One of the best ways to improve your French language skills is to immerse yourself through travel. Adrienne Erin from the US studied French in Paris and offers her top tips for learning French…
By spending time in France, you will be able to hear, speak, read and write the language constantly which gives you countless opportunities to improve your skills. However, if you’re really serious about improving your French, you should consider traveling alone.
No Excuses for not speaking French
Often when you travel to France with a friend, you both use each other as a crutch. If you both have intermediate skills in French, chances are you both may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed speaking that language in front of the other. You may even revert back to speaking in your home language.
Being immersed in your own home language can lead to missing out on a lot of great language learning experiences and it won’t help you excel in French at all. However, if you do decide to take a trip on your own, be sure to be bold enough to ask questions or strike up a conversation with a local just to get some practice.
Talk to People
If you’re really shy, how do you find someone to talk to? I struggled for this for a while, but then I realized I was overthinking it. When I was visiting a new French city, I would start my wandering with a basic plan of the things I wanted to see that day and their approximate locations relevant to one another, and then I’d start exploring. Along the way, I’d wander through appealing shops, buy a crêpe from a street vendor and ask for directions to the next site on my list, or ask people I was waiting for the bus with for dinner recommendations. Bus and mètro stops are especially easy places to talk to people – they’re waiting, just like you, and have nothing to do until their ride arrives. Often the conversation will even continue through the bus ride.
You could consider finding a local host to stay with overnight or over a weekend. Your host will give you a couch to crash on, but beyond that, often they provide a meal, let you use their VPN to get on the internet, and may even show you around. Or you could consider booking a meal with a local host. There are several websites that offer opportunities to meet local people, stay with them or dine with them. I always found the prospect of staying in a random stranger’s home pretty intimidating, so I stuck to hostels and friends’ apartments. Still, it might really work for you – plus, some of them are free.
If you’re spending most of your time in Paris, practicing your speaking may be slightly more difficult. Many Parisians can spot a foreign accent very quickly and will begin speaking with you in English. However, I found that during my study abroad experience that if you travel outside of the City of Lights, into smaller cities like Nantes, Bordeaux and Toulouse, the locals are a little more patient and will let you speak French, even if your grammar isn’t perfect or your accent is obvious.
Control the Trip
When you travel solo, you can focus on exactly what you want to do: practice your French skills. Traveling alone can give you the freedom to go at your own pace, and take part in activities and experiences that will push your language skills to the next level. One of these experiences is taking in a new French city with a greeter.
Getting a greeter is perfect for travelers who wish to take a tour of the city from locals who know and love it most. This is the perfect opportunity to practice French with a native speaker. It gives you your sea legs in a new city before exploring on your own. Also while traveling solo, you have the freedom to partake in other cultural and language immersion activities. This includes: a film or show, taking a cooking class, spending time in an outside market or at a library filled with French literature.
When I visited Nantes, I took a tour with the greeters association, nd it was a great addition to my trip. They tailor the tour to your interests – if you love to shop, your greeter can take you through the best shopping districts; if you’re more of a history buff, they’ll take you to see the historical landmarks. Since I am interested in art, my greeter, Monique, showed me all of the fantastic street art and installations in Nantes, as well as taking me to see the colorful fisherman village. It was brilliant! You don’t have to be visiting Nantes to take advantage of this awesome service – there are a ton of French cities with greeter programs, including Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Rennes, and, yes, Paris. And come on, it’s free. Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough.
When you travel with a friend, you may feel like you need to converse all the time. If you’re conversing in your home language this obviously won’t help your French improve. If you travel alone, you will find yourself listening more to the French you hear around you. It’s a great way to improve your comprehension. Sitting alone on the train? Try to eavesdrop on the two teenagers across the aisle. It’s all in the name of education, after all!
After a few days of traveling, you will find yourself understanding more and more of the language without having to translate it in your head first, a sign of real improvement. Increasing your comprehension is a really exciting process!
While traveling alone in another country can seem daunting, it’s the way to go when trying to improve your French language skills. So on your next solo trip, make sure to listen a lot, take advantage of every opportunity for conversation, and totally immerse yourself.
Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer and designer who blogs at Design Roast. She absolutely loves France and the French language.
More French language tips – 5 Unconventional ways to improve your French language skills; The top 5 phrases not to say in French