Without a doubt, my experiences working abroad have been the most valuable aspect of my travels.
From waiting tables in New Zealand to teaching English in China, working in foreign countries has given me an entirely new insight into another culture.
But since French is the first language I ever studied and France was the first country I ever visited, my love affair with the language is strong. For this reason, I regret never having worked in a French-speaking country. I would love to strengthen my relationship with the language and culture by going “behind the scenes.”
Has working abroad ever appealed to you? If so, visiting a French-speaking country may just be the way to access everything you want: money, language and travel.
Why Work to Learn French?
- It’s an affordable way to travel. While I love (read: live for) traveling, it can be a major strain on my bank account. The times I’ve enjoyed my travels most were when I worked as I went. This way, the money didn’t run out, so I could relax and afford to do more things.
Some of the programs we showcase here pay, while others are volunteer positions or provide free housing in exchange for work. Whatever route you decide to take, you’ll be able to experience culture and learn French without going out and spending money.
- You gain international work experience. If you want to work in the global market, one of these jobs might be your first stepping stone. You can explore what career fields interest you and what types of places you want to work in. Do you want to work in diplomacy? Hospitality? Teaching? Maybe you want to live in France, or even Canada or Switzerland.
- You can build your resume. As someone who has studied, worked and lived in multiple countries, trust me when I say that holding a job in another country stands out on a resume! Just serving tables in New Zealand has sparked conversations in interviews when potential employers have looked at my resume. Working abroad sets you apart from the crowd.
- You can learn unique French vocabulary. In these jobs, you’ll spend significant chunks of the week at your workplace, so you’ll learn French that is required in the field. In many cases, this is professional French vocabulary that will be useful in future international jobs. These are words and phrases you won’t necessarily learn by sitting in a classroom or watching French films.
8 Programs That Let You Work and Learn French
Of course, you don’t have to go in blind when you’re applying for these jobs. Bump up your French language skills with FluentU for an immersive experience before you even send a resume.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Serve food in Quebec, Canada
Edu-inter is an immersive language school in Quebec City that teaches students of all levels. Class sizes are small, five to 12 people throughout the school year and nine to 15 students during the summer.
This program’s goal is to prepare students for the workplace by offering job opportunities and teaching professional French. Not only do they offer workshops to help students prepare for interviews in French, but they help set students up with jobs in Quebec City.
You can start classes at Edu-inter on any Monday of the year and pay weekly. Their most basic package is 15 hours per week of core French for 250 CAD (194 USD) per week.
If you need the staff to set you up with housing, you pay them 225 CAD (175 USD) to place you, and the most affordable package is 238 CAD (185 USD) per week for a homestay with three meals per day. You can see the full breakdown of pricing here.
Don’t let these costs deter you, though! Remember, you’ll be working and earning money.
After completing Edu-inter’s interview workshop, you’ll apply for and be placed at a job in a restaurant, café, bar or hotel in Quebec City. You’ll get to earn money while interacting with the culture on a daily basis.
Not only will you learn French in the classroom, you’ll learn practical French at your job.
For this program, you need to either be a Canadian citizen or qualify for the Working Holiday Visa.
Intern at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
As much as I love France and want to travel to Canada, my dream is to study and work in Switzerland. I visited Geneva as a teenager and was completely swept away by the gorgeous landscapes and mouth-watering chocolate.
Well, good news! You can work in Switzerland while giving a major boost to your resume. How does interning at the United Nations sound?
At this job, you’ll learn French vocabulary related to diplomacy, public policy, government, peacekeeping and management. This kind of command of the language will be a huge selling point when you apply to any company that operates on a global scale.
The application process is very competitive. I would expect nothing less from the United Nations!
Applicants for the United Nations Office of Geneva’s Young Professionals Program (YPP) must be under 32 years old and fluent in either English or French.
Applicants must also meet one of the following criteria: be currently enrolled in graduate school, be in their last year of undergraduate school or have earned an undergraduate or graduate degree within one year of applying.
Internships range from two to six months, 40 hours per week. Unfortunately, work is unpaid, but can you imagine how impressive working for the United Nations in Switzerland must look on a resume?
Tutor in France
Babylangues is an English as a Second Language tutoring company that operates in 17 French cities, including Paris, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Nice.
As a tutor, you’ll travel to French families’ homes to work one-on-one or in small groups with their children. Babylangues wants to create an “English bubble” for the kids, and the company believes working in a safe space with a native English speaker is the best way to do so.
Pay varies depending on where you work, but if you work in Paris, you’ll take home between 10.45 and 16.50 euros (12.29 and 19.41 USD) after taxes. (Your pay will vary depending on your resume and previous experience.)
In addition to monetary compensation, Babylangues provides tutors with free French cell phones! If you’re in Paris, they also give you a free pass to use Vélib, the city’s bike sharing program.
If you choose to do so, Babylangues lets you apply for “intergenerational accommodation,” where you live with an older French person or a French family. In exchange for rent, you help them around the house.
Living with French people is a fantastic way to increase fluency, and not having to pay rent means you can spend your hard-earned money on enjoying French luxuries, like all the French pastries you can stomach!
Another way to further your French studies is to attend Mardis de Babylangues (Babylangues Tuesdays), where you can participate in a free language exchange. As an added bonus, your first drink is free!
Be a teaching assistant in France
Working as a teaching assistant sounds like the same gig as being a tutor, but it’s actually quite different.
The Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) is a government-run program that places fluent speakers of other languages in public schools. Rather than tutoring a child and working for a family, you’ll be working in classrooms.
