Bonjour! So, intrepid traveler-to-be, you're considering studying French? Why, you must be interested in art, film, and music then! No? How about government, politics, and philosophy? Really. Well, then you must love food, romance, and literature! I can keep guessing...
Our point is that separating some of the greatest achievements in the history of human culture from the language in which they occurred is impossible with French. Just the name alone conjures scenes of scholars and poets, chefs and sauciers, of lovers and wine bottles. One of the five Romance languages derived from Latin (along with Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian), French developed in the region of Gaul (modern-day France), and today has spread to be the official language of twenty-nine countries around the globe. French was world's language of diplomacy for most of the seventeenth through twentieth centuries, and is today regarded as a tongue of elegance, professionalism, and worldliness.
Why Learn French Abroad?
French has been a language of diplomacy, art, literature, romance, and achievement for centuries. To link your own life story with the story of this beautiful language is an absolute thrill, and truly makes you feel like a citoyen du monde, or citizen of the world. And if that's not enough, trust us - speaking French is one heck of an amazing way to impress your friends!
One of the great benefits of studying a language as popular as French is that you have numerous options on how you want to learn it. We're going to break down three of the most popular ways to learn French abroad, and the things to keep in mind for each. In general, these programs will appeal to different areas of your study-abroad soul! Some with give you more personal freedom, some will take your language skills to even greater levels, and some will simply give you one heck of an experience to tell your kids about. We'll focus on price, instruction, and convenience among other things to help you pick the right type for you!
University Courses: Enrolling directly in a foreign university is the option that gives you the most choice in customizing your experience. In this scenario, you enroll in classes at a foreign university, just as any other student from that country would. Classes will be conducted in French, you will be graded on the same scale as native students, and you will have the same housing and meal options as native students.
You should choose this program if you are unafraid of a challenge, and you want to make your study abroad experience into exactly what you want it to be. The former because, well, no one is going to hold your hand because French isn't your native tongue. No extra slack will be given to you. However, if you want to watch your French skills ramp up like you wouldn't believe, this is a great way to do it. As we always say at Go Overseas, "Necessity is the mother of fluency." Secondly, if you are enrolling as any other student, then you have all their options for housing, meal plans, etc. Specifically that means: all of them. You can choose any apartment you can afford, in any neighborhood you like, with the primo meal plan (if you want simplicity) or no meal plan at all (if you like to cook and eat out). That's freedom, and many students love it.
Language Study and Cultural Immersion Programs: Choosing an all-encompassing program from a third-party study abroad provider is the best option for the student who appreciates the convenience of an all-inclusive package. Housing, meals, class enrollment, you pay a company to take care of it all. All you have to do is show up at the airport, get on the plane, and make sure you make it to class while you're there.
For the cost of your enrollment fee (which will probably be the highest of all your options - but you also get the most), your provider will arrange your housing (usually an option of a homestay, small apartment, or dormitory room), university enrollment, a meal plan, and several weekend cultural excursions. Choose this option if you want your entire experience to be as effortless and stress-free as possible; that's what you're paying for. You're also paying for the cultural resources and excursions a third-party provider offers - including trips to interesting cultural locations, local etiquette classes, and fun outings like concerts and movies. If you want to get the most out of the experience, but are totally overwhelmed by the prospect of arranging it, pick this one.
Language Study and Internship Combination Programs: Maybe you're more focused on making a career for yourself, and trying to find a way to make your love for French fit into that plan. If that's the case and those are your priorities, this is the option for you.
In today's interconnected world of multinational corporations, expansion often means into a Francophone area. If you want to make yourself stand out to a company, offer to intern abroad and learn French! Many companies will be glad to train one of their own rather than bring in a brand-new outside person, and the French you will learn will likely be business-oriented. When you can learn French on your employer's dime, while making yourself a more attractive business prospect by adding French to your resume, that's a win-win. Check out company job boards (whether your current company, or otherwise) and take advantage of the opportunities available to you!
Cultural Immersion/Extracurricular Activities
Some of the "extras" offered by third-party providers can be hugely helpful towards your language acquisition. Taking a trip to visit a working winery, or a weekend day spent at a museum, can help bring the joys of the French language to life. You are able to see the literal fruits of French labor. Further, we recommend finding your own "spot" in your study destination, a place where you can post up with a good book, a cafe allongé, and soak in the ambient language. Observing local speakers can help bridge the gap between the sterile textbook French you are taught in school, and the actual language of life.
Say Hello Like the Locals: "Bonjour!" (If On The Phone): "Allo?" If Greeting A Comfortable Friend: "Salut!"
Fancy a Joke?
"Pourquoi sont les femmes du Côte d'Ivoire invisibles?" [Translation: Why are women from Côte d'Ivoire invisible?]
