The single official language of France is French, one of the few European countries that has one official language. And while it is entirely possible to limit yourself to the “Anglophone” side of Paris, the smallest effort towards learning the language will enhance your experience. In the touristy areas, almost everyone speaks English, as do many of the younger generation. In fact, you may be discouraged when trying to practice your new language skills and you find that the other person keeps reverting to English. It is not an indication of your ability… oftentimes, the French just want to practice their English.
That said, there is still a large portion of the population who do not speak English and is obstinate about trying to understand it, much less learn. Often, these are the people with whom you need to communicate the most, i.e. the employees of the Prefecture, the TV repairman or the guardian(ne) of your building. Learning the local language gives you a greater opportunity to understand its culture, make friends and shake your outsider status. Many companies will provide language training for you and your spouse when you first arrive.
While there are some foreigners who get by for years without learning French, it severely limits contact with Parisians and restricts your ability to communicate. There are some businesses, especially expatriate companies, where English is the primarily language, but for the most part, business in Paris is conducted in French.
French is a difficult language, grammatically and phonetically. Don’t be discouraged as it may take you a good amount of time to feel comfortable speaking French. How long it takes you to learn depends greatly on the intensity and amount of time you spend in your studies. Expect two to three months of struggling before you start to feel like you have a grasp of the language. You will, however, slowly begin to speak with Parisians in markets and in stores and somewhere around the 6-month mark, you may realize you’re doing so without much hesitation. The key is to be positive and persistent and not to become frustrated.
There are many language schools throughout Paris that provide varying intensities, prices and schedules. Check for schools near your home for convenience, but shop around for prices and schedules. Below are a few suggestions; you will also find many advertised in the free magazine ‘FUSAC’ – French USA Contacts, that contains classifieds and advertisements (http://www.fusac.com).
- Cours de Civilisation et Langue Francaise de la Sorbonne
47, rue des Ecoles 75005, 01.40.46.22.11
Note: There is a high school diploma requirement as these are serious language and culture courses.
- Alliance Francaise
101, boulevard Raspail 75006, 01.45.44.38.28
22, rue Rambuteau 75003, 01.40.27.86.58
- Institut Parisien
29, rue de Lisbonne 75008, 01.40.56.09.53
You can also find a wide range of private tutors, from students to professionals. These language teachers will either tutor you in their home or your home or office for an additional fee. Because it is one-on-one, your French will probably improve more quickly. It is more expensive than schools, however, and you miss out on the social interaction. Ask friends and co-workers for recommendations, or consult FUSAC for advertisements.
If you are interested in learning French online, Babbel is a popular website with differing levels and exercises based on your abilities and your desires. Visit http://lp.babbel.com/d/ENG_index.html?l2=FRA&ch=ORG. It is certainly not as efficient as face-to-face learning, but it could be useful before arriving in Paris or before you have the time to commit to a formal class.