Alliance Française: the best way to learn French

Alliance Française: the best way to learn French

Learning a language isn’t easy. Even with a built-in French tutor as a mother, a few linguistic séjours under my belt and more French grammar books than I can count, I still hesitate to call myself fluent. However, I haven’t hit a situation yet that I couldn’t handle in French and while people can sometimes tell I’m not native, they usually can’t place my accent.


While learning French definitely takes a lot of self-motivation, I’ve found a very handy support system: the Alliance Française. My mom is a diehard Alliance Française supporter—she still swears by the “little blue book” of Cours de Langue et de civilisation francaise that was published in 1953.

The Alliance Française method is simple: speak only in French. Because classes are of mixed first languages–the Paris branch welcomes more than 160 nationalities each year–there is no translating into a mother tongue, even at the introductory level. Focus on basic interactions and vocabulary, and then integrate grammar. Speak, write and use real-life situations as much as possible.

Founded in 1883, the nonprofit organization was created to spread the French language and Francophone culture throughout the world. It now has more than 1,000 establishments in 136 countries–including a very active one in my home region of San Francisco!

I’ve studied at the Alliance Française in Paris, as well as Nice. While the Paris headquarters are bustling and a bit overwhelmingly, it’s undoubtably cosmopolitan. Complete with a multimedia resource center and a large cafeteria, it’s easy to pass an entire day in the pursuit of flawless français.

The Nice branch doesn’t make quite the same impression. Tucked away in a side street, it doesn’t have the sweeping architecture or high-tech luxuries of the heart of the organization. However, what it lacks in looks, it makes up in personality. Staff is attentive, caring and willing to help whenever needed.


Studying at an organization like Alliance Française can make a long stay in France much easier. They can help with finding accomodation, point you in the right direction for a part-time job, and assist with any bureaucratic issues that might arise. Case in point: they set me up with a fabulous homestay, directed me to the English-speaking pubs in old town, and took the time to make copies of my papers and give me detailed directions when I had questions about a carte de séjour. Plus, they’re a legitimate organization for a long-stay student visa in France.

Sure, you can learn a language on your own. But the nuances of a culture and the history of a society are much easier to grasp with some help. I doubt my French would be at its current level–particularly my understanding of conjugation, tenses and grammar–without the help of the Alliance Française. Plus, you meet other internationals who speak French at the same level you do–and often, it’s your only language in common. I made long-lasting friendships with Spanish, Norwegian and Welsh fellow students.

Interested in studying French? Find an Alliance Française near you–or perhaps, chuck it all and live the dream in France.

  • Thanks for the advice! Growing up in Canada, I’ve spent ages not learning French very well. So this may be just what I need to finally improve. It looks like there is even an AF near where I’m going to be living. We’ll see how this goes!

  • Anonymous

    Excellent advice, Christine. I’ve never even heard of Alliance Francaise; now I wish I actually had time to take advantage of it before my trip. It sounds like an excellent resource for people staying in France long-term.

  • Nice to hear about your success with Alliance Francaise! I studied at the branch in NYC and in Paris though found greater success with learning French at La Sorbonne. Perhaps because it was more intensive (and much more challenging) and I preferred the teacher. In the end it’s all about speaking and practicing. Over and over…I’m getting there, after living in Paris for a year. It’s a process!

  • I’m actually taking a Spanish course at the Alliance Francaise here in Caracas, so it’s much more than French 🙂 They use the same teaching method as they do for the French courses and it’s a lot more effective than traditional courses.

  • The AF is so active in Colombia, I’m amazed at how many people speak French here. The interesting thing is that they hold so many cultural events and all of them are free.

  • Kadence

    I ADORE the AF-Seattle! They have the best French and Francophone activities and events. It’s great to be involved. I’m looking into classes at my branch in the near future…

  • Anonymous

    One of their goals is to spread Francophone culture, so I’m not surprised that they have a lot of events! The one in San Francisco often had movies, speakers or just conversation nights. There were a lot of Brazilian and other South American students at both the AF in Paris and Nice, who had previously studied at the AF in their hometowns. It’s crazy–you would never think French culture or language would be big there!

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I didn’t know they did other languages! Very good to know–I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish, but I’ve been trying to find a Spanish school with a similar method. Good to know I can just stick to AF!

  • Anonymous

    Definitely! I’m sure that La Sorbonne is excellent at a higher level, but I think AF does a great job at the beginner and intermediate levels. It really is all about the teacher–the ones who can constantly make it engaging and challenging are the best!

  • Anonymous

    It’s great, both in France and outside of France! I’m sure they have a branch in Montreal if you just absolutely fall in love with Paris 🙂

  • Anonymous

    It’s great if you want to get serious about learning French–I highly recommend it.

  • Candicewalsh

    Ooh awesome resource, Christine. I really want to improve my French…I can manage to read and speak, but not fluently.

  • Anonymous

    I’m definitely not fluent, but I’ve found that the more I practice, the more comfortable I get!

  • i learnt my french in Alliance Francais in Kenya, they are good teachers

  • Anonymous

    Wow! They really are everywhere!

