Tips to improve your French

It is a good idea to get as much exposure to spoken French as possible © iStockphoto.com

It is a good idea to get as much exposure to spoken French as possible © iStockphoto.com - Credit: Archant

Becoming a confident French speaker before your move to France will ensure a smooth transition into your new life, says Sally Green

Specialist language schools can be a good way for children to learn French © fotolia

Specialist language schools can be a good way for children to learn French © fotolia - Credit: Rafael Ben-Ari - Fotolia

Moving to France can be a life-changing experience in more ways than one. Along with the excitement of a new home and getting to know a new country and its people, comes the challenge of having to communicate in a foreign language.

The more conversant you are with French, the easier the transition will be, so it’s important to get to grips with the language beforehand. Whether you’re new to learning French, have children to consider, or you’re moving for work purposes, the good news is there are many opportunities in this country which allow you to practise and develop your French before you go.

Tips for adults

Textbook French gives a good grounding of the language, but has its limitations. It’s a good idea to get as much exposure to spoken French as possible before your departure. There is a multitude of options open to language learners, most of which are relatively inexpensive.

Outside London, you may think that multicultural mingling is difficult; not so thanks to twinning associations, which provide the perfect platform from which to practise your French. Most UK towns have one, subscription fees are reasonable and regular visits are organised to twin towns across the Channel. Events are organised throughout the year where members can meet other francophones, converse in either language, and learn about cultural differences.

French Circles fulfil a similar function, although they tend to be more informal and their network smaller. They often invite speakers to talk in French to their members about their certain speciality. Look out, too, for French conversation groups; a looser arrangement of people who meet within their locality to discuss, in French, anything that may take their fancy. Your local U3A (The University of the Third Age, www.u3a.org.uk) may also provide a French study group for people of retirement age.

If you are looking for something you can do alone, French radio, television and cinema can really help you become attuned to the language. Foreign language films tend to be shown in less mainstream cinemas, and at small film clubs springing up in local village halls. The best deal at the moment for access to French television seems to be through Téléfrance (www.telefrance.co.uk), which charges a £4.99 monthly fee to view four French channels on your television using a broadband connection.

Tips for children

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If you’re planning a move to France with children, you may need to look beyond social groups, as it is often difficult to engage youngsters in group French speaking activities. If you have a few years prior to moving to execute your strategy, you may want to consider moving them to a specialist language school.

First introduced in 1995 at secondary level (although their methods of funding and criteria seem to have changed since then), many still exist today and provide keen students who have an aptitude for languages with greater opportunities to excel in this area. Within these schools, language resources are more plentiful, staff are generally more specialised and strive hard to ensure pupils achieve good results so both status and funding are maintained.

Tips for families

Families can also get involved in twinning associations, which usually have a sub-section for younger members. As well as trips to France, excursions are usually organised to the UK when French families are welcomed into English families and are often paired up if they share similar interests or have children of similar ages. In this way, the whole family can support each other in practising their French together.

This kind of host family set-up is also offered by internet-based companies who seek out a host family for an English child wishing to spend school holidays in France. Corresponding with a pen-pal is an equally exciting way for youngsters to dip their toe in the water, and to build up confidence in a foreign language through regular communication, with many sites offering this service free of charge. If communicating remotely does not appeal, then try and set up a one-to-one conversation exchange with a locally based French native of a similar age. Gumtree (www.gumtree.com) is a good internet source for such an arrangement, but often all these kinds of experiences work better via recommendation, so social media is perfect for advertising your request amongst friends for a pen-pal, host family or language exchange partner.

Learning business French

All of these ideas will introduce you to day-to-day French – but what if you’re looking to practise business French, for example? Young adults may want to consider spending time working in France before settling there. There are specialist organisations that can arrange this for you but, by contacting companies directly, you may be able to achieve this independently. Most French companies are familiar with offering work experience placements (‘stages’) to young people, and for a young English person wanting to fulfil this requirement, companies with offices in both France and England are likely be more receptive. Often no salary is paid but expenses may be reimbursed.

An equally valuable experience with modest earnings is that of the au pair, a position which offers similar security to that of a host family situation, but with a little more independence, and which can be less daunting than working within a company as it’s a good compromise between the two. Of course, everyday language will be the focus, but you will have to be as committed, as organised and as business-like as you would be in an office environment. Families advertise for au pairs in several publications and on online sites, but those who find an au pair via connections seem to have a more positive outcome. Once again, social media can be used to get the message out there.

Private tuition

Most of these suggestions allow you to practise your French at minimum cost. However, private tuition should also be considered as, although this can be a more costly exercise, the benefits can be huge because the focus is particularly intense and methods of teaching tailored to specific requirements. Such focused learning is also offered to the very young through national organisations such as La Jolie Ronde (www.lajolieronde.co.uk), which caters for children from as young as three. It is effective and, therefore, comes at a price, but if you’re after something less commercial for you and your little ones, then there will no doubt be a French-speaking parent and toddler group somewhere near you.

Even for those not considering a move to France, but who share a love of the language and culture, these activities can still be enjoyed. Without doubt they will aid linguistic development and help maintain a certain level of vocabulary and fluency, but for people moving to France they are great ways to help ensure successful integration into French life.

Sally Green has worked in Paris and London and currently runs French Bliss Language Services

www.frenchbliss.co.uk