How can I learn ‘business French’ to improve job prospects?

Many jobs require will require people to be fluent in the local language

Are your professional French skills sufficient to lead a meeting?
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Reader Question: I have been living in France for two years. I was taking a sabbatical but want to start working again. However, I am worried my French is not good enough for professional matters and want to learn ‘business’ level language skills. Where can I find such courses?

There is no precise definition of the term ‘business French’ (français professionnel) but generally this means knowledge of vocabulary related to business and management and certain IT terminology, as well as having the confidence to undertake work activities in French, such as leading a meeting or sending a work email.

However the vocabulary needed may vary widely depending on the exact field you are looking to work in.

For example, if you are an accountant the words you use when working are quite different from those of a salesperson, even if you are employed by the same company.

It is assumed that someone learning ‘business’ vocabulary is already familiar with a language’s basics, including its grammar and sentence structure etc.

Although it is possible to learn or improve both simultaneously, usually those learning ‘business’ language skills will have reached at least a B1 level already.

Read more: A1, C2: What is the CEFR language rating in France?

Ideally, you should be comfortable in most ‘everyday’ situations in French, such as small talk when shopping or with your neighbours, or speaking to a doctor, before you begin learning business skills.

One positive for English-speakers is that many business and technology words are similar in English and French, whether because the English terms originally derive from the French language or because modern French workplaces have borrowed English terms or have formed words based on them.

A common example would be un email, often in French shortened to un mail, in use far more than the Académie française-approved courriel (note that French does not use un computer, but un ordinateur).

Where can I find business French classes?

Many different providers exist, although it is probably easier to find them online than in person.

While general French language courses may touch on some business vocabulary, if you are in need of special training (such as business situations or complex vocabulary) this is unlikely to be addressed in group classes aimed at lower levels offered by local authorities, or aimed at those not yet very familiar with the language.

Websites such as iTalki offer one-to-one language lessons with a tutor, which you can customise.

You can speak with the tutor and explain the specific vocabulary you want to learn or situations you want to practise.

Many smaller companies offer business French classes online or in person and can be found with an online search.

If relevant to you check whether they offer a recognised diploma at the end of the course.

The Paris chamber of commerce and industry, for example, has further information on some of its approved courses (including online options) and also tests for a certificate in business French.

Using your CPF

If you have already worked in France, you may have some credit in your CPF (compte personnel de formation) account, which can be used to pay partly or wholly for training courses, either for professional or personal interests.

Self-employed people in France can also receive the funding.

Read more: Are freelancers entitled to France's professional training credits?

Credits in your CPF account can be used for professional training in France, and many courses to improve your French language skills are available.

These include specific courses for certain topics, such as IT, medical, legal, etc.

You can search for these on the CPF website.

Even if you do not have a CPF available (for example, if you have not worked in France), you can still use the website to search for a course tailored to your needs and contact the provider directly.

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