Plenty of people want to learn French, and set off to Paris in order to do so.
What they may not realize before they leave is that Parisians have a reputation for being sullen, unhelpful and at times downright rude. This applies to both foreigners stumbling over their words and fellow French people.
While this may help to forge a common bond between everyone who doesn’t happen to be Parisian, it doesn’t really help you if you’ve rocked up in the French capital in an attempt to learn the language. Thankfully there are a number of things you can do to learn French without spending lots of money on formal classes.
A lot of language learning is about confidence. There is a reason why people find that they are better at languages after a few drinks, when their inhibitions are lowered. While it may be easy to feel down after a snooty Parisian waiter knocks your French, try not to get disheartened. Always remember that it’s the role of Parisians in the world, and your French probably isn’t that bad!
Paris is a city that has retained its small shops and independent businesses, and they make for fascinating people watching. They can also be a huge help when it comes to learning a language. If you go to the same shop or bakery every day, it can help you to build a relationship with the owner. Over time they will most likely appreciate that you are makin an effort to learn, and engage you in conversation. Of course this could happen the first time that you speak to someone, not every Parisian will blow you off, but these kind of repeat meetings are a good way to build trust.
The aim is to conduct your life completely in French, so going about your day running errands with French people is a big help. Another is to make some friends. While there are plenty of expat clubs in Paris catering to the large international community, they are not the best place to improve your French.
To do that you need to spend time with French people. If you are into team sports they can be a great way of getting to know people. Look out for local clubs or join a sports centre. Even if you are a real beginner it’s the best way to learn.
Getting a job where you speak French is also a major help. This way you will communicate all day in the language that you are trying to learn. It may be hard to get a job without a decent level of French, so try volunteering instead. There are hundreds of charities and NGOs in Paris that are always looking for volunteers.
Another option is to look for a language learning partner. This involves finding a French person who wants to learn the language that you speak. While this may be easier for some languages than others, it is a valuable learning tool if you can find a buddy. If you are living in Paris you will get to make a Parisian friend, who can hopefully show you a different side of the city, and learn French at the same time. These sorts of exchanges are often advertised on university and language school noticeboards, or at venues such as The American Church in Paris.
Through volunteering, finding a language partner and having the confidence to speak with strangers, your French will come on leaps and bounds. However it is important to engage in formal study.
As a language French has a lot of complex grammar rules that you will need to learn if you want to impress. Getting a grammar book is the only way to do so. Once you’ve got the basics, start reading French newspapers and books to spot the constructions that you have been learning about.
Couple this with some time watching French television and films, or listening to the radio, and your language skills will improve rapidly. Language learning is all about forming habits and associations, so immerse yourself as completely as possible in the local culture. Most Parisians may have a reputation for rudeness, but that isn’t to say that you can’t find people willing to help you learn.
If you stick with it, it won’t be long before you are admonishing even the surliest Parisian waiter in quick fire French.