Why learn French in Switzerland -- and not, say, Paris? Or Lyon? Well, if the words hot melted pot of cheese don’t do it for you, how about milk chocolate? Or impeccable clock making? Snow capped alps?
Of course, there's way more Switzerland than timely trains and fondue. Switzerland lies at a unique crossroads between the Germans to the North, French to the East and Italians to the south. The blend of cultures is evident in the country’s 4 (count’em, four) official languages, Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansch.
French speakers usually hang in the gorgeous eastern and northern part of the country, along the shores of the sparkling lake Geneva -- and not far from Switzerland's wine making region. Time it in the winter and plan on skiing or snowboarding on your weekends. Looking for a French summer course in Switzerland? Then bring your bathing suit and hiking shoes (or rock climbing shoes if that's more your thing...)
Honestly, no matter when you go, Switzerland is one of the most beautiful destinations to learn French abroad -- especially for outdoor lovers.
Switzerland is the ultimate balance of French food, language and style with a German twist of order, warmth, and innovation. Any French learners looking for a language school in Switzerland will be captivated by the country’s unique charm!
Although Switzerland doesn't have the same variety of French language courses as France, your choices are generally the same as they would be anywhere else: study abroad through a university, private language courses or tutoring.
University Courses / Study Abroad
If you’re currently a college student, you’ll probably want to transfer credits to your home institution. Switzerland has many excellent French-speaking universities (like the University of Fribourg or the University of Geneva), which will help you learn French and fulfill those credits. But, always make to confirm that the credit will transfer! Don’t want to have all your hard work go to waste…
Private Language School
Especially for non-university students, a private language course will be what you should look at. Most language schools offer small group classes, as well as private lessons to meet the needs of all types of students.
Be aware though, private courses tend to offer more flexible schedules and content, as well as provide more support to the student -- even the most extroverted among us may choose to enroll in a private course in order to really focus on their studies, either to supplement group classes or as your main method of French learning.
Not all of Switzerland speaks French (though the country does have an impressive number of polyglots). To fully immerse yourself in French language learning, you'll mostly be looking at:
Geneva is known as a hub international diplomacy. With tons of organizations, like World Health Organization, Geneva has a multicultural feel and an international appeal that means it’s often mistaken for Switzerland’s capital. All the foreign folk means that Geneva has great world cuisine, but it also make it one of Europe’s most expensive cities.
Lausanne is a quaint medieval city that packs a big artistic bang, and is located in the French speaking region of Switzerland. As you walk the cobblestone streets you’ll find tons of lovely restaurants, hip shops and hidden corners. Considered one of the most livable cities in the country, Lausanne is a cultural hub with tons of opportunities to supplement your French language learning with French culture learning.
Not far from the border of France, and situated on a lake, the small university town of Neuchâtel has a charming, small town vibe. The town itself is compact and easy to discover on foot, and is a fantastic base for weekend getaways hiking in the alps and off-piste skiing.
On the other side of Lac Leman from Geneva sits Montreux. Best known for its Jazz Festival and historically as a 19th century resort town (it has a mild weathered micro climate and pleasant lake side vibe), Montreux is also home to several language schools.
For French learners who want to learn French in a relaxing, lakeside setting amid Medieval architecture, Montreux will provide you the ideal setting.
For trips of three months or less, most visitors won’t need a special visa. However, if you plan to spend more than 90 days in the Schengen zone, you’ll need to apply for a student visa. Contact your Swiss consulate for the most up-to-date info, and once you’ve selected a program, ask if they provide assistance for visa applications.
Most programs don’t require a language prerequisite to apply (though you may have to take a proficiency test if you’ve taken some French before). Switzerland is a wonderful country for French beginners- with the multitude of languages spoken in such a tiny country, the Swiss are exceptional polyglots and very patient and open to helping you work through your French!
Cultural Immersion/Extracurricular Activities
While political junkies will love being in the thick of international policy creators and big power players, the main draw of Switzerland is the great outdoors. The Swiss brag that you can stand anywhere in the country and never be more than ten miles from a lake. When weather permits, the best way to explore is on foot as you hike through the emerald green mountains.
Climb to the top of the Alps and indulge in a traditional Swiss mountain lunch, like as fondue (melted cheese dip), raclette (more melted cheese, usually served with potatoes and sour pickles) or rösti (fried potatoes). In the winter, the mountains get a white snow cap, and skiers descend to take advantage of the killer slopes.
Beautiful and charming as it may be, Switzerland is definitely not a budget destination. Expect to see prices equivalent to New York, San Francisco, and other major U.S. cities.
Food in particular is rather pricey, so if you’re worried about your wallet, consider renting an apartment, hostel dorm, or staying with a host family to take advantage of those home cooked meals.
Even thrifty travelers can end up spending up to $200 / day -- though the cost will go down if you stay in one place longer (re: no train rides, and long term stay discounts on boarding). If you're still in university, make sure you bring your student card and ask about student discounts. Not all will apply to foreign students, but it's always worth asking!
Again, for university students, you can help supplement these costs with scholarships.
If you’re considering a Master’s at the University of Lausanne or Geneva, there are special scholarships to easy your financial burden. The Kor Memorial scholarship is aimed at those of us who love the Star Trek Cannon (tlhIngan Hol Dajatlh'a' vay'?), however, the $500 grant money can be applied to any language program.