I’ve gotten a lot of question about learning French in Paris so I thought I’d share a little post on this subject with you all.
During my four months in Paris I went to a school called Accord École de Langues during three and a half of them to study French. When I arrived in the city of light the only word I knew were bonjour, merci and ça va. I’d never studied the French language before and a part of me (and a couple of other people) thought that I had gone completely mad when I decided to move to Paris without knowing a single sentence in French… To calm my nerves immediately I went out and bought a little French course that I could listen to on my iPhone on my way to work, walking the dog or on the bus for example. Just to get used to hearing the French language.
Why Accord École de Langues?
When I’d decided to study French I chose between three different schools; the classic Sorbonne, Accord and Alliance Francaise and obviously I went with the second alternative. Mostly because they had true beginners courses and were very flexible when it came to dates. At Accord they accept new students every Monday, and absolute beginners on certain dates (twice a month I think). You can study at the school for however long you would want to. Some people stayed for a week, others for a few months and some for half a year even. I also thought that the hours (from 9 am – 1 pm) were very pleasant since you got the whole afternoon to explore the city and so whatever you felt like. You could also pay more to be a part of different workshops (grammar, oral speaking, writing etc. etc.) if you wanted to study more than these hours. I didn’t, but I still learned more than I ever could imagine! Perhaps if you’re staying for a shorter amount of time this is a great choice.
What I also liked very much about this specific school was that they considered each student’s language level. As a beginner you’ll start in the beginners group, where nobody knows a word of French, for two whole weeks and if the teacher then feels that you’re ready he or she will let you know and you can go up a level. I was so fortunate and had the most amazing teacher during my first two weeks.
They have a policy about not speaking English at the school (since that’s pretty easy to do when you don’t speak any French yet) to encourage students to learn as much French as possible. Hard and scary at first, but really good for your growth. The teachers, even in the beginners group, don’t speak a word of English with the students but instead they use body language, drawings and other tools to make everybody understand. Looking back, I have no idea how they did it but it really really worked.
The first day in school
On the first day of school you do a test which will decide in which group you’re then placed in. Since many people say that they are beginners, even if they’ve studied the language before and just forgotten most of it, you usually have to take the test even though you’re totally new to the language. They just want to make sure, for your sake, so that you’re put in the correct group from the beginning. When you’ve finished the test you’ll get to talk to one of the teachers who will ask a couple of questions. Just so that they can evaluate your speaking capability as well. Then, voilà! You’re places in a group and the lessons begin.
Who studied at the school?
Another thing I really liked about studying at Accord was the diversity. There were women, men, girls and boys, in all ages and from all countries. I met people I never thought that I would meet, nevertheless get to know. I got to know people for all over the world. Venezuela, Norway, Korea, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, USA, Denmark, China, Portugal, England, Ireland… Well, you get my point. People came for just one week, for their holiday or for months. People came for their own pleasure and for their work.
What the lessons included
What you got to do in school depended on the teacher you had that week. Yes, when you go up a level (every other week or so) you, most of the time, get a new teacher as well. Some days we made small sketches, others we practiced grammar and new conjugations and sometimes we got to work in smaller groups, make presentations in front of the class and even draw. But no matter what we did the focus was most often on the spoken word. They really wanted to take advantage of the time you had in school and make the most out of it. I think the ultimate setup would be to listen and speak a lot during the lessons and then practice your grammar and writing at home.
Homework was never something that we always got, that was also up to the teacher we had that specific week. Sometimes you got a lot, sometimes a little bit and sometimes nothing at all. I never spent more than an hour or so on homework and I managed to keep up with the class really well.
My favourite lessons were the ones when we got to go out and about in the city. For example we saw an exhibition at Hôtel de Ville, got to visit Palais de Tokyo, Musée d’Art Moderne, different churches and walk around with our teacher while she told us about Paris and the places we passed. We even had lunch together as well which was really nice! Although this is something that is most often done when the weather is better (meaning not in January, February or March).
So… What did I learn?
One of the most frequently asked questions is still “so how much French did you learn while in Paris?” and of course this is quite hard to answer. As I said, I arrived without knowing a single word and when I left I could speak basic French in passed, present and future tense. I learned far from everything there is to learn of course but I could carry on a basic conversation in French with some mistakes here and there. I could debate for my opinion and do an oral presentation in front of the class about Bordeaux.
There were people who started at the same time and who in the end was worse and better than me. This is so individual and it depends on many variables. Which teachers you get, how well you listen, how much you study, which languages you’ve studied before and if you practice speaking during your free time as well. But all I can say is that I’m more than happy and satisfied with my time learning French in Paris. I really think it’s best to learn language in a country that speaks it. It goes so much faster and is so much more fun. So please don’t give up a dream of moving to another country just because you don’t speak the language — learn it!