Learning French In France

20th Jan, 2015

After a whirlwind trip to Paris with my dad as my 21st birthday present from my parents, I decided that I wanted to live there once I graduated from university. I think I was wandering around the cobblestoned streets of Montmartre when the idea popped into my head. I mean "Pourquoi Pas?"

I had studied French for a time during high school. So that meant that I was totally prepared for life in France, right? Don't be absurd! I barely remembered how to get further than introducing myself and perhaps ordering a baguette.

So when I got home to Australia, I enrolled myself directly into French language classes through the Alliance Française in St Kilda. After all, I remembered participating in the AF's yearly French poetry competition at my high school much to my utter dismay and horror of being centre of attention in any way, shape or form.

The St Kilda AF is located in the beautiful Eildon mansion and they have recently opened up another AF in the CBD.

I spent one year studying French before I shipped myself off to gay Paree. The AF Melbourne co-ordinator was able to arrange my homestay and courses in Paris before I arrived. I was met at the airport by my French family and honestly the 'ol system was so rattled that I was almost completely mute due to shock. I was not in Kansas anymore. 

My family did not speak a word of English, with an old Harrap's French-to-English dictionary being a nightly companion at the dinner table. And I was delighted to be able to expand my repertoire in the language of gesturing. You know. The really exaggerated gesturing. A good background in playing charades would have been an advantage. The cutest example was when I asked my host mother what "coucou" meant and she went behind the doorway, then poked her head out calling "coucou!!!" resulting in a tirade of energetic laughter from everyone. 

There are also some funny sounds that the French make in certain situations such as "hop!" (the 'h' is silent) used in combination with other words to make "hop la!" "allez hop!" then there's "hein?" and "tak!My ultimate favourite: the raspberry.  It means "I don't know" or "no idea".
Hearing these sounds for the first time staying with the family was quite (read: incredibly) amusing having absolutely no understanding of why they were making those random noises. Then I would speak to my other friends also doing homestays, "What on earth do those mean?! Why do they make farting noises with their mouths?!" in our collective confusion.

For more hilarious explanations, I found another webpage with audio examples. It made me laugh, especially the "growl".  It screams with the spirit of la greve. It's all soooooo accurate!

I spent the first month on a homestay with a French family

It was steep learning curve. That was probably the best situation for making the most progress in a foreign language and I learnt French the most swiftly during that time. they were very supporting of me learning the language and would tell their sons and visitors not to talk to me in English so that I could adapt. But it was not such a great experience only for the language and learning about France. It was more of a mutual sharing of cultures.
But it was a fabulous experience- it remains one of the best things I have ever done. 
My host family helped me settle in to French life, how to buy a monthly transport pass, suggested French movies to watch from their collection, which exhibitions/museums would be great for me to see and ask for advice about the eye-opening adventure that is apartment searching in Paris.  In exchange I told them about my life in Australia, growing up by the beach, shared photos of my chien fou, parents and friends. 

The close proximity of the dictionary!

I have kept in touch and visited my host family many times since (once with my mum who was visiting), as well as participating in some of their milestone celebrations (such as my host father's 50th birthday), which has been wonderful.

I definitely recommend a homestay if you are a younger traveller in your 20s. If you are older, you might prefer the alternative options such as the serviced apartments.

The classes in France are very different to in Australia. For one, no longer is the mutual language English. So you need to speak French. We asked the teacher how on earth do they teach the complete beginners who don't know numbers or how to say their names and she replied with "a bit complicated but a lot of arm gestures!"
Your class is also a huge mixture of nationalities from all over the world. It was truly overwhelming for me to meet and have so many people of different countries represented in the same room.

See: Alliance Française Melbourne - Learn French In France for more information if you are in Melbourne and interested in classes or organising a stay in France. There are many locations other than Paris such as Lyon, Bordeaux, Nice and more.

It has a blurb on studying at the Alliance Française in Paris and homestaying with a French family by yours truly, which I discovered one day a few years ago when perusing their website :-)

And AF de Paris for the website of the school in Paris for an idea of the courses and housing options besides homestay.

My homestay house

Fro more information on France, visit the All Things France page.


Alliance Française Melbourne

51 Grey St 
St Kilda 3182


Level 13, 55 Collins St
Melbourne 3000

Alliance Française Paris

101 Blv Raspail
Paris 75006