"Parce qu'y voir rien!" [Translation: Because there is nothing to see there! (The French word for a woman from Côte d'Ivoire is "Ivoirienne," which sounds just like the French phrase for "there is nothing to see there.")]
Wow others with an Idiom!
"Il pleut des cordes!" (Translation: It's raining ropes!" This is the French equivalent of the English, "It's raining cats and dogs," except this one actually makes half a lick of sense.
Did you know...? French (along with English) was the original working language of the UN?
Sometimes wonderful things can come from regrettable origins. The legacy of French colonialism is an ugly one, but one happy result of this history is the widespread, globe-spanning use of the French language. Today, students like you who want to learn French need only place their hand on a globe, give it a good spin, and point to a spot. Odds are good that you can study French there.
Obviously, the "King's French" is spoken in France. Hundreds of top-flight universities and French programs exist there. However, there are world-class French language programs in West Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, across Europe, and even right here in North America. So let us take a look at some of your very best options!
Ah, Paris. Le Grand Pomme, so to speak. For many students interested in learning French, Paris is the mecca of everything they've ever dreamed French to be. Arguably the world's great city, Paris is the ageless beating heart of the French language, the glimmering eyes of all the good things that have come from French. There really are cafes on every corner, good wine really is cheaper than water, and delicious food, warm comradery, and sights to make your heart leap really do offer themselves to you at every moment. As it was once said of the city of lights, "there is some sort of beauty to enjoy with one of the five senses everywhere you turn."
Paris is an excellent choice for students who want the big city feel, and all of the magic (and expense) that goes with it. Parisians do have a slight accent to their French, but the Parisian accent is recognized and understood all over the world as the "original" French.
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
This buzzing, exciting economic hub of West Africa is the third-largest French-speaking city in the world. A fascinating melting pot of African, Arab, and French cultures, Abidjan offers an alternative to the mainstream, traditional French experience.
Students interested in studying in Abidjan will enjoy the lower cost of living, the sights, sounds and smells of this joyous confluence of cultures, and the study abroad two-fer of experiencing both life in a large city, and life on the continent where all humanity began. The local accent is having inflicted with African dialect, and, depending on the area, sometimes Arab. But fear not - excellent universities offer superb French education, and conversing with locals is an excellent way to hone your pronunciation and your listening ear.
A whole French-speaking region just hours from home? You bet! Settled by both the British and the French, both language are spoken today in Quebec, but French is widely preferred. A proud province with a rich trapping, hunting, and culinary history, Quebec also offers an absolutely world-class French education at some of the best universities on Earth.
Quebec also offers plenty of variety. Big cities like Montreal and Quebec City offer an exciting, cosmopolitan experience, while the more rural and suburban regions boast a more relaxed pace of life, lower living costs, and perhaps a more personal experience. The Quebecois accent is a strong one, heavily inflected with English, but the French taught in the universities is traditional. Quebec is also a great study abroad option for students with tighter purse strings because most American students will be able to avoid plane tickets and baggage fees and opt instead for train tickets or even a few tanks of gas.
Choosing a French Learning Program
Of course, no two students are alike, and no two students have all the same considerations and preferences. Whether your study abroad experience is going to be shaped by cost, health, or travel, we will break down some of the things to consider when choosing a French program.
Most French programs will have a proficiency entrance exam. In France, students are ranked on a continuum from absolute beginner, to fluent native. Your level, or "niveau," is based upon your entrance exam score, and will determine which classes you are required, or able, to take. Don't worry, though - whether you score Beginner level or Awesome Boss level, your corresponding program is designed to maximize your specific abilities.
Level of Difficulty
French is not a terribly difficult language to learn. The grammatical structures will be familiar to speakers of English, and the two languages share many cognates thanks to their shared Latin roots. Also, because of the popularity of French, there are tons of language-learning resources available online and in print. One thing that non-native speakers struggle with is French pronunciation. Because of the nasal truncation of many words in French, along with non-intuitive silent letters at the end of many words, proper pronunciation can be difficult for Anglophones to achieve. But it can be done, and students succeed at it every single day.
For students looking to keep costs down, direct-enrollment programs in more rural areas will be the cheapest. When using a third-party provider, you are paying a premium for all the convenience and amenities they offer - from registering you for your classes, to offering all-expense-paid weekend excursions. If cost is a factor, we recommend a direct-enrollment program (and forego that meal plan - cook your own meals)!
- Benjamin Franklin Travel Grant: Named for the great American liaison to France, this grant offers $900 towards the student’s cost of travel to and from France – so your plane tickets are covered.
- Walter Jensen Scholarship for Study Abroad: This $2000 award is for college students planning to teach French upon graduation.