At age 21, I packed my bags and took my first solo trip abroad.
My destination: Lyon, France.
I was embarking on this journey because I wanted to immerse myself in the French language. My college didn’t have a French study abroad program, so I had to take matters into my own hands. I figured spending a summer in France was a pretty amazing way to do so.
Four years earlier, I’d gone on a high school trip to France, where we spent only three days in Lyon.
A three-day visit was long enough. I fell in love with the city. I knew I had to go back.
And I know I’m not the only one. If you’re curious about this city or dying for a return trip like I was, you can make the most out of it with French learning programs in Lyon. I’ll show you seven of the best options, from established institutions to university classes to budget-friendly programs and more.
Why Study French in Lyon?
- Lyon is France’s third-largest city. Paris and Marseille are France’s first- and second-largest cities by population. Lyon is the third, with over 472,000 residents in 2017. That means you can enjoy the benefits of a large, vibrant French city, but without the overwhelming tourist industry you’ll find in Paris.
- It’s the gastronomic capital of the world! Between le fromage (cheese), le chocolat (chocolate) and les crêpes (crepes), it’s no surprise France is considered one the world’s main food hubs!
Lyon is the food capital of France and, many would say, of the world. The city has produced some of the world’s greatest chefs and is home to le bouchon lyonnais, a type of family-owned restaurant where Lyon’s mothers share their recipes with locals.
- Learn the classic French accent. While I would love to study French in a beautiful locale such as Quebec, or someplace more far-flung, like Morocco or Senegal, I’ve always wanted to acquire the classic French accent.
Residents of countries other than France have very different French accents. Actually, even various regions in France have distinct accents. When I spent two weeks in Marseille, I’d been studying French for four years. But I struggled to understand that thick southern twang! In Lyon, I felt right at home, picking up on the French accent I’d originally been taught.
- Location, location, location. If you want to travel while in France, Lyon is a great “home base” location. There are two big train stations and an international airport. Lyon is just a one-hour train ride away from Geneva, Switzerland, and less than a two-hour ride from Marseille. You can fly to the Mediterranean city of Nice in only and hour!
Comme les Lyonnais: 7 Immersive Options to Learn French in Lyon
All these schools offer immersive learning experiences for students. That means you’ll be surrounded by French in and outside of the classroom, which is one of the most productive ways to develop native-sounding language skills.
It can also be a little overwhelming for some students. FluentU is a fun, no-stress app to prepare for this type of immersive experience. It provides authentic French videos, like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more, that’ve been supercharged with language learning tools.
Each video comes with interactive captions you can click for an in-context definition and native pronunciation of any unfamiliar word. There are also flashcards and exercises to make sure you remember new words when you’re done watching. FluentU will remember what you’ve watched and suggest new videos accordingly, for flexible but personalized learning. Don’t forget to pack a FluentU free trial before you go!
Prices for the programs below differ depending on which classes you register for, how many classes per week you take and how many weeks you plan to study at the school. For example, if you decide to enroll for six months, your weekly cost will be less than if you only study for one month.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll provide the price for the most basic package at each school. Here we go!
Small School: Inflexyon
I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased toward Inflexyon because this is where I studied during my summer in Lyon!
The school and class sizes are small, and I knew everyone there by name. This is a great school to attend if you want to develop relationships with fellow foreigners. We were from all over the world, so French was our only common language. It forced us to practice!
You can expect class sizes to be between 12 and 18 people. With such a small community, instructors are able to give you more attention and more accurately assess your ability. My second day at Inflexyon, a teacher told me she could already tell I needed to move up a level in my grammar classes.
If you want to take the basic 17-classes-per week formula for up to three months, you’ll pay 140 euros (about 170 USD) per week.
Established Organization: Alliance Française de Lyon
Alliance Française de Lyon (French Alliance of Lyon) has been around since 1984 and is probably the most well-known language school in the area. When I was in Lyon, I stayed with a French family who boarded language students. Some of the other foreigners in the house studied at this school and loved their experience.
