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Living in France and Learning French: How You Can Achieve You Francophone Ambitions

By Sophia, published on 26/03/2018 Blog > Languages > French > On Living in France and Learning French

We have to thank our King Henry V for instituting the passport system as we know it.

He meant for such documents to permit his subjects identity and safe passage as they traveled through foreign lands and, more importantly, guarantee re entry into England after their sojourn abroad.

Passports were not required to gain access to foreign territory until after WWI, from which time those documents became the ultimate travel and status accessory.

Before that time it was quite common for Britons to holiday in France – take in the social scene, or even seek higher education in the superior schools in Paris: the Pasteur Institute, for example, or the Curie Institute.

Times really haven’t changed that much in the intervening century, have they?

We are all still so keen to explore all of France – from the hills of Normandy to the sunny shores of Biarritz. Some of us even dream of owning a chalet in the Alps.

And French wine! The numbers reveal that we are turning more and more to sipping – maybe not the expensive labels, but the competitively-priced wines from the Loire region, rather than Aussie wines.

And, of course, there is French food. The gastronomy of France is without compare! The cheeses, the breads; the Michelin sauces…

Why only partake of such extravagance on holiday? Why not just make the move to France and enjoy the French way of life anytime you want?

Paris has long been thought of as the cultural centre of the world France has long been artistic and cultural capital of the world Source: Pixabay Credit: Artsy-Bee

Benefits of Living in France

Are you fed up with the cold, the snow, the rains and the fog? Living in France could be the option for you!

One of the greatest aspects of living in France must surely be the weather!

Of course, regions of France have their variations, but the further south you go, the more balanced the weather, and the fewer severe weather events you will have to endure.

Surely there are greater benefits to living in France than moderate weather, aren’t there?

Of course! Let us talk about them now.

Finding a Home in France

As a British expatriate, you may find it surprisingly easy to secure suitable and affordable accommodations in France.

Of course, you must first determine whether you would want to rent or buy a property.

Renting a residence may be advisable at the outset, even though that might mean a later move to your permanent domicile.

Still, Britons can and do shop the French property market, especially after discovering that owning property in France is much easier than initially thought!

In the spirit of cooperation, our own government website provides a page with guidelines on how to conduct real estate transactions in France with minimal fanfare.

Your family and work situations matter a great deal when considering your move to France.

  • If married, your spouse should be onboard with the idea
  • If you have school-aged children, you must consider their education
    • whether you would enroll them in a French school or an international school could be a subject of further discussion
  • If unattached, you may have to consider your relatives, especially your parents
    • Who would be left to care for them after you’ve moved away?
  • What will you do for money?

That last question is quite often a detractor to the grand idea of broadening one’s cultural and linguistic horizons by living abroad.

Unless you are independently wealthy, you must earn your wages. How to do that in a country where, perhaps, you can’t read the billboards?

Working in France

If you are hoping to start a business, you couldn’t have chosen a better country to move to.

Ernst &Young reports that France is one of the cheaper, less complicated countries among the greater G20 to start a new enterprise in.

Naturally, you would have to be in possession of valid credentials, such as residency and work permits.

You should also be aware that the French government is very meticulous in documenting every professional’s training, from the freelance photographer to lecturers at universities.

Thus we recommend that, before you make your international move, you should be sure that your diplomas are acceptable.

If you wanted to wait a few years to start your business – or never had it in mind to start a business, finding a job would be the order of the day.

Perhaps the best aspect of working in France is its fabled 35-hour work week, coupled with generous leisure time.

Fabled because, these days, that standard is not necessarily true: many an expat reports disillusionment at being tasked to more work hours than that minimum!

If you are relocating in retirement, you need not fret over employment in France – lucky you! Your only concern would be learning how to speak French.

Learn French by Moving to France

Moving abroad to learn a language seems a bit like putting the cart in front of the horse. After all, shouldn’t you have some measure of language competency before going overseas?

Here we make the distinction between tourist French, language skills learned in a classroom, and the everyday language spoken by French people – three very separate propositions!

The language of Molière spoken by native speakers is the level at which you aspire to communicate in.

No more la fille and le garçon; enough with verb tenses and conjugation: you are ready to aim high and reach your goal!

The best way to become fluent in French is to immerse yourself into the language and culture of France.

The best way to do that is relocation to a French speaking country.

Barring any status of independent wealth, there are several ways to engineer such a move that will ensure your language learning.

If you are lucky to have the means, you can move to another country without worrying about how you will support yourself!

As discussed above, you could start a business in France, making full use of the provisions and guarantees put in place for such entrepreneurs. Otherwise, you can…

Move to France for Study

If pursuing higher education in France, you should be aware of the language requirements: you may be compelled to sit the DELF, France’s language competency exam.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to earn your university degree in France without speaking even passable French, but you would have to stick to the major cities, such as ParisMarseilles or Montpellier.

