Thoughts on Going to France to Practice your French
A lot of people want to enjoy a trip to France, with the idea of having a nice vacation AND practicing their French. Unfortunately, they often come back saying: “As soon as I started to speak, the French would answer me in English”. Here is my advice on how to pick the right place to practice your French.
1 – Avoid Paris and major cities
It’s the same all over the world I think: people in cities tend to be busy, in a hurry, and they won’t have the time nor the interest in chatting with you. You will probably not be the first foreigner they see … And even in bars and restaurants, your waiters might get tired of becoming ‘French teacher for desperate tourists’ – it’s not really part of their job description …
2 – Avoid major vacation spots
Same reasoning here. Yes, la Provence is lovely. And that is why so many foreigners live there. So make sure your expectations fit your destination.
3 – Go off peak season
France has many, many coastlines, mountains, lakes … and is therefore a major destination for tourists in the summer. People who don’t like the heat go to Brittany, people who love it go to Provence. And towards the end of the summer, all the retailers, sea-side cafes and restaurants are extremely tired after a very demanding season: so not the best time to find people to talk with. On the contrary, try a sea-front café in Brittany in the heart of winter – you’ll be the only customer there, the waiter will be glad to have some company, and the sightseeing in Brittany is even more beautiful in winter.
4 – Go to the countryside or smaller towns
On the contrary, I have many tales of student going off the beaten path, to Corsica for example, or Corrèze, or taking a biking tour in the Loire valley and staying in tiny villages, or going to Pays Basque and meeting local French folks, intrigued to see a foreigner in these remote parts of the country. In the deep countryside, many French people don’t speak English and are very happy to encourage the newcomers to communicate with them in French.
5 – Don’t hesitate to say “Merci, mais je préfère parler français, s’il vous plaît“.
French people think that it is polite to speak a foreigner’s native language if they can. And also, they want to practice their English… Most of them don’t realize you actually came to France to practice your French, since a lot of tourists are relieved when someone speaks English. So, say that you prefer speaking in French. Say it politely, with a smile, and they should get the message.Image credits
1. Parler vous français? via imaloveseverything.blogspot.com.au
2. Bretagne Côtes D’Armor, Pink granite house in winter, Plougrescant via Flickr.com
Great article with great advice! I agree with you about the last point. Usually when an english speaker talks to me in French , I tend to answer in English. I don’t do that anymore because yes, I noticed that some of them felt a bit offended or disapointed… I just didn’t realize at the beginning, and wanted so much to practice my English! 🙂
I find that in rural France, when you have time and they have time, most French people are delighted that you want to practise your French and engage in meaningful discussions. I am running a language tour in June 2013 with exactly this as the focus. Discovering rural France, improving language skills and providing opportunities for French conversation in beautiful, but out of the way regions of France. http://www.zestefrenchtours.com
Most Australians who have some language skills, are surprised at how good their French is, when in the situation where no one speaks English.