France has a notorious reputation for being a country where you need to speak the language to survive. It has its quirks even when language isn’t a barrier!
I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but I personally believe that Paris is starting to outgrow its image of snooty waiters whose demeanor changes the second you utter the word “hello” (or poorly pronounce “bonjour”). And yet, there is no doubt that learning a bit of French is going to be worth your while – and not just to ward off the haughtiness of waiters. Learning French offers deeper insight into the culture, and also widens the scope of people with whom you can interact. If nothing else, I can also confirm that rattling off a couple phrases in French is going to massively impress your friends and family back home!
While you might wish you could download a language as easily as the emoji keyboard, there just is no getting around it: The only way to learn a language is through time, hard work, and giving yourself permission to sound like a bumbling fool in front of strangers. For me, I had no choice but to stammer my way through six months of sub-par French in front of my colleagues before it started to click.
Although there is no silver bullet when it comes to learning French (I’ll get back to you when Elon Musk invents a language brain implantation), there are certainly some things you can do to speed up that agonizing-but-necessary learning curve. Here are some of activities to fast track your French:
1. French Lessons
An obvious activity that will help you improve your French is, well, French class. You can chose to enroll in an official class, like those offered at the Alliance Française, ICP, or the Sorbonne, or opt for private lessons. The Mairie de Paris offers affordable options, but there is (unsurprisingly) often a waiting list for these ones.
I have tried both formal and private classes, and have found that each has its own perks. A group-style class will offer more structure, which will appeal to those who need to brush up on their grammar (and don’t we all?), as well as provide the opportunity to practice speaking in front of large groups of people (something I have personally always struggled with). Private lessons are great for those who already have the fundamentals of grammar sorted and just need practice speaking the ear off a poor, long-suffering tutor. You will also be able to iron out any tricky grammar challenges unique to you (*cough* subjunctive!).
2. Complementary Classes
You don’t need to enroll in a language class in order to learn a language! One of my favorite ways to practice French is by taking a local yoga or group fitness class. So long as it’s not a class that is completely beyond your skill level – I struggle enough with Zumba classes in English, so I would certainly avoid them in French – you will be able to follow simply based on the teacher’s demonstration. At the same time you will open yourself up to a whole new world of vocabulary: chien tête en bas, chat-vache à quatre pattes. La classe!
Not the sporty type? No problem! Once again, the Mairie de Paris offers classes at reduced prices in a range of different topics. Why not practice your French at the same time as learning photography or drawing?
3. Language Exchanges
There are a host of free language exchanges and meet-ups available online, either through sites such as Exchanges Linguistiques, or events posted on meetup.com. I have never tried any of the language-based meet-ups, but I have heard good things from those who have.
Personally, I like to take any opportunity to organize language meet-ups with people I meet in real life, or even with friends of friends. When I’ve been interested in language exchanges, I’ve made a point of talking about it within my existing network – it i usually doesn’t take long for someone to pass you the details of a friend who is looking to brush up on their English. And this way, at least you have some common ground to start the conversation.
Ah, dating! Although I am now happily off the market, when I first arrived in Paris I was an independent woman in a new city where I knew virtually no one. Dating was just one of the activities I was open to in an effort to meet new people. And I soon found that my French was vastly improving!
Before any date, I told myself that even if I had a crappy time I could at least look at it as a free language class, which was good motivation to put myself out there! Although many of them turned out to be disastrous, it was certainly a more interesting learning environment than a sterile classroom.
Volunteering can be a lovely way to brush up on your French while giving back to the community. You can find postings for volunteering opportunities at Maison des Associations, or through Restos du Coeur, Oxfam France, or SOS Helpline.
6. Consuming French Media
A common piece of advice I have received from language teachers is to constantly surround myself with the language. This could be by leaving the TV or radio on, or by watching French films regularly. Personally, I like to listen to French podcasts (if there’s one good thing to come out of the lack of phone connection in the metro…). Favorites include Change ma vie by Clotilde Dusoulier and Generation XX by Siham Jibril.
- Read about another writer’s experience learning French.
- Looking for more podcasts? We round up France’s best podcasts.
- For the top 5 French learning programs in Paris, head to FluentU