Learning French in Paris is best in summer when you can meet people to practise at picnics on the River Seine out in the sunshine like these two couples sitting on the banks facing the Haussmann houses on the other side.

While writing a thesis on French film at university in Australia, I thought it would probably be a good idea to learn French. It helped that I was already a huge francophile, in love with Paris, and toying with the idea of moving to France. I spent a year having lessons at Alliance Française in Melbourne. After completing my degree and spending a year or two working, I finally decided to make the move to Paris.

Living in Paris is all about spotting charming bars, restaurants and shops in the city, like this one with an old wood facade (left). Street art by the Toqué Frères on a shop front (right).
Learning French in Paris makes it easier to discover the best spots like this view point from which you can see the Paris rooftops stretch all the way to the horizon.

Arriving in the city with my one year of lessons and many hours spent on Duolingo under my belt, I quickly realized that what I had wasn’t enough. While I knew a lot of vocabulary, and my reading and writing was quite good, I struggled to understand the rapidly speaking Parisians and found myself unable to string a sentence together. I assumed that just by being in Paris, my French would improve quickly – but that was sadly not the case. My pronunciation got better but, after four months I felt I was going nowhere. Working from home and limited interactions with Parisians – beyond buying groceries and ordering lunch or a coffee – did not help.

How learning French in Paris can help you to decipher some of the street art like this piece which reads 'You add color to my life' in French.
HiP Paris Blog tells you about one writer's experience learning French in Paris and how they explored the city's hidden parks like this spot behind the Sacré Coeur where locals like to tan in summer.

Friends that got jobs in cafes or nannying on the other hand learnt quickly. But after five years of studying, I wanted a job in my field. However with limited French this proved to be très difficile. So, I decided to take more lessons.

Leaning French while you are in Paris also makes it easier to understand shop signs, like this one for a hairdresser's (left) or more complex street art pieces like this piece by Toqué Frères which reads 'Paris is tiny for people like us who have such a great love for each other'.

There are many options for learning French in Paris. Alliance Française, a short course at a university, private tutoring, or online. As a naturally shy person, I struggle in the classroom environment, not confident enough to speak up and despising role playing. Not convinced online would suffice, I chose private tutoring.

HiP Paris Blog tells you about one writer's experience learning French in Paris and exploring the street art like this piece: I love you so much.

The positive about private tutoring is one-on-one attention and lessons tailored to your needs. The downside is the price – but I believed it was worth it. After a few months I felt myself improving and I thought perhaps I had learned enough to get by. But after a couple of trips overseas I quickly forgot what I had learned. In addition, my confidence was still lacking, often reverting back to English with a ‘parlez-vous anglais?’ each time a conversation with a Parisian became tricky. 

HiP Paris Blog tells you about one writer's experience learning French in Paris and how they explored the street art like this piece which reads: 'French you very much'.

So, back to the private tutoring I went. Loving all things French, I try to watch only French TV shows and films on Netflix (with French subtitles) and listen to French music and radio. I eavesdrop on Parisian conversation in the metro, restaurants, and cafes. I practice on Memrise, my new favorite online learning website as it includes videos of native French-speakers rather than just a computerised voice, and teaches useful phrases rather than just vocabulary. I also follow every French-teaching Instagram account I can find.

Learning French in Paris is easiest when you make friends so you can practise, like this young woman and man looking out at the views of the Paris rooftops in Montmartre (left). It also means you can understand the street art in Paris like this piece: that look in your eyes suits you so well.

Recently, I made the plunge and changed the language of my mobile phone to French (a scary but actually not so daunting step!). When conversing with a Parisian, I make more of an effort to persist using French, no matter how many times they respond to me in English (it becomes almost a battle to see who will give up first). It’s a work in progress, but one thing I’ve learned is that there are many ways you can learn French and there’s no harm in trying them all.

For those looking to learn or improve their French, here are some suggestions:

Related Links

Written and photographed by Ali Postma for HiP Paris. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, Tuscany, Umbria or Liguria? Check out Haven In.


Ali Postma

Ali is from Melbourne, Australia, where she studied Art History and Art Curatorship at Monash and The University of Melbourn. She has worked in various art galleries. Passionate about all things arts and culture, she has a particular interest French film, Nordic noir, photography, street art and architecture. Ali has lived in Paris since 2016 and has written extensively on art, food, beauty and more. Her work has in publications including BW Confidential, Oh My Mag, and HIP Paris.

One Comment

  1. Another great resource for learning French online as well as with a smartphone app is mondly: https://www.mondly.com/learn-french-online

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