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.