  • I have to agree. Currently I’m taking an intensive course at the Alliance Francaise in the Loire Valley. I already have a bachelors in French but after a year of not practicing regularly and wanting to take the DELF I decided to use some vacation time for a quick review… and check out the chateaux of the Loire. There hasn’t been one single second of disappointment or regret!! This was by far the best way I could have spent my vacation! Not only is the education solid, the prof is wonderful! And since it’s so small here, I’m the only student at my level which means for 20 hours a week, I get one-on-one instruction. Best decision I’ve made since deciding to move back to France in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    So great it’s working out! Private lessons really can make all the difference. Glad you’re enjoying AF AND the Loire Valley!

  • Risamay

    This is great advice. I hope to find the time to actually take and apply it, before too long.

  • Anonymous

    Merci! It really is a great organization.

  • Immersion is one of my favorite aspects of language learning. I watch movies, listen to music and radio in Freanch. I think it helps trigger my memory and keep my Freanch on the first page of all time.

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  • want to learn french!

    thanks for this christine. I am looking into this and im willing to put in hard work but is it fair to say that after a 12 week course you will most probably be fluent??

  • camorose

    I have a really hard time with the word fluent–I think it’s tossed around much too easily! But I do think that if you work hard and study and immerse yourself in the culture–i.e. live there, shop there, etc.–you will absolutely be comfortable with getting around in the language after 12 weeks. Alliance Francaise is definitely the best way to do this since all instruction is in French!

  • Mysti

    I’m in the 2nd quarter of the debutante level, and our instructor Farida is FABULOUS. Highly recommend Alliance Francais–but make sure you have enough time to study. Immersion courses are challenging, and require a lot of frequent studying to keep up.

  • camorose

    Awesome! Very true that you need to be able to devote a lot of time to both the class + the homework!

  • katherine

    Some advice pour moi? I am going to France for the first time and I want to enhance my beginner French with a two-week intensive. Question: is Paris the site for me or should I search an AF school in rural France? I will be touring Normandy and Vimy etc for three weeks after my language intensive.

  • camorose

    Totally depends on what you’re looking for! Paris is an incredible cosmopolitan city and a great place to learn the language as well as see the sites. But if you’re looking for something a bit quieter that’s a bit more intense–in that you won’t find as many people speaking English–I’d recommend looking for someplace outside of the city. There are AF’s all over the country!

  • Kelly

    Thanks so much for this review! My husband are deciding on a long term French immersion course in France. I’ve looked into SO many and am leaning towards AF Nice. You can’t beat the price but I was wondering about the quality. You’ve given me little more peace about the decision. Thanks!

  • camorose

    I absolutely recommend AF Nice! Incredible teachers, very supportive and friendly community. Enjoy!

  • Marie

    I’m French, accountant, and I learn English. If you want practice and speaking. Contact me on skype : catamarane68

  • Marie

    ‘m French, accountant, and I learn English. If you want practice and speaking. Contact me on skype : catamarane68

  • Marie

    I’m French, accountant, and I learn English. If you want practice and speaking. Contact me on skype : catamarane68

  • Jack McLaughlin

    I spent three weeks in AF Paris a few years ago. Connected with people from all over the world, hung out with them after class and evenings, learned the local argot. Paris, definitely!

  • Love your blog! You and I seem like we are walking on the same path! I wound up in NYC after traveling all over the world…have a strong PR/marketing background (now in graphic design) and took classes at the Alliance in Marseille! (where I lived for a year) If you ever want to get together and exchange war stories over coffee at Maison Kayser, let me know! I’m a fellow blogger too. leahblogs.com. Good luck on all your adventures!

  • camorose

    Oh yay! Feel free to shoot me an email and let’s set something up 🙂

  • Charli

    I checked out most of the Alliance Francaise organizations and the one at Loire Valley seemed to suit me, but I haven’t been able to get any replies, after countless of emails sent. How did you register for your course there?

  • camorose

    I’m not sure–the one in Nice was quite small, so the one in Loire Valley might be even smaller. It might be worth contacting the organization in Paris (basically the HQ), who might be able to point you in the right direction of getting in touch with someone at Loire Valley.

  • Charli

    Thank you I’ll try that now, I’m at the absolute end of my throat. After two weeks of no replies, I switched to the one in Rouen. Normandy seemed to be a nice, quiet place to learn French and interact with the locals.

  • KB

    So your mom is French? Does she, by chance, know of anyone/any place who teaches/tutors using the little blue book? I have this book, but am not the best self-motivator, and so I have been looking for someone who can help me ONLINE. Thanks.

  • camorose

    Eek! Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone, but would recommend checking out the Alliance Francaise locations in the US or wherever you’re based–might be able to ask them for an online tutor recommendation!

  • For years, I struggled learning the French language mainly due to my busy schedule and tight budget. My goal is to speak and comprehend French like a native, and to find the best French teacher on Skype. I am really pleased that a website like PREPLY DOT COM exists to help students like me find French teachers online. I get to learn 1 to 1 French lessons and converse with a very good teacher. I don’t have to be physically present to go to a class. All I need is internet access and get online through Skype (free!). I want you to experience this. Check it out and see for your self 🙂

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