After taxes, you’ll end up earning around 800 euros (940 USD) per month, which isn’t bad considering you only teach for 12 hours a week!
Outside of the classroom, you can learn French by conversing with French coworkers, engaging in language exchange or taking French classes.
A huge plus of the TAPIF program is that with the limited class hours and school breaks for holidays, you have plenty of time to travel around Europe. However, keep in mind that 800 euros per month doesn’t provide you with a lot of travel money after living expenses. For this reason, I recommend saving up a little money before moving to France.
Travel may also be more attainable if you live in an area with a low cost of living. TAPIF operates all around France, including French overseas departments and territories such as Martinique in the Caribbean and French Guiana in South America. You list your top three placement options during the application process and if you’re accepted, the government tries to take your preferences into account.
Take care of children in Lyon, France
Did anyone else watch the “Au Pair” movies when they were kids? Thanks to those films, I always consider being an au pair (nanny) as the classic job for an American abroad.
L’Institut Lyonnais (The Lyon Institute) is a language school in Lyon, a French metropolis close to the border of Switzerland.
If you want to study French for 12 hours per week, L’Institut Lyonnais provides the best financial package in the city. You can pay as little as 285 euros (335 USD) for an entire month if you choose to be an au pair for a French family.
The best part? Au pairs receive free accommodation!
No, you won’t be directly paid for your services. But you’ll receive free housing and be able to live with a French family, which is the best way to quickly improve your language skills. You’ll also receive an amazing financial deal at a language school in one of the biggest cities in the country.
Not a bad gig, is it?
Volunteer in Montpellier, France
L’Institut Méditerranéen de Langues et Services (The Mediterranean Institute of Languages and Services), or IMLS, is a language school in Montpellier.
Montpellier is a city in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea. The city has grown in popularity over the last decade or so and is considered the cool place for chic, young professionals to move.
The institute is conveniently located within walking distance from the train station, as well as bus and metro stops. The employees handle all the less sexy parts of studying abroad, such as visas, finding accommodation and transferring credits if you want your classes to count toward your college degree.
The company’s French courses combine theory, language practice and involvement in the community for a well-rounded language learning experience.
As a way to involve people in Montpellier’s community, IMLS sets students up with 23 different organizations they can volunteer with as part of their studies. This way, you have the opportunity to see a whole other side of France apart from the tourism. You can also learn French from a perspective and context you couldn’t possibly learn in the classroom.
Here are just a few of the organizations you can choose to volunteer with:
- L’Association des Paralysés de France (The Association of the Paralyzed of France), where you tutor and accompany handicapped people on social outings
- L’école de la Tour des Pins (The School of the Tower of the Pines), where you tutor children with learning disabilities
- Chez Théo (Theo’s House), a coffee shop where you help lead language workshops
The most basic package at IMLS covers three weeks of classes and volunteer work. For three weeks, you’ll pay 2,145 euros (2,544 USD). Keep in mind, this price covers class time, volunteer work, housing, a guided tour of Montpellier, medical and liability insurance and transport passes for an entire month, among other things.
No, you don’t get paid to volunteer. (It’s volunteering, after all!) However, IMLS offers experience with well-respected organizations that will prepare you for future positions in business or social work.
If your primary objective is to build your resume, volunteer work always stands out to employers!
Work hospitality in Paris, France
France Langue (French Language) is a language school that operates in several French cities. However, Paris is the only city where the company runs a work program.
France Langue aims to help students develop professional language skills, and they believe a combination of classroom lessons and work experience is the best way to do so.
You can enroll in the school and work for three to 12 months.
France Langue has a team that helps you find stable, reliable jobs in restaurants, bars, cafés and hotels around the city. Yes, paying jobs!
During this time, you must take French lessons in the classroom for a minimum of two weeks.
France Langue’s most basic classes include two weeks of professional French classes any time during your stay in Paris. The most affordable housing option is staying with a French family. You also pay the staff for helping you find a job. The total cost is 4,360 euros (5,170 USD) for two weeks.
You may choose to continue living with a French family, but depending on how long you want to work in Paris, you might prefer to find your own place.
But don’t forget, you’ll be making money to offset your living expenses! And, hopefully, have some money to travel and eat as many pains au chocolat (chocolate croissants) as you want.
There are some requirements for students. You must have scored at or above the B1 (lower intermediate) French level to join the work program. You must also be under 30 years of age and either be European or qualify for a Working Holiday Visa.
Intern in Aix-en-Provence, France
Attending L’Institut Américain Universitaire (The American University Institute), or IAU, gives French learners the dream situation. You can earn college credit, gain work experience and live abroad!
Aix-en-Provence is a quaint city in southern France. It stole my heart after spending just one afternoon there on my first trip to France.
Aix-en-Provence is considered a college town, so get ready for the classic French college experience!
IAU staff arranges internships for its students in fields ranging from education, theater, library sciences or even event planning. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Meanwhile, you’ll be studying French formally in the classroom to earn credit at your university back home.
To earn credit for your internship, you must spend 12-15 hours per week at your work site. You must also write three short essays in French over the course of the semester, write one final essay and give a final presentation. At the end of the semester, you’ll earn three credit hours for completing your internship.
If you want to attend IAU, you must have already completed at least four semesters of college French and submit your resume before attending.
Regardless of where you want to live, what you want to study or which career field you want to enter, there’s an exciting opportunity awaiting you in a foreign country!
Who says you have to choose between traveling the world and being responsible? By working abroad, you get to do both.
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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