Warning: doing so would be contrary to the whole point of moving to France to learn the language!

If you want to live in France but higher education is not on your radar, you could always take other courses, such as cooking or art.

And, of course, French language classes!

Institut Linguistique Adenet, in Montpellier, offers just such a programme.

You can choose to attend either their standard French course, or participate in an intensive learning experience.

No matter which option you select, in groups of no more than 10, your language teacher would drill on grammar and vocabulary particulars, placing special emphasis on pronunciation through frequent oral exercises.

The focus is more on communication than reading and writing in French. Grammar skills are reinforced through language usage rather than rote repetition or lessons devoted to the topic.

If a five-month internship in the south of France sounds like a dream come true, this might be the French immersion learning environment for you!

Besides studying verb tenses and and learning amusing French phrases, you will have ample time to socialise and sightsee.

This outfit routinely coordinates outings and activities – from prowling around town to wine tastings, as well as cultural events.

In short, you will have plenty of opportunity to make new friends to practice speaking French with.

Why not get to know the language and culture of France by volunteering? Volunteering in France in exchange for room and board is a fantastic way to get off the beaten path! Source: Pixabay Credit: Carla Borella

Find Volunteering Opportunities in France

We concede that not everyone with a yen for travel has the means to do so. Nor can everyone who wants to learn a new language invest the time and money that learning the language demands.

Lastly: not everyone craves a first class travel experience!

The best way to experience a culture is to get off the beaten path.

It is that spirit of adventure that may interest you in a homestay experience, anywhere in France that suits your fancy!

Especially today, when so many people would rather spend their money on experiences rather than possessions, sites like HelpX are playing a crucial role in matching those hoping to learn about life in other countries with people who need temporary help.

As the site’s name indicates, you will be given a place to live and food in exchange for a bit of work – be it teaching English to household members or helping out with animals on a farm.

Bear in mind that this is not a permanent arrangement!

You wouldn’t be staying in any given location for more than a couple of months, at most, before moving on. This is one of the best aspects of such an engagement!

You could then travel to another region in France – Brittany or Dordogne, and experience life there. And then… who knows?

You may decide to experience life in Switzerland or Belgium, or any other French speaking country!

After you’ve had your fill of traveling, gaining proficiency in French all the while, you will be ready to sit the DELF in your preferred city, find a flat and settle into your new French life.

Find out more about learning French in France.

Should you declare yourself such a vagabond, there are some must-know phrases that will serve you well in France.

Before I went to France the first time, I turned to Superprof for my French courses London

Ten French Phrases You Must Know

The French language is exceedingly formal – overburdened with formality, some might say.

That claim does not necessarily hold water when you consider that English speaking populations also have rules for what is considered proper language in certain company.

For example, it would not be good etiquette to use slang phrases in a job interview. Nor is it considered suitable to address your elders by their given names, unless they give you license to.

You are no doubt well familiar with such rules in your home country but, moving overseas – or even just travelling exposes you to a minefield of conversational faux pas if you are not familiar with the culture.

With due understanding that, from one generation to the next, popular vernacular evolves, let us unveil ten French phrases suitable for verbal exchange between people of any age group.

Bonjour and Bonsoir

You may already know these words of greeting and farewell, but they do bear mentioning, especially in contrast to Salut!

Salut is a dual-usage word of the same meaning that is suitable only among good friends, or people of the same age.

Any time you walk into a shop or meet someone familiar, chiming bonjour is considered proper form.

Upon parting in the evening, it is never OK to say bonne nuit – even though it means good night.

Bonsoir is much more comme il faut.

Merci, De rien, and Je Vous en Prie

The first word is most likely well known; perhaps you even use it on occasion.

The second literally translates to of nothing, but is closer in meaning to it was nothing, or think nothing of it.

The last phrase can have several meanings:

  • I urge you to – your boss may be acceding your request to speak
  • I beg of you – please, don’t mention it
  • I beseech you – the ultimately formal way to ask for something
  • You’re Welcome – a more formal way to say de rien
  • By all means – perhaps you would try on a dress in a shop

In the same spirit of asking a favour of someone, you might hear…

Your French shop keeper will usually tell you bien sûr! This Floriste may answer your queries with Mais Oui, Bien Sûr! Source: Pixabay Credit: Nastya_guepp

Mais Oui, Bien Sûr!

The first part means but yes!; the second is of course!. Used together, they render emphasis to the request at hand.

Going back to trying clothing on in a shop: you would likely hear that exclamation from the accommodating shop keeper.

You may also hear certainement, Madame!, or Monsieur, as the case may be.

If you are of a younger generation, you may need to get familiar with d’ac!, short for d’accord! – meaning OK.

