The Best Way to Learn French: Soaking Up the Benefits of Study Abroad
Adieu et bon voyage ! (Goodbye and safe travels!)
Let’s face it.
Your language abilities soar when you spend any significant amount of time in a country where that language is spoken.
Even if you were to tape your mouth shut and just listen to people talking in the surrounding environment for 3-6 months, your command of the language would greatly improve, mais vraiment (like really)!
But keep your tape for your French language posters, because in this post we’re going to go over all the ways you can get the most out of a stay abroad—and that, of course, includes talking.
The best thing about immersion in a Francophone country is that it provides quick results.
What you’d spend maybe 3-5 years attempting to master through a textbook you can suddenly intuitively understand over dinner conversation with a friend in Paris, while working in Quebec or while taking a local tour somewhere in Belgium.
Difficult parts of the language—like pronunciation, use of the subjunctive and the auxiliary verbs être (to be) and avoir (to have)—become a cinch while abroad!
Of course, learning French through immersion these days does not necessarily mean packing up your suitcases and singing au revoir (goodbye), but it sure does help to spread your wings for a while.
For how long, you ask? A séjour (stay) of 3-6 months would get you to a comfortable intermediate level, whereas the recommended year would make you an honorary Francophone for life.
Ready to acquire that honor?
Bienvenue au club (welcome to the club)!
If you’re still not convinced, let’s look a little closer at some of the benefits offered by spending time in a French-speaking country.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Benefits of Learning French in a French-speaking Country
Speaking a language well means understanding a people well. If you want to speak French, you have to get up close and personal with Francophones. See the way they talk, think, eat and dress. See what makes them tick or sing with joy. The idea here is not to make generalizations about a population, but every language, including French, has its own way of “being.” The closer you get to it, the better you’ll speak!
Another great way to get this kind of cultural exposure, at home or abroad, is by learning with FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.
By watching FluentU videos, you get to see how native speakers express themselves within a context that’s relevant to them. Watching authentic French content will not only reveal how they talk, but also the way they think, thereby teaching learners how to speak and think in a similar fashion.
For more information on app features, sign up for a free trial with FluentU.
Actual opportunities to speak French
Finally nail down all those tricky words, pick up idiomatic expressions and stop sounding like a nervous French textbook or recording. By learning abroad, you’ll become an intuitive speaker. You’ll begin feeling out the language and its subtleties naturally, instead of trying to rationally break it down. Over time, you’ll learn different ways of picking up on what someone is trying to say, even when faced with unfamiliar vocabulary.
Guaranteed French immersion
Guess what you’ll do in French while abroad? Everything! You’ll set up your new life (find an apartment, open a bank account, find an internship or job), perform daily actions (order food, grocery shop, cook, watch TV) and meet new people en français, toujours (in French, always).
A chance to explore yourself and the world
Get to know a different way of living, a different way of seeing things and different models for family relationships and friendships. Leaving home and going to a foreign country provides you with a new set of eyes from which to view yourself and the world.
A language as well as a life challenge
Set off on your own, spread your wings and learn not only to become independent, but to do so in a foreign language and foreign country. This will boost your self-esteem and give you renewed confidence in yourself, as well as your French skills! Once you’ve overcome the challenge of living abroad alone, surely becoming fluent in French or several other foreign languages will seem like a piece of cake by comparison.
Tu es convaincu(e), n’est-ce pas ? (Convinced, aren’t you?)
Fantastic Destinations for Studying French
To get you inspired, let’s first explore some potential destinations for your séjour linguistique en français (Francophone study abroad)!
- Paris, France. This one’s obvious, right? With lots of top-notch and prestigious university programs and all the buttery croissants your heart desires, this is a well-known destination for a reason. An abundance of cultural activities, museums and heritage make Paris a joy to explore, not to mention that it can serve as a direct launching pad to other Francophone countries such as Luxembourg and French-speaking Switzerland and Belgium.
- Quebec City, Canada. Welcome to Francophone North America and a friendly Canadian region where you’ll enjoy a charming city with great French language programs and affordable living!
- Liège, Belgium. A quaint university town full of life and young energy, friendly Belgians are fantastic to practice French with. Enjoy French language programs and artisan beer in addition to reasonably-priced European living.
These three are only the tip of the iceberg and just what we’ll focus on to give you an idea of specifics throughout the rest of this post. Remember that the Francophonie extends to over 50 countries, including destinations such as Morocco and Senegal in Africa. All you need to do is choose your spot!
If you’re still thinking of whether to invest time living in a French-speaking country, I’d advise you to stop thinking and just do it. But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s actually confront some of those false ideas or irrational fears you might have, such as “It’s too expensive,” “I won’t be able to get a visa” or “It’s just too far.”
Here’s some practical information on a few key subjects to guide you.
For Americans, it’s very easy to obtain a student visa to go abroad. First off, in Europe, you don’t need a visa for stays up to 90 days, which means you won’t have any visa application or related costs if you go to France or Belgium for only 3 months. Great!
But let’s say you want to stay for 6 months to a year. No problem! Simply enroll in a French-language course that’s longer than 90 days (links coming later on), and once enrolled, apply for your visa. Visas generally take 90 days to process and issue, so make sure to apply as soon as possible.