The main benefit of using a larger, more established school is the numerous resources. While some of the schools on this list only divide students into six broad levels from beginner to advanced, Alliance Française separates students into 17 levels! That means you’re getting instruction that’s precisely tailored to your learning needs.
The school also offers classes at various times throughout the day. They have ample resources and teachers to be able to do so.
Keep in mind, while some schools allow you to enroll and pay weekly, Alliance Française requires students to sign up by the month. There are a few times over the course of a year when the school accepts students for only two weeks of classes, but you usually need to commit to at least one month.
Their most basic package, General Intensive French, is 15 hours per week and costs 510 euros (about 630 USD) for one month.
The University Experience: Université de Lyon
If you’re a college student who wants to earn credit for studying abroad, look into enrolling at Université de Lyon (University of Lyon).
You have two options and locations available to you:
- Centre international d’études françaises (International Center of French studies) at Université Lumière Lyon 2
- Institut de langue et de culture françaises (Institute of French Language and Culture) at Lyon Catholic University
Both schools are part of the Université de Lyon system. However, Université Lumière Lyon 2 is a public university, so the school is bigger and the prices are lower. Lyon Catholic University is private, so you can enjoy smaller class sizes and more personal attention, but you’ll pay a little more.
Prices will vary depending on which location you choose and your American school’s policies regarding study abroad financing.
Professional Training: Birdwell
If your goal is to learn French for the business world, Birdwell might be the best option.
While you can enroll in general French languages classes, you may want to take advantage of this school’s professional development classes.
They have numerous specialized classes falling under the categories of intercultural training, personal development training and business and marketing, just to name a few.
Birdwell doesn’t have prices listed on its website. (Although it does offer suggestions for funding your French education!) You can request a quote here.
Unique Methods: Berlitz Lyon Part-Dieu
Berlitz has developed its own method for language learning called the “Berlitz method.”
The Berlitz method focuses on conversation skills alone, rather than on drills and exercises. This strategy is meant to eliminate students’ anxiety, especially beginner students.
Due to the emphasis on conversation and listening, the curriculum isn’t very grammar-heavy. This can be a strength if you really want to speak fluently. However, if a main goal of yours is to hone your grammar and writing skills, Berlitz may not be for you.
Like Birdwell Institute, Berlitz Lyon Part-Dieu (the name refers to the area of Lyon where the school is located) doesn’t list prices on its website. But you can contact a representative for a quote here.
Course Variety: Lyon Bleu International
While most language schools in Lyon offer tracks of various hours and intensity, Lyon Bleu International takes things a step further.
Taking these courses can tailor your experience in Lyon to your interests and needs. It may also make learning French a little more fun than if you’re just sitting in a classroom taking notes.
The only non-flexible thing about Lyon Bleu International’s classes are that several of them have a two-week minimum. Your language skills would certainly benefit from at least a two-week stay in Lyon, but if you’re unable to stay that long, Lyon Blue International might not be best for you.
Lyon Bleu International’s most basic package is the General French Semi-Intensive, which is 15 hours per week. This program costs 150 euros (about 185 USD) per week. Prices decrease if you enroll for more than six weeks.
Great Prices: Institut Lyonnais’ Au Pair Program
Institut Lyonnais (Lyon Institute) provides two 12-hour-per-week options, which is great for anyone on a budget or with limited time.
The au pair courses only cost 285 euros (about 350 USD) for an entire month. Holy moly, that’s a good deal!
With this plan, you live with a local family and take care of their children in exchange for free housing. I recommend this option, as living with a French family is one of the most immersive and effective ways to learn the language.
Also, Institut Lyonnais occasionally runs special discounts so be sure to check their rates regularly.
Regardless of your goals and budget, Lyon has a school that can meet your needs. Now, start perusing plane ticket prices and making a list of food you want to try. It’s time for you to fall in love with Lyon as much as I did!
Laura Grace Tarpley is a writer based in Athens, Georgia. She has spent the past four years living in and exploring France, New Zealand and China. She runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she writes city guides and budget travel tips.
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