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Choosing a French Language School

How To Find the Best “Language of Love” Immersion Program

Article and Photo by Kathy Christiansen

Cath�dral St. Jean in Lyon
The Cathédral St. Jean and the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviére, in Vieux (Old) Lyon.

It is never too early (nor too late) to learn French, the language of love. You can choose a country you want to visit and combine travel with learning the language at an immersion school. Where would you like to go...France, Quebec, Tahiti? What kind of school would you like and why do you want to learn the language? Do you want to learn about the culture while learning the language? Do you have a job that will call for these language skills?

With these questions in mind, you can start your search in this site's French language section. This site provides links to many French language schools and immersion programs, including short and long term, summer and year-long, small group and individual, with the possibility of homestays available through some of them. Regardless of your country and region of choice, look at the school’s class size. This is one time that smaller is definitely better! Generally you want a maximum class size of about eight students at about your same level of expertise.

And where do you call “home” at the end of the class day? Some students choose to stay in dorms or rented apartments, but for true immersion, choose a school that will find you a homestay family, and choose “half board.” This means you’ll be eating breakfast and dinner with your host family. You can practice “real life” conversations, get a feeling for what family life is like in your host country, and you don’t need to cook! Families feed you two meals a day and may even do your laundry. You can specify with the school any special accommodations you will need when being placed with a host family such as smoking/non-smoking, children/no children, food allergies, and mobility limitations/proximity to school. Usually the total cost of accommodations and “half board” is only slightly more than if you were struggling along on your own, and it is ever so much easier and more enjoyable.

After three autumns spent attending three schools in three cities in France I have learned that no one place is perfect and having a flexible attitude goes a long way. My favorite school was Lyon Bleu (www.lyon-bleu.fr; 011-33-437- 480-026; bonjour@lyon-bleu.fr). Lyon (www.en.lyon-france.com) was an ancient city of the Romans that later became a hub of silk weaving and is now an important city of fine cuisine and commerce. If you want a city renowned for its food, a couple thousand years of history, and lovely rivers to promenade along while attending an excellent immersion school, this place is for you.

Lyon Bleu is great because of the level of teaching expertise and the instructors’ helpful attitudes. They answer email questions quickly and allow you to take an hour-long, honor-system placement test online shortly before your date of arrival. By taking the test online with a quick verbal interview on-site to confirm placement level, you will be able to launch into lessons the first day. All too frequently, schools lose the entire first day (20 percent of your week) to placement. Classes are limited to eight or less students so you will always have personal attention. Lyon Bleu was unusual, too, in that they gave me contact information for my host family.

Depending on the week, Lyon Bleu offers wine and cheese tastings, historic walking tours, and a cinema club, in addition to extra classes in vocabulary, pronunciation, and a variety of other topics. If you want extra classes or private tutoring, you should sign up for them when you first register for school. You can sign up for the tastings and tours after your arrival when you know your schedule better.

My favorite ancillary program was at the Aquitaine School of French (www.ecolefrancaisaquitaine.org; 011-33-5-56-96-24-21; info@ecolefrancaisaquitaine.org). I enrolled for “cooking school” only to learn I had signed up for cooking at a grade-school cafeteria with two chefs who spoke not a word of English. Our two half days together, with a petite dictionary and sign language, stand out as one of the best experiences of my life. The school offers small (6 to 10 people) language-learning classes for every level, focusing on listening, reading, speaking, and writing in French. They encourage immersion in the southern French way of life, and accommodations are with host families. My host family picked me up at the train station when I arrived and showed me how to get to school on the first day. They went far beyond “normal hosting” and took me on photo forays into the countryside several times each week.

What do you need to bring to school? I found a small dictionary and a book of verb conjugations essential. For verb conjugations, French teachers often recommend Bescherelle La Conjugaison Pour Tous (available in France), but I found Barron’s (approximately 300) French Verbs, written in English, easier to use. Computers are less of an issue; many schools have a room with them for students to use for internet access. They may charge a small fee (Lyon Bleu charged €2/week), but usually it is minimal.

So, with a bit of a head start under your belt, launch your French adventure in the language of love. Bonne chance!

For More Info on Language Schools in France

Other schools in Bordeaux are:

 BLS: www.france-langue.fr/bordeaux/

Recommended schools in Montpellier are:

 Accent Francais: www.accentfrancais.com

Editor's note: For a more complete listing, see Language Schools in France.

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