I’ve got some exciting news for you.
I have a surefire way to make your French studies go south!
Sure, “go south” can sometimes mean that something is failing.
Here I’m talking about a different, much better kind of south: the south of France!
You can learn French in many places all over the world, including from the comfort of your own home, but the south of France is certainly one the most beautiful places to learn the “language of love.”
This post will give you everything you need to know about learning French in southern France, including the advantages of living and studying in the region, some recommendations of great schools and other tips to keep in mind if you want your studies to “go south.”
Why You Should Learn French in the South of France
If you want to really learn a language, you can make progress much more quickly if you immerse yourself in the language by learning it in a place where it’s spoken. In deciding to go abroad, you’ll gain not only knowledge of the language itself, but a myriad of cultural experiences.
If you’re up for the challenging and rewarding adventure of an immersion experience abroad, then you need to make your second big decision: choosing the country in which you want to study.
In doing so, you’ll also need to consider how you wish to spend your time abroad. In other words, you’ll choose whether or not you want to take classes, work or volunteer or simply spend a few months soaking up the language and culture as a tourist.
While each Francophone country has a plethora of unique and appealing characteristics, I suspect that the majority of people end up choosing France as their go-to destination for learning French.
France is an excellent choice for a variety of reasons, including its central location in Europe, making it easy to travel to and from other EU countries. France also has an iconic place in our hearts as the place to have a traditional and romantic French experience. Who can resist the ideas of baguette, fromage (cheese), Paris, amour (love), cobblestone streets, vineyards and more?
If all that sounds good to you, then France just may be the place for you! Now, you’ll only need to consider which part of France you’d like to go, as it’s a diverse and culturally rich country boasting much more than just lovely Paris.
My advice? Go south!
The south of France alone, known as le Midi, consists of several regions, each containing notable places such as Bordeaux, Nice, Marseille and Cannes, just to name a few.
Considering all of these cities and regions can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re less familiar with France outside of Paris.
That’s why I’ve made it easier on you by putting together a guide to learning French in some of the more notable places in le Midi.
So if you’re interested in expanding your knowledge of France’s geographical locations to get a better idea of what the country has to offer prospective French learners, enjoy the guide below!
But first, I’ll give you one more reason to go south.
One More Reason to Go South: Occitan
Speaking of the cultural benefits of learning French in the south of France, in any of the aforementioned cities you may notice street signs or hear announcements on the metro in a language you don’t recognize as French.
That’s because there are traces of Occitan, a Medieval Romance language that’s still spoken in certain areas in the south of France.
Unfortunately, you’ll rarely hear pure Occitan spoken by the general population, although it has influenced modern French in many ways. So even if you don’t know any Occitan, you won’t need to fear being misunderstood or missing out on opportunities to practice your French.
In fact, today many people in the region speak just French, making it doubtful you’ll ever come into contact with someone actively using one of Occitan’s dialects—Languedocien in Toulouse, Gascon in Bordeaux and Provençal in Cannes and Marseille.
However, you’ll see remnants of the language on shop signs, street names and more, an added bonus for those seeking to diversify their cultural experience.
The Perks of Going South: Learning French in the South of France
The reasons to choose to learn French in Bordeaux are endless, but I’ll start with the one that everyone’s thinking: wine!
Yes, Bordeaux is the ultimate city for lovers of the very famous wine produced in the region.
In fact, apart from the obvious experience of touring a regional vineyard, there’s even a place within the city of Bordeaux called La Cité du Vin (The City of Wine) where you can learn about wine production and its various cultural aspects. Or if you’re a less-thinkin’-more-drinkin’ kind of person, you can simply sample various wines from the region.
However, wine isn’t the only perk living in Bordeaux has to offer. The city also boasts 11 museums, 32 gorgeous parks and gardens, lots of shopping opportunities and plenty of restaurants and bars perfect for both foodies and those in search of a good nightlife.
As for language opportunities outside of everyday learning experiences, a great choice is the Alliance Française Bordeaux Aquitaine (AFBA), an international school for studying both French language and culture.
Located within the city, AFBA hosts intensive courses year-round in addition to providing cultural experiences such as events and outings, as well as other non-traditional language learning opportunities (like providing accommodation through host families).
Their incredibly diverse activity program includes cooking classes, excursions to attend festivals and concerts and visits to surrounding vineyards.
If AFBA isn’t right for you, France Langue Bordeaux is another wonderful option, featuring nine classrooms and tons of courses from which to choose. They offer French classes in business, tourism, law, medicine and the hospitality industry, just to name a few.
Finally, you should also take a look at Learnin’Bordeaux, which offers French courses for all levels, exam training, internships and evening classes for those working during the day.
If living in Bordeaux as a student doesn’t interest you, throughout the summer and early fall, vineyards within the region often post ads looking for workers who are willing to work in exchange for room and board and other benefits; you can find these opportunities on websites such as Pôle Emploi. This is also a great way to find jobs all over France, although this particular site is only available in French.
