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Bucket List: Learn French in France

Remember when I told you I was going to study French in France? Well, I did it.

I’m not about to claim fluency, nor perfection. Dude, this language is HARD! Two words: French prepositions. Oh, two more words: a million silent letters #facepalm. But, I CAN speak French now. In fact, I can have entire conversations, explain who I am, what I do, what I want, where I’m going, and understand most of what is spoken back at me, even though sometimes I still pause to wait for the lightbulb in my brain. Basically, I’ve got all of that which falls under “Getting By.” (Je me débrouille!)

Learning French in France has been on my bucket list ever since I had a Bucket List. I’ve managed to study abroad in three other romance languages except French in the past 15 years. This was the year I decided to prioritize French, and I did it.

In this post, I’m going to list some good things, some bad things, and some general observations about my experience studying abroad in France, and I also want to challenge you to imagine yourself in my shoes, because you can do this too.

My Study Abroad in France Experience

My French Language School: SOFI 64

Stef la Chef, me, another student Julia, and my professor Julie. And of course Gypse, le petit chien who only cares about the ball my foot is holding hostage! <3

I explain in this post how I found the language school that I attended in Anglet, France (French Basque Country). The school itself was a nice, clean, big house-type building about a 10-min walk from the beach. The teachers were super enthusiastic and treated me well. I immediately fell in love with the resident dog, too (naturally).

I was by myself in class for two of the weeks (first and last) and with another student for the middle two weeks. Promo code alert: He is actually a BMT reader who responded to the invite I put out in this post. He got to save 5% on his tuition because of that! If you want to go to SOFI 64, simply enroll online, and type JACKIE5 in the “Message” section of the enrollment form to get your discount. Pretty cool, huh? Let me know if you do it so I can give you a high five and answer any questions you may have!

We used grammar books that we were able to take home if we wanted to, but they belonged to the school. I took all my notes on my laptop so that I wouldn’t have to deal with papers as I travel. The classrooms were clean and bright with group tables, so we all sat across from each other, and the chairs were comfortable.

On my own, I had class 1.5 hours per day since it was one-on-one, but with a group class is from 9:30am-12:45pm with a 15-minute break at 11. It was a good schedule for me, and ended just in time to explore local restaurants for lunch.

On that note, one morning we learned how to navigate restaurants in French in class, and the example in the book for the “plat du jour” was “blanquette de veau.” When we got out of class that day, we walked down to the beach and saw “Plat du Jour: Blanquette de veau” on a chalkboard. I can’t make this stuff up! Obviously, we ate there that day, and we knew exactly how to order. This is part of the magic of studying abroad.

French restaurant vocab

Learning French restaurant vocab.

blanquette de veau

Ladies and gentlemen, “blanquette de veau,” manifested into reality after drooling over pictures in class.

My Home Stay

I lived in a house with (to my surprise) 4 other people. They were all French, so it wasn’t too tempting to speak English. Actually, one of them was half Spanish, so we ended up speaking quite a bit of Spanish, which was a relief for me. It was a bit crowded, but it was a big house and I had my own room. It was also on the edge of a beautiful forest where I would go running several times a week.

Advantages of a home stay:

  • Be forced to speak French, even in the morning before coffee. (This is how you really learn, though).
  • Learn more colloquial conversation than you do in class.
  • Have more opportunity to use what you are learning.
  • Have meals prepared for you! (At least in this program, that’s how it works).
  • You don’t have to deal with finding your own accommodations.
  • You have immediate company and language practice.

Disadvantages of a home stay:

  • Be forced to speak French, even in the morning before coffee. (Shoot me in the face).
  • If you’ve been on your own for a while, it can be hard to adjust to living in someone else’s house.
  • If you have your habits and routines, you may have to adjust them, and that is hard to do when you’re immersed in a strong culture. I felt a little forced to do some things “the French way,” when, for example, all I really wanted were eggs for breakfast. I so miss eggs for breakfast. But they just “don’t do that” in France.
French Home Stay

The only time all 5 of us ate dinner together, and Luis and I made homemade ice cream. It was a complete success.

