Learning French is a challenge, but vital
Learning French can be one of the biggest challenges related to a move to France but there are lots of ways of taking lessons – at local clubs, with a private teacher, online or with one of the many recognised bodies like the Alliance Française and online CNED.
There are also officially recognised exams which can be useful – even vital – for proving your proficiency when you look for work.
What you choose depends on your aim, your budget and the amount of time you can devote but there should be something for everyone.
In some cases, you can get financial assistance either, in theory, from the training fund every employee and self-employed person pays into or from Pôle Emploi if it can be shown that it will help you find work.
If a teacher comes to your home to give you lessons in French you can earn tax credits equal to 50% of what you pay them a year. This comes under emploi à domicile rules and you will need proof that they are registered to be employed, for example from CESU, the organisation which governs the employment of people in the home.
If you are looking for formal, structured lessons with or without a diploma at the end there is a list of government approved teaching centres which have earned the label Qualité Français Langue Etrangère (qualitefle.fr/en).
These include Alliance Française, which is the biggest organisation teaching French as a foreign language.
Most offer classes for all levels, in groups or individual, intensive or once a week. Prices are set by the individual school.
For example, Alliance Française, Normandie offers a course for general French, six to 10 hours a week with a maximum of 14 in a class at €360 for 30 hours of lessons. On the other side of the country, at the Alaji school in Metz, where there is a choice varying between intensive and once-a-week courses for either general French or leading to one of the government approved exams, it costs €308 for an intensive 28-hour a week course.
You can also find approved centres on the Agence de Promotion du Français Langue Etrangère site (fle.fr)
This site also gives a comprehensive description of the different exams you can take to prove your level of French.
They are graded in accordance with the Council of Europe’s Framework of Reference for Languages which go from A1 (where you can understand and use everyday expressions and interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly) up to C2 (you can understand virtually everything heard or read with ease and can express yourself spontaneously, fluently and precisely).
These are the main diplomas:
DILF Diplôme Initial de Langue Française
DELF Diplôme d’Etudes en Langue Française and
DALF Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française
These are internationally recognised and valid for life. They are accredited by the Department of Education and only for non-French citizens.
DCL Diplôme de Compétence en Langue, is delivered by the education ministry. This professional national diploma is specifically for adults in the economic world.
TCF Test de Connaissance du Français is a general proficiency test for non-French speakers, who, for professional or personal reasons, wish to obtain quick, simple, reliable certification of their knowledge in French.
TEF Test d’Evaluation de Français is the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s test which is recognised by the French national educational system.
To apply for French nationality you need a certificate showing you have a B1 level. This can be a DELF level B1 or other exam which is regarded as equivalent (though no definitive list is available for this).
In addition the TCF and TEF both have approved tests designed specifically for nationality applications.
A cheaper option is to take lessons via a local association, and you should be able to find details at your mairie.
Connexion reader Kelly Dawe, 41, says she highly recommends learning French with the association Accueil des Villes Françaises (avf.asso.fr) which is present in more than 300 towns to welcome any newcomers, whether French or foreign.
The courses cost the annual membership AVF fee, just €23.
Mrs Dawe arrived in France 18 months ago when her husband had to move with his job and part of the package included free French lessons in a language school for her.
However, she soon found work herself and the lessons were no longer convenient so she started a course with AVF. “I last studied GCSE French 25 years ago, so my level was not great. These lessons have been brilliant and have really helped my language skills.
“There are only three of us and the lessons are very much student-led, focusing on the help we need.
“Sometimes we work on tenses or sometimes on conversation. In fact, I find them more useful than the language school because there we were 20 with varying abilities and they lacked the personal touch.”
She says that the other activities laid on by the AVF like art and cooking lessons are a plus and mean there is also a good social life and the chance to meet people.
Another option is an online course you can do at home in your own time.
The CNED (Centre National d’Enseignement à Distance) is a public body giving online education and has courses for both general and professional French which can prepare you for the DELF and DALF exams.
You can take a 45 minute online test to evaluate your current level to help decide which course would be best for you (cned.fr).
Rosie Hawes, 51, from Balledent, Haute-Vienne, wants a qualification to help her get a job teaching English in schools and for her own satisfaction.
She has GCSE French and started to revise her language skills with son Cameron before moving three years ago. Once here she had lessons with a private teacher and then signed up with the CNED, because it has lessons to prepare students for DELF exams.
She paid €139 for six months: “I did the free evaluation test and came out as B1/B2 and as I wanted to stretch myself I opted for the B2 level.
“I had not appreciated the huge difference between B1 and B2 and found it to be much too difficult. However, I did not want to waste my money so I write down all the lessons, do as much as I can and will come back to it when I am ready.”
Instead she has started the free version of another online website, Lawless French, and has found it much more accessible, especially as explanations are in English.
However, it does not lead to the exams so she will pay for a new three month CNED course and hopes to sit for a B1 DELF exam in the autumn.
“My advice would be to make sure you choose the right level and go for easier rather than harder. I lost a lot of confidence and I could easily have given up if it wasn’t for the support of family and friends.
“But it is definitely worth persevering. It has made a difference to my French and being able to speak, read and write it makes life much easier.
“A year ago I didn’t even have the confidence to phone to make a doctor’s appointment. Now I can help friends fill in forms and go with them to business appointments to help translate.
“At our village fête there used to be a table set aside for the English; now they mix us up because they know our French is good enough to join in the conversation.”