two semesters spent in France. The only way to learn a language is through constant practice.
These are my other observations about how to learn French in France .
You can make your immersion more enjoyable by living with a host family
It is possible to live with a host family and have a complete immersion experience in learning French or another language overseas. You will have to learn their language daily if you live with a monolingual family.
They would invite me to dinner and ask me questions about my home, my family and what I had read in the newspaper that day. They were an excellent resource for learning about traditions and customs, and were very accommodating of any linguistic errors. You will make mistakes at least once in your life. It’s okay to admit it to people you trust.
Braveness is a must
You may have heard of the Frenchman who is rude and dismissive of Americans trying to learn their beautiful, precise and intricate language. I did. For the first few weeks I was afraid to ask for directions from strangers or engage in conversation with shopkeepers. Here is where my professor’s advice on drinking wine comes in handy. Although you don’t need to drink alcohol to be brave, to learn French in France or anywhere else requires courage.
Yes, I was corrected in French a few times but the majority of locals I met were willing to help. It’s not easy to pronounce French. Even more so if you live outside Paris and are not used to tourists, it is easy to meet people who are proud that you are trying to learn French, especially if they are American. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be polite and ask questions. Most people are willing to help you and talk with you.
A good way to learn the language and culture is by making friends with French students. Although this may seem daunting, it is possible to make friends with French students through university clubs or meetups. My study abroad program, IES Nantes, allowed me to enroll at the Universite d’Nantaise. I could attend one or two classes each semester. You could also register for classes at the campus rec centre.
I was fortunate that IES Nantes had such a strong relationship with the university. This allowed me to organize a weekly French/English conversation meet-up for French students. We were joined by French students at the study abroad center. The groups were broken up into smaller groups with mixed speakers. We spoke French for an hour and locals corrected our mistakes and taught us idioms. The second hour would be spent speaking English, which was the only way it was permitted in the study abroad center. We were given the same tips and corrections.
These events were great ways to make new friends and bonds over common interests. You might be interested in other campus clubs or activities. If your institution doesn’t have a conversation group, ask the university English department to host one or the study abroad organization for help. This is a great way to meet French students and international students in your area.
Beware of “Fake Friends”.
You are a French learner and you are familiar with cognates, words that look like English words but are accented. These words are the gentle break in your lengthy vocabulary lists. There are words you may think are the exact same, but they have a different meaning. So, learn French in France from a reputed place.
Preservatif is one of the most embarrassing faux amis. One story I heard was about an American student who asked her host family whether there were preservatives in the food. She wanted to avoid artificial additives. Preservatif, which is used to extend food’s shelf life, is not what you’d find in French. It’s also known as condom.
This cautionary tale should not discourage you from using words that you believe might be cognates. While there are some that might trick you, it is possible to find lists of French false cognates online. Here is a list of false cognates that you should be on the lookout for.
Learning a language is learning the culture
It’s not just about grammar and vocabulary. Learning a language is not just about knowing the vocabulary and grammar. You’ll discover French customs and traditions when you study French in France. As an American who grew up in a casual environment, I was not used to the French meal-time rituals. Every evening, my host family set the table with a fork on one side, a knife on the other, and a spoon on the top. Aperitif was usually a small glass of wine or an alcoholic punch along with a snack. These traditions helped me to better understand the culture and language that I was learning.
One of the most striking cultural differences that I experienced was greetings and saying goodbyes. French people greet their friends, family and new acquaintances with a double-cheek kiss, called les bisous or les bises. They then do it again when they part. Although I had seen this in French movies, it was something that I didn’t know about. My host family gave me a quick kiss on each cheek when I arrived. Although it might seem too intimate and personal for American standards, you can still learn about the culture and speak to locals by starting with a bisous.
It doesn’t matter if you are able to go for a short time, a semester or a whole year. Immersing yourself into another culture will help you learn their language. It’s not enough to learn grammar and vocabulary. You also need to understand the context in which these words and rules are used. While you learn French in France, you may face challenge, confusion, embarrassment, and excitement. It’s well worth the cultural and linguistic faux pas.