The French 15

Okay, so maybe it’s not 15 pounds in one month, but SACREBLEU!!!! If you lack even the slightest bit of will power when it comes to sweets, cheese, chocolate mousse, cream, or similar, just don’t even go to France. Just stay away, because a dessert that you would normally order only to celebrate special occasions will suddenly become dessert after lunch on a TUESDAY, and then again after dinner. And who can say no to that?? I have super strong will power when it comes to desserts and chocolate. Seriously, I do, and it still got the best of me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Quotes of the Month

I don’t know if these will be funny to anyone but me, but here are some funny things that apparently you hear when you’re studying abroad in France:

  • “I’m not gonna jump an old man for his baguette.” Matthew (the other student and BMT reader!) when we were afraid the Boulangerie might have run out of baguettes, which, I’m pretty sure, would never actually happen in a million years. I mean seriously, keep the French from their precious bread? Sacrebleu!
  • “You spell 20 like the wind.” Matthew in class one day, laughing at me. I admit, je suis nulle at spelling in French, everything sounds the same to me! Exhibit A: 20 = vingt, wind = vent. Who knew? Matthew, apparently.
  • “I’m trying to promenade here!” Matthew when I was walking way too fast along the beach boardwalk. C’est la France and c’est the ocean! Slow down! Guilty as charged, I tend to almost run when it’s cold out. Also, can we please start using “promenade” as a verb in English to refer to a casual stroll?
  • “Don’t worry, you don’t pay for the holes!” Zoé (my host) when I picked up a piece of bread that had a massive hole through the middle of it. Apparently, in France, all bread is priced by weight. I’m still laughing over this one.

Plans for Further French Study

I know from experience that even though I’m immersed in French now and doing pretty well, one month really isn’t enough to get a super solid foundation that won’t disappear without continuous practice. So, i have a few ideas to keep up my French:

  • Duolingo, because I’m the nerd who thinks it’s fun.
  • French Verb Drills – This is a real live paper book, and one that I’ve owned for both Spanish and Italian. If there’s one thing I learned this month, it’s that the present tense in French is THE most difficult tense. I need to keep at it, so I’m going to get myself a workbook. I’m the nerd who thinks this is fun, too.
  • Quebec… I have an affinity for Quebec, and I KNOW it’s different French, but it IS French. And maybe someday I’ll spend more than a week at a time there to immerse myself a bit more.
  • I shall continue to travel, perhaps to French-speaking countries, and continue to meet French-speaking people, and I can practice that way.
  • Practice with my friends who speak French, you know who you are, I’m coming for you!
French crepes

A wise woman once said that studying French while eating French crepes is good for your brain 😉

What Study Abroad Really Costs

Excuse me for my Mastercard moment, but…

School program for 4 weeks at SOFI 64: €1125 (about $1,400)

Home stay for 4 weeks (€33/night): €891 (about $1,100)

Results: PRICELESS. From this day forward, I will be able to get by in French-speaking countries, and I won’t make a fool of myself the next time I walk into a Tim Horton’s in Quebec and fumble my way through pointing and body language, uselessly trying to use Spanish words, thinking, “Didn’t I study a little bit of French in college??? WHERE IS IT NOW???”

Time invested: One month of my life. ONE. MONTH. Of my life. If you live to be 90 years old, you have 1,080 months to do all the things. One month is a tiny stint of time in the grand scheme of life, yet it has the power to change SO much. The sooner you decide to spend one month doing something you’ve always wanted to do, the longer you can live with the satisfaction and results of having done it. And who knows, you’re life could completely change in the process.

Have you ever said, “I really want to learn _______” (fill in the blank: i.e Spanish/French/Italian, etc.), or, “I wish I could speak ________,” or how about, “I wish I had studied abroad in college,” what about, “one day I’m going to learn ________.” I bet you have said at least one of those things several times in your life.

Here’s some perspective for you. This is the fourth time I’ve studied abroad, and the second time that I’ve done it for just one month. It’s totally possible, people! And it doesn’t have to be big, bad, and scary, or last for a year, or even be a “once in a lifetime” event. It’s totally accessible, no matter your age. You just have to decide to do it, just like I did.

Now, do you have ONE MONTH of your life that you could possibly dedicate to doing something you’ve “always wanted to do?” Do you have more than a month? The longer the better, as one month really isn’t enough to gain a fluent foundation that will stick with you through the years without lots of practice, but guess what! One month, or even a few weeks, is a fabulous start in the direction of your dreams.

From there, you can:

  • Do it again in another location
  • Go back the next year
  • Continue with an online language learning program
  • Get a conversation buddy from another country (Try this)
  • Find a _______-speaking conversation group in your home town (search the Google!)

There are so many ways you can begin to learn the language you’ve always wanted to learn.

You can realize this, I am proof, and I want to encourage you to explore “speaking ________” as a reality that is waiting for you somewhere.

This post is part of a collaboration with SOFI 64 French Language School. As always, all opinions are my own.

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