Speaking French in Paris: Easy or Difficult?

7 February 2019

In her first Study Abroad Blog, Eva from SELCS provides tips on how to progress your French at the start of a year abroad in Paris!

eva blog

After my arrival to the new country, I started to recall all the pieces of well-meant advice given to me and reminded me of my own expectations. I have realised that the students in the fourth year, who have already returned from their year abroad, have significantly improved their French. How to get the most of my year abroad on the linguistic level, get insight into the Parisian culture and make new friends? After my first month in Paris, I share with you my academic and cultural tips free of charge with a special focus on activities provided by Centre George Pompidou in the final part. 

An enriching talk with Daniel Schneidermann at Centre George Pompidou

My first tip concerns engaging in academic activities. On top of obligatory lectures and semi-nars, the Sorbonne offers a vast range of cultural activities. What about attending a concert by the Sorbonne choir or a talk exploring the odds of the French language that strike even the French? Furthermore, you can take part in weekly theatre, photography, improvisation, writing and reading work-shops. Personally interested in art and history, I find the programme of Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac and Musée d’Orsay appealing. The former organises talks about history, for instance about big uprisings or the history of catastrophes. The latter invites you to study history of art from the 19th to the 21st century with professors from Science Po. 

If you follow my advice, you improve your academic language while broadening your horizons. One part is still missing: how do you get to speak? I cannot recommend more the FLE intensive course organised my the Sorbonne two weeks before the official start of the academic year. It is taught by our peers who share useful tips about French university life, academic writing and life in France in general. Parismus engages both French and Erasmus students in ice-breaking games, guided tours and more exciting activities. Guided tours have become a key element of my explorations of the Parisian culture. Being very popular with Parisians, you get an insight into the hidden gems of the city such as the Little India at Rue Faubourg Saint-Denis and in a friendly atmosphere talk with participants of the tour. 

Passage Brady at Rue Strasbourg

The Library of Centre George Pompidou marries active and passive langue learning. Apart from talks about job-seeking, culture and current debates in France, you gain access to newspapers, films and books. Furthermore, they offer language courses every Friday for non-native speakers animated by librarians. I have participated in a film screening followed by a discussion and a conversation class during which we discussed painting by Matisse located in the museum in the very same building. Equally, a writing workshop is organised every first Friday of the month. From my personal experience, the librarians created a welcoming atmosphere inviting to share ideas with people from all over the world, assure that everyone speaks, explain new vocabulary and thematise the raised ques-tions in the French context. 

By no means an exhaustive list, as there are endless possibilities in Paris to improve the French language, I hope that these personal tips facilitate your first steps during your year abroad. Apart from the academic involvement, it is vital for me to stay in touch with culture and history while practicing the French language. However, it might be difficult to establish new friendships at the beginning, especially under the pressure of being here to speak the French language. Therefore, these are budget-friendly possibilities to meet new people sharing the same interests or experiences of being a foreigner in the city when your new Facebook friends stay Facebook friends. 

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By Eva Strnadova