NOTE: because the French guard their linguistic heritage with such a fervor as to ban foreign word import by law, you should try to avoid saying that Americanism.

Or, if you must use it, please do so in conjunction with with the easily memorisable d’ac, like so: OK, d’ac!.

Excusez-moi, Pardonnez-moi; Desolé(e)

Just as in English, you would preface a question in French with excuse me or pardon me.

If you are more tentative in your use of France’s official language, you might ask: Excusez-moi, parlez vous anglais?do you speak English?, or you could ask where something is: the bus stop, the bank; even the loo!

You can also use pardonnez-moi to apologise for a slight, such as bumping into someone or stepping on their toes on the bus.

Desolé (or desolée, if you are female) is reserved for more serious offences; those for which you are gravely sorry.

Should you accidentally knock someone’s café au lait out of their hand, or even if you trip the waiter carrying a tray of yummy beverages, pardon simply won’t do.

Desolé, said with proper gravitas, is the word of the moment.

Ce n’est Pas Grave; Pas de Problème

It’s not serious, or no problem would most likely be the response to any admission of fault on your part.

Should you accidentally trample someone or jostle them on the bus, they may say ce n’est pas grave – it’s not serious.

You may also hear it’s not serious – loosely translated as it’s OK, on a playground: a parent consoling a tearful child.

Pas de problème would be the likely response if you called someone to inform them you are running late for an appointment, or maybe if you don’t have any small bills to buy your baguette at the boulangerie.

Except where indicated, none of these words or phrases are age-specific; that is to say that anyone, of any age group might use them.

For an expanded lexicon of must-know words and phrases, you can check out this page.

One interesting aspect about France is that, although the country is divided into 12 regions – down from the historic 22; there are a few regional dialects.

Everyone in France speaks Metropolitan French, as the official language is known.

Compare that to our British English, with nearly 30 regional dialects!

Now that you know pretty much everyone in France speaks the same language, there is no need to worry whether you are learning the right French for the region you want to start your new life in.

Or the city you think about studying in…

Can you envision graduating from a French university? Do you want to graduate from a French University? Source: Pixabay Credit: StockSnap

Top Five Cities for Study in France

We mentioned at the start of this article that, one hundred years ago, studying abroad was a mark of distinction for British citizenry.

We also said that things hadn’t really changed all that much.

This report proves that, whenever possible, eager minds from the UK endeavour themselves to obtain education abroad, citing non-Anglophone countries as their preferred destinations.

France is listed as one of the top destinations for UK university students seeking an international learning experience.

That being the case, where are all of these students going to study in France?

1. Grenoble is ranked by international students as the city that has it all: culture and quality of life, as well as excellence in education and job placement for new graduates.

It doesn’t hurt that Grenoble is one of a handful of cities that hosts the European Institute of Innovation and Technology!

2. Montpellier’s sunny clime and proximity to the Mediterranean virtually guarantee fun times and happy living.

One reason that foreign students select this learning facility – besides its stunning architecture, is its reputation for excellence as one of the oldest universities in the world.

3. Nantes is a relatively small town just outside of Brittany; famous for its diversity in education.

Furthermore, Audencia – one of the campuses of this institute, was ranked by The Economist as the world’s best Management school.

4. Aix-Marseilles University is famous for grooming soon-to-be graduates for job placement after graduation.

We note here that that 2012 saw a general overhaul in the French education system that led to unis all over the country merging individual schools into mega-campuses.

The end effect is that Marseilles became the largest university in the French-speaking world, with the largest budget.

5. University of Bordeaux

This city in the southwest, already so famous for her wines, also lays claim to some of the best higher education facilities in the country!

Students love Bordeaux because of the welcome they are treated to at the start of each academic year.

Would you like to be present for their orientation event, called Grande Festival de Rentrée, in September?

Mind you, we didn’t pull these cities out of thin air, or based on our personal preference.

Foreign students themselves responded to this French universities poll, wherein they divulged their preferences and the reasons why France is a great country to learn in!

Yes, France is a great country to study in, to live in… it is even a great second home for retirees!

There are just a few aspects to take care of before settling in your new country

Trip Notes: France

Enjoying a holiday in another country is vastly different from settling in that country and making it your home.

Uprooting yourself and, if so equipped, your family – one that perhaps includes small children and/or elderly members, makes for staggering logistics.

There are so many aspects to consider!

Perhaps the most prevalent question would be: will you move permanently, or return back home at some point further on?

Other things to do before you relocate:

  • Check Numbeo for the cost of living in various French cities as compared to your current location
  • Look into buying property
  • Investigate banking regulations and taxes, as well as social charges
  • Be sure to buy expat health insurance
  • Ensure you are properly degreed to work or study in France
  • Fight against culture shock: join a community of British expats online

Taking these steps will ensure that your immigration will go off without a hitch.

Bonne Chance!

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