Filled with eclectic restaurants and lavish boutiques, there’s more than meets the eye in France’s gastronomic capital, Lyon.
Though often overlooked as a destination for learning French and French culture, it's well worth a second glance (especially if food happens to be one of your favorite parts of travel!)
Indeed, behind the elaborate Presqu'île and big-city facade, Lyon is home to some of the nations best kept secrets. From antiquity to contemporary, cuisine to culture, this linguistic and cultural hub offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn French right in the heart of Europe!
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “language is the very source of misunderstandings” -- or rather, French is! Nestled in the Rhône-Alps, Lyon’s dialectic diversity certainly possesses a few challenges. From pronouns and contractions, to accents and slang, even monolingual masters could benefit from a few lessons in France’s linguistic mecca. But what exactly are your options?
University courses provide the most structured option for participants, but are typically only available to currently enrolled university students. Please note -- an intermediate level of French will be required before arrival, and concrete requirements and accreditations differ between institutions. Such programs are not predominantly offered to those without a university enrollment.
From intensive courses and day classes to hospitality-based language units, group programs are perhaps the most accessible option for the money conscious traveler.
Though an oral and written test are required beforehand to gauge experience, a variety of programs for new and advanced learners are available. Courses will differ in length and cost between institutions. Consider the number of course hours offered each day and your language goals to determine if a program is right for you.
Though private tuition offers the most flexibility to French learners looking to combine education with travel, subsequent expenses have the potential to break the bank ($40 - $80 USD per hour!). If you’re interested in the intensity of a one-on-one meeting but can’t afford a tutor, look in to conversation exchanges in Lyon.
Planning Your Trip
- Did you know: Lyon is the birthplace of cinema!
- Don’t miss: Fête des lumières - or, ‘The Festival of Lights’. Over 4 million tourists flock to Lyon each year to celebrate the annual tradition, where candles are lit to thank Mary, mother of Jesus.
- YUM: Cervelle de canut is a cheese spread, translating to ”brain of the silkworker". The dish has a base of fromage blanc, seasoned with chopped herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.
What are the best neighborhoods to stay in?
With affable arrondissements (neighborhoods), an eclectic cultural scene, and modern business hubs, French learners have the freedom to explore, and perhaps even fall in love with, Lyon. Skirting the banks of the Saone, history buffs will appreciate Vieux Lyon. Dubbed ‘Old Lyon’, the cities oldest Renaissance region is a testament to antiquity, as well as home to the Saint Jean quarter, Manécanterie, and Lyon Cathedral.
For something a little more contemporary, try the Presqu'île -- or, “the heart of the city.” Surrounded by the Saone and Rhone rivers, le dernier cafés, restaurants, luxury shops and department stores create an ambiance of modern French culture.
French learners visiting during December should take advantage of the Fête des lumières, the Festival of Lights. Rivalling the Rio Carnival and Oktoberfest, over 4 million people take part in the annual end of year celebration. Especially impressive at this time are the Basilica of Fourvière, which is lit up in different colors, and the Place des Terreaux, which hosts a different light show each year!
Though unequivocally cheaper than its Parisian counterpart, Lyon is still by no means cheap. Named one of the 20 most expensive cities in Europe (and one of the 50 most expensive in the world!), a month learning French in Lyon could set you back a little.
For a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre, expect to pay anywhere between $800 to $1,200 USD per month (including utilities) -- though less if you share the apartment or opt for student housing.
For the money conscious traveler, farmers markets offer an inexpensive variety of fresh fruit and produce, with prices often subject to haggling.
If you're still in college, the French government funds scholarships for students from the USA interested in studying the French language. You'll also qualify for tons of student discounts, which the French love to offer to students on everything from train rides to meals out. Be sure to apply for your ISIC card and ask whenever you can if there's a discount!