No matter what you’re looking to do, there are plenty of opportunities for French language learners in this fascinating city.
Cannes is a beautiful town located on the French Riviera, which is just about enough in and of itself to make you choose to study French there.
For those not as familiar with the area, the French Riviera sits on the Mediterranean Coast in the southeast of France, and is well known for its gorgeous beaches and resorts.
Just as wine is so closely associated with the city of Bordeaux and its surrounding region, one very unique thing comes to mind when people think of Cannes: the famous Festival de Cannes.
The Festival de Cannes takes place annually, attracting cinema gurus, up-and-coming actors and directors from around the globe.
If you study abroad in Cannes, you’ll get to take part in year-round events associated with the more than 70-year-old tradition. And if you’re lucky enough to be there in May, you’ll be a part of the festival itself!
If attending global cinema festivals and leisurely relaxing on the beach isn’t enough to pull you in, you’ll also have the opportunity to study at the prestigious Campus International de Cannes, where you can pick from all kinds of courses and get help with lodging arrangements, outside activities and more.
Apart from its stunning campus and wide range of included amenities, Campus International de Cannes offers three very unique programs: traditional language courses, specialized French courses (such as business or tourism) and teacher training courses (for those wishing to become French professors).
They also offer all of the official exams and diplomas needed for proof of French proficiency for professional or immigration reasons, such as the Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF) and the Dîplome d’Études en Langue Française (DELF).
Another great school in the area is the Riviera French Institute, offering both short and long-term courses, French summer camps and sports camps, and gastronomy and wine tasting classes.
They provide housing options through host families, hotels or apartments, and excursion programs such as summer cruises or winter ski trips.
Whichever you choose, both schools are sure to offer great cultural experiences and knowledgeable language teachers!
Moving further inland, you’ll find the vibrant city of Toulouse, the capital of France’s Occitanie region. Toulouse is also known as La Ville de la Violette (The City of Violets) because of its many pastel-colored buildings and the millions of violets that bloom there each winter.
Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city and is home to many museums, monuments and historic churches.
The city is also known for its unique artistic community, including a particularly vibrant street-art scene.
Being a bigger city, another perk of living in Toulouse is that it’s extremely easy to get around. The city offers several public transportation options, including a small, two-line metro, plenty of public buses and a bike share program.
As for taking French classes, there’s the excellent Alliance Française Toulouse (an affiliate of Alliance Française, just like the one in Bordeaux I mentioned earlier) with plenty of language and cultural programs from which to choose.
You can also consider Langue Onze for its intensive courses, cooking classes, teaching program or private tutor options, or Jardin Culturel — Professional Language Centre, for its extra-cool events such as casual French conversation evenings, which you can enjoy in addition to the standard courses offered there.
In any case, all three schools offer great opportunities for students to cater the programs to themselves and get the most out of their experiences.
If French classes aren’t enough to quell your appetite and you’re interested in trying something a bit out of the ordinary, check out TalkTalkBnb, a site which connects travelers with people all over the world willing to host them as part of a language exchange.
This site typically has more hosts to choose from in cities such as Toulouse, where people want to learn English in exchange for hosting and sharing their French language and culture.
This is an incredibly unique way to immerse yourself in a new place while traveling on a budget and meeting locals at the same time.
Smaller in size only to Paris and Lyon, Marseille combines all of the benefits of living in a large city with the advantages of a coastal town, as it is France’s largest and most important trade port.
The oldest city in France, Marseille was established by the Greeks around 600 BCE and still contains many historical sites for history buffs to explore.
Aside from its ancient sites and typical urban perks (shops, museums, nightlife, etc.), Marseille is home to some of France’s most beautiful and popular beaches, perfect for relaxing all summer long.
What’s more, as the major port city in France, Marseille is of particular interest to seafood lovers! There are many traditional dishes specific to the city, such as bouillabaisse, a stew containing a variety of fish and vegetables.
You’ll also benefit from taking French courses at Alliance Française Marseille Provence, L’Institut Destination Langues or EasyFrench. Each school offers a variety of course level options, as well as housing accommodations such as host families or residential apartments.
Each school has its unique strengths as well. For example, L’Institut Destination Langues offers courses specifically about cultural studies, such as ones about French civilization and French media.
EasyFrench, on the other hand, is located just a few blocks from the port, making it an extremely central and beautiful spot from which to study.
Finally, Alliance Française Marseille Provence probably offers the most in terms of personalized classes, with tons of packages and time slots from which to choose.
Whether you plan to take classes, explore the islands off its coast, get your diving license, soak in local culture or just relax on the beaches, there’s truly something for everyone in Marseille!
No matter where you decide to study French abroad, you’re sure to have a one-of-a-kind experience and encounter many new things throughout your journey.
If you’re considering France, don’t forget about these amazing cities in the southern region of this beautifully diverse country!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.
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