Looking through this blog there has been a lot of good entries which relate to language and the best way to learn French. As you already know, if you are just coming for a few days or a long weekend, a simple phrasebook and “please” and “thank you” should be all you need. But many people are a bit more serious about the language and some even come to Paris specifically to study. I’ve worked as a French teacher and there are some points and useful tips that I wanted to share with you, to try and help you achieve you goals of being a fluent (or at the very least, a good) French speaker.
Thinking of study French in Paris?
First, there are positive and negative aspects of this decision. The negative ones may be immediately apparent. As the capital of France, Paris is the most expensive city in the country and one of the most expensive cities in the world. French language schools are no exception. In some cases, that can cost double of other schools located in very rural areas but essentially offering the same service.
Statically, Paris the most visited city in the world in terms of tourism. Many view this as a positive thing because it makes the city more cultural dynamic but it also means that you can English, all over the city centre. Despite what you may have read about Parisians, we do speak English and we don’t mind speaking English but if you’re objective is to learn French as quickly as possible, then remember that it you should try and be in a completely French speaking environment. This can be sometimes hard to find in Paris.
But the positive aspects are also quite clear. It’s Paris. Enough said. One of the most interesting and beautiful cities in the world. Another aspect that you may not be aware of, is the pronunciation. If you have already studied French in school or had some experience with a CD or an App, the voiceover was probably from Paris. You will probably learn that of all the French pronunciations in the country, Paris is the one that will come most familiar to you. This is very important if you are a false beginner (second time to start learning a language).
What’s the best way to learn?
Well, that is not an easy question and many linguists and teachers have written books and dedicated their life to answering that question. Based on my experience, the best way I can answer it, is simply by saying – it depends on the student. We all acquire knowledge in different ways, and we all have memories that work differently as well. I am here to talk about the conventional method of learning in a school.
For many years, it has been the only option that is available to students. Thankfully the internet has the boom of global travel has meant that there are now other options to learning that are slowly moving away from the traditional methods. Although this means les work for people like me, I’m happier because it means that more and more people can learning the language or at least interested in learning it.
Schools can be inflexible and quite expensive in comparison to other methods, but there are some very important benefits that a school can offer. Discipline is the first one that springs to mind. Online study is great because it puts you in control of your timetable but some recent studies show, students can be slower to progress using this method. Schools are also a great place to meet people and interact with French natives and students from around the world. Learning a language is not only about reading new word and memorising complex grammar rules. It’s also about talking and interacting directly with native people and understand and experiencing their culture. A school is a much better place to do this than an App on a phone or on a tablet.
When is the best time to go?
Unlike the question above, that’s an easy answer to that. Now. There has never been a better time to come to Paris and study. Winter is brilliant, as it’s quieter and in many cases a lot cheaper. School operate a little bit hotels. We have only a limited number of spaces in each classroom and a limited number of classrooms. When they are full, they are full. If the demand is high, then the price is high. So, just like a hotel or a hostel, when the rooms are full and the demand goes down, so does the price. The colder months also offer some of the best theatre experiences, art projects and exhibitions, so you can immerse yourself in the culture.
What are the best school?
When we talk about the best schools it is very important to identify, the needs of the student. These needs vary from student to student. But a non-exhaustive list of these needs would include, location, price, immersion, reputation and resources.
The location of the school is important. Choose it wisely. If you already have a place to stay in Paris or there is a region where you know you want to live, then you can simply search for your school based on your location. If you are serious about learning French in the best way possible, then it might be worth considering, doing it the other way around. Choose the school first and then the area. The less touristy, the area, the better. This means that when you go into the supermarket to buy some food or when you go to the local café to have a coffee you must speak French and English won’t serve you any good.
Price, for many, is perhaps the main determining factor when choosing a school. There is not a very big difference on the prices. The better the reputation, the higher the price. This is also the case for large language schools with a base in many countries. Examples of these schools, include International House and Berlitz. Both have several branches scattered across the city and both are considered to be high quality schools with a global base.
Immersion. So, what exactly does this mean? Well, it can mean two completely different things. Firstly, as we talked about in the location section, you want to make sure you immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. A valuable part of this, is the location of the school, but also the other students. Are all the other students from the U.S or the U.K. If that’s the case, you’re just going to speak in English the moment you leave the class room. On the other hand, having people that you can socialise with and make friends with, will ensure that you have a lot of fun and enjoy the learning experience. Like most things in life, it’s about finding a balance.
Resources is also an important factor. Although it sad to say it but it is true, a lot of school are simply in it for the business and tend to cut costs at almost every angle. You should do your research and read testimonies from previous students in order to understand exactly what the school has to offer. The more multimedia options they have, the better. Digital boards with computers and interactive activities, make learning so much more dynamic that the traditional pen and paper approach. This will ensure that you not only learn faster but that you also enjoy the classes.
What’s the next step?
Depending on what time of year you go, you almost never need to book in advance. So, if time allows, you can do the majority of your research in Paris. Some schools will even allow you to go in, walk around and explore and even sit in on a class to see if you like the environment and teaching method. Most of the larger, more international companies don’t permit this but some of the smaller ones do and it’s well worth asking.
The only time when demand seems to rocket, is during the summer months and also at Easter. If you are planning to study French at this time, it may be better to just book in advance. It would be awful, if you travelled all the way there only to be told that they were full.
Any alternatives to school?
Yes. There are alternatives to a school. I know a number of students who decided to hire a French teacher directly, for a one-2-one class. The obvious advantage of this, is that you get more special attention and you can practice, correct your mistakes and particularly your pronunciation much faster than a conventional class. The downside is that it can be considerably more expensive. Some of the most qualified and experience teachers charge up to E30 per hour. But if you shop around and find a teacher that may be simply trying to supplement their income, then it could work out mutually beneficial.
In my experience, this method works well only if you have some basic knowledge and are reasonably confident as a speaker. If you can’t really hold a basic conversation, then a one-2-one class will be too draining. Better to stay with classes.
What if I am a total beginner?
That’s no problem at all. Many people that come to the schools are complete beginners. But the advice I always give, if that you should buy a CD or book, or both a try and get the basics down on your own. By basics I’m talking about things like counting to 10, please and thank and of course, learning how to introduce yourself in a very basic fashion. Just having this little bit of knowledge before you attend your first French speaking class will give you a lot of confidence.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you live the language. We Parisians have a reputation for not being friendly and I obviously don’t think that’s very well deserved. But if you try and glue together a few words, we will be very grateful and you will have a much better experience. Particularly at restaurants and if we figure out that you are trying to learn, you might find that whole city has become your school.
So, good luck, or bon chance, as we say here.