Speak easy

Romilly Lancaster answers a reader’s query about learning French before making a permanent move to France...

Question: My partner and I are moving to France and want to learn French before we go. Are we better off studying for a qualification such as GCSE, studying in a group or getting one-on-one tuition? We want to progress as quickly as possible and be equipped for our new life in France. Rob Jones Answer: How very sensible of you to think about learning the language before your move to France! There will be so many new situations to deal with and things to absorb that having a grasp of the language will make the adjustment to your new life so much easier.Ideally, you should aim to start learning French about 2 years before the intended move – learning to express yourself in another language takes time, but I am sure you will find that discovering how the language works and building the confidence to use it is an exciting journey!There are pros and cons to all three of the options that you mention. However, I would not recommend taking GCSE as although having a qualification may feel like an achievement, much of your time would be spent preparing for an exam, rather than learning how to express yourself in French. And of course, as GCSE isn’t necessarily designed for those people who wish to live in France, you will find that you are not learning the lifestyle or property vocabulary that is relevant to your situation.When deciding whether to learn French in a group – such as evening classes – or on a one-to-one basis, it is worth considering how you and your partner react in different situations. If you feel more comfortable among other people when learning, then evening classes could be for you. Not all courses are the same; one may concentrate on reading and writing while another may offer holiday French.However, there are certainly courses available covering grammar and conversation and it is worth researching local colleges to find the right course. The downside is that with perhaps 15 people in a class the standard of French can vary – someone who did O level at school many years ago may consider themselves as much a beginner as someone who doesn’t even realise that nouns in French are masculine and feminine! This can lead to just a few people who already have a little French dominating the class and as a complete beginner, it is very easy to become lost and disheartened in such a situation, and feel unable to move forward. Speaking another language is all about building confidence and, as this is not always easy in a class of varying abilities, think and choose your course carefully.Although by its very nature, one-to-one tuition would be the most expensive of the three options, there are many benefits to be gained by personal tuition. Depending on your tutor, your lessons would be aimed towards your own personal needs, and the rate of your progress would be dictated by you. You would learn the building blocks of the language at your own pace, with the opportunity of discussing any points you were uncertain of. Remember, you have been used to thinking and expressing yourself in your native language from a very early age, and it takes time to adapt to expressing yourself in a completely different way. Being able to build your confidence slowly and surely in a safe’ environment is a great plus and would give you an excellent foundation in speaking French.I hope that this has helped you to decide which path to take when starting to learn French. It is such a beautiful language – I really hope you enjoy the journey!