Study Abroad

How to Study in France if You Don't Speak French

Allison Lounes
Topic Expert

Allison lived and studied abroad in France and shares stories from her meaningful travel experiences around the world.

If you've always wanted to study abroad in France, you may wonder if your French skills are good enough to take university classes alongside French students (and worry that they're not). You may think that if you go to France, you will make a fool of yourself, fail your classes, and have to retake a whole semester's worth of courses once you get home.

Let me let you in on a little secret: You can study abroad in France in English! If your French isn't up to scratch or you are more fascinated with the French culture than the language itself, there remain many opportunities in France for you for study abroad - luckily, we've got a good outline for things you should think about before signing up for your awesome semester abroad!

Important Factors to Consider When Choosing a Study Abroad Program in France

  • Program Location: You probably aren't going to find very many English speakers outside of France's major cities. While it's relatively simple to find English coursework in Paris, and even locating an English-speaking boulanger or doctor isn't that hard, you'll have a much harder time getting around in English in smaller cities and most French towns. If your language skills are vraiment nuls, and you want to stick to English at all costs, stick to cities like Paris or Lyon, where Anglophones abound.
  • Language of Instruction in the Classroom: One perk of studying abroad through a study abroad program means that you have some options about the type of program you prefer. If your French skills are bust (and you're not interested in perfecting them), consider choosing a program who's courses are all in English. Faculty-led programs from your university are also potential fits to help you navigate unfamiliar French bureaucracies.
  • Housing Options: Because the majority of your day will be spent outside of the classroom, consider overcoming potential language barriers in your other anticipated environments. A great start is to look for a program whose housing options are English-friendly: perhaps a dorm with other international students or apartments with other American program participants. Since your housemates are likely to become your first group of friends, if you are nervous about functioning in French, consider taking a breather by organizing a familiar atmosphere in the home.

If you're majoring in anything other than French, language skills are really just icing on the cake. So unless your home university requires you to take classes in French or complete a certain number of foreign language credits, you can definitely find ways to study in France in English.

Read on for more suggestions to take advantage of ways to study in France in English.

Related: If you're on a budget, find out ways to study abroad in France for free.

Attend the American University of Paris

How to Study in France if You Don't Speak French: American University of Paris

The American University of Paris, or AUP, is just what it says: an accredited American university that happens to be located in Paris. Eligible for federal financial aid and student loans, it's a great place to study abroad in France in English because the entire program is English.

Other than mandatory French classes for undergraduates, AUP offers a variety of humanities majors, and you can spend a semester or a year at AUP by enrolling directly or by participating in one of their many exchange programs and partnerships with other American universities.

Do a Beginner's Language Program During the Summer

Many universities consider that one of the main goals of study abroad is to learn the local language, and therefore, there aren't any American study abroad programs that regularly let you take classes in English. While some companies are starting to develop English-language programs in France, most undergraduate programs currently require you to take language classes as well as classes on other topics in French. But in the summer, all bets are off.

Since French universities are closed during that time, American study abroad programs that have a summer session generally offer basic language courses, complemented by English language courses in art history, architecture, and Paris history. If you're majoring in any of those subjects, it's a great way to use Paris as a library for research or for a senior thesis project.

There are too many programs to list, but some highly rated programs include CEA's Summer Abroad and CSA, which offers classes in French and English. You can also check Go Overseas's directory of study abroad programs in France for programs up to two months, and evaluate each program's offering.

Enroll Directly at Sciences Po

While some French universities offer individual courses in English on subjects like economics and business, no French schools allow you to do a complete academic program in English. There aren't enough English-language courses available, and at least some of the core classes are taught in French. Except at Sciences Po.

Sciences Po, or the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, is unique for three reasons:

  • It's a semi-grande école, or prestigious French university accessible only by entrance exam, that's open to undergraduates. (Most French grandes écoles, like the Ecole Normale Supérieure, or ENS, are for master's degree and higher).
  • All of its third-year students are required to go abroad, meaning that hundreds of students from all over the world go to Sciences Po in an exchange program.
  • Sciences Po candidates are required to have excellent English, meaning that the school offers lots of courses for their own students and for visiting students in English.

Essentially, this means that Sciences Po is the only French university where you can take enough courses in English to validate the year. Many American universities have direct exchange programs with Sciences Po, but since their semesters run October – January and February – June, you have to attend for a full year.

You can check out a complete list of course offerings and programs that have exchanges with Sciences Po online.

Do Practically Any American Master's Program Other than French Studies

How to Study in France if You Don't Speak French: Master's Program

While undergraduate study abroad programs shy away from offering English language classes, more and more graduate programs are creating English-language degree programs in France. Most Master's programs in subjects other than French literature or French studies now allow students to do some or all of their coursework in English. The formula varies from program to program.

Some schools, like New York University's Global Center, offer entire degree programs in English. Individual concentrations within degree programs can have different rules as well, and sometimes, it's a matter of getting the professor to agree to correct work in English.

Of course, the bright side of doing your work in English is that you'll be evaluated on your ideas rather than on your language skills, and by expressing yourself clearly, you'll get more out of the class and the assignment.

The key is to understand how much French will be required before you apply to the program, and it does help to have a working knowledge of the language anyway. Of the 100,000 or so Americans who live in Paris, hundreds manage to get by and become successful without speaking more than a few words of French.

Other Top Study Abroad Programs in France