A student visa is great because it allows you to study and work up to 15 hours a week, and finding visa information online is easy. For starters, you can check out the French Embassy in Washington or London as well as Canadian visa information for the US, Australia or the UK.
Contrary to popular belief, going abroad doesn’t have to be expensive. With the vast availability of cheap tickets and charter airlines, you won’t be broke once you get to your destination.
If you need to apply for a student visa, that’ll cost you around 150 USD, plus your ticket at 800-1000 USD (but of course you can find deals!).
Find an affordable ticket with Kayak or BudgetAir.com.
In total, it’s smart to save around 2500 USD to cover all your initial and setup costs once you land.
You can support yourself in most French-speaking cities on an 800 USD monthly budget. If you work part-time, you’ll make that money. In cheaper cities, like Quebec City, Canada, you can easily live on 600 USD monthly. OK, you won’t be living like a king or queen, but you’ll learn French.
Make sure to look up student housing options or shared university apartments. Student housing in France receives state funding and the apartments tend to be central, so you get unbeatable prices in great locations. Also consider sharing a house with other local students, which can run you from just 200-500 USD monthly.
Certainly you’re now planning or ready to get started on your linguistic journey to solidify your French language skills. Fantastique ! (Great!)
Again, stay for a minimum of 3 months, and if possible, extend your stay to 6 months. If you’re in this to become bilingual, stay for one full year. If you stay that year, you will never ever, ever…ever forget French. Sure, your speaking might get rusty, but you’ll understand it for the rest of your life!
Mais, fais attention (but be careful). Just because you move to France, Belgium or Canada does not mean you will automatically learn French, as much effort is still required on your part to actively engage in and reap all the benefits!
Let’s explore how to do so together.
Strategic Tips for Learning French While Abroad
Make French-speaking friends
That’s right. Aim to make friends and contact with French speakers who speak very little to no English. Because of the importance of English in today’s world, many eager learners will jump at the opportunity to impress you and practice their English. Just politely reply in French and remind them that you’re in their country to learn. Get used to speaking French while living abroad to avoid getting comfortable with groups of friends who speak English.
How to do this: Sign up on Meetup to find local activity groups aligned with your interests. If in Europe, do a free guided tour with locals from your city with Sandemans in French.
Live with French-speaking roommates only
Along with making Francophone friends, choose to live in a French-speaking home environment. This means no room shares with Americans, Brits, Australians and so on. Instead, try to live with local students or young professionals. This will certainly increase your potential of forging local friend circles and also ensure that you leave your comfort zone and don’t escape back home to speak English. Living with Francophones is great because they’ll correct you, and you’ll learn vocabulary through cleaning, cooking and simply hanging out together!
How to do this: To find local roommates, check out Roomlala in Paris, Kijiji in Quebec or Appartager in Liège.
Take intensive French language courses
To get you started and boost your confidence when abroad, sometimes you need a course. Luckily, many Francophone universities provide quality intensive language and culture courses. This is an investment for your pocket, but does provide a solid structure to your learning and is worth it to get you in French-speaking mode from Day One!
How to do this: Check out the French language school at the University of Laval (Quebec), the famous intensive French language and civilization courses at the Sorbonne (Paris) or the language school at Liège University. These three universities are world-renowned for teaching French as a foreign language. They are experts and you will be, too.
Work in French
Try landing a job in a boulangerie (bakery) or a cafe/restaurant. Although your interactions with clients may be short, you will nonetheless have French work colleagues, get great practice with French numbers (through money) and build a social life with French-speaking people.
Avoid teaching English while abroad. Actually, don’t even consider it an option. Although it can be great money and bring a level of financial security, guess what you’ll be doing all day? Well, speaking English. And guess what’ll happen with all the French speakers you meet? They’ll always want to speak English with you. Great for them, bad for you!
How to do this: Look for student jobs at l’Etudiant or KAP’stages in France, Craigslist in Canada or Jannonce.be in Belgium.
Attend conferences and local events
Attend conferences, events or seminars in your city or town of residence. Expand your general knowledge and get real immersion in professional and advanced French. Once you feel confident, start signing up for interactive workshops on any topics available, which could range from web page design, to arts and crafts, to building robots—whatever tickles your fancy!
How to do this: Approach your local university and hôtel de ville (town hall) to get the monthly calendar and programming for workshops.
Listen to the news and discuss it
The news may be difficult to understand, but listening to it just 30 minutes daily mixed with living in a French-speaking country provides two benefits: You master French listening and you come to understand the current events of the country and region you live in.
How to do this: Download the TuneIn radio app on your phone and find French radio from around the world, or go for daily podcasts. Be courageous and strike up conversations with locals, friends or roommates about national politics and local news. You’ll come to see that politics take quite a central role in Francophone life, and locals will gladly engage and share their opinions if you politely ask!
There you have it: everything you need to know to take advantage of the best way to learn French out there.
Stick to the advice above and you’re sure to have results and improvements in your French while abroad, both in the short and long term.
Who knows, you might even get so good that locals begin to mistake you for another local…tout est possible (anything is possible)!
I bid you happy learning and travels, reader…à la prochaine (until next time)!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)