Interested in studying French at Alliance française Paris? In August-September 2022 I’ll spend four weeks there learning French. Until then, I’m documenting my experience researching French courses in Paris and finding accommodation. Read on for tips on how to study French in Paris.
Why Learn French in Paris
Originally I didn’t want to do a French course in Paris. It’s more expensive, and I heard that Parisians are not as patient and friendly with language learners as in smaller cities.
But after spending time in Paris before and after my French studies in Montpellier in early 2022, I fell in love with the city and wanted to do an extended stay.
Paris is undoubtedly expensive. If cost is an issue, consider French courses in other places rich in charm and history like Montpellier, Lyon, or Bordeaux. These smaller cities are cheaper for course fees and accommodation, and you can bookend your studies with time in Paris at the beginning and end.
If you’re in love with Paris like I am, though, read on.
Getting to and from Paris
My flight from the US arrives at Charles de Gaulle (CDG), France’s largest international airport. From CDG, it’s an easy commuter train ride on the RER B to Gare du Nord or Châtelet–Les Halles in central Paris. The RER ticket also allows a free transfer onto the metro to your final destination.
Returning, I recommend buying the RER ticket a day or two in advance at any metro station kiosk or service counter to avoid long lines and stress the day of your flight. The ticket has no expiration until you validate it by inserting it into the turnstile.
When to Study French in Paris
Due to the pandemic, tourism numbers are still low in Paris. While I was there in early 2022, I was grateful for the unique opportunity to enjoy uncrowded attractions. There were no tour groups, only individual tourists from neighboring European countries like Spain. A Parisian friend said, “You will never see Paris uncrowded like this again in your lifetime.”
I’m looking forward to September’s pleasant weather and the optimism and renewal of la rentrée, when long summer holidays end and the French return to normal life.
Choosing a French School in Paris
Despite the large number of French schools in Paris, I struggled to find one that met my criteria: a C1 advanced course, small class sizes, and a sense of community with plenty of cultural and social activities. I wanted to avoid schools like giant mills lacking in individual attention.
The list of best-rated French schools in Paris on the right side of this page helped while starting my search.
I contacted a couple of private, highly rated schools like L’École Suisse Internationale and Lutèce Langue that provided the small class sizes, emphasis on oral communication, and family-type atmosphere I was seeking.
Unfortunately, both told me that they rarely had demand for advanced courses and could not guarantee a C1 group class. If you are a beginner or intermediate student looking for a boutique, personal style of learning, however, I recommend checking them out.
As an advanced learner, though, my focus shifted to larger schools to ensure there were resources for me. I considered the renowned Cours de civilisation française at La Sorbonne, but courses ran several months, longer than I wanted to stay in Paris, so I chose the Alliance française instead.
Alliance Française Paris – Île de France
The Alliance française is a non-profit that promotes the French language and francophone culture around the world. (Due to rules of French capitalization, “française” is lowercase.) Its headquarters are on Paris’s Left Bank in a historic building in the 6th arrondissement, near the Luxembourg Gardens.
I was initially concerned that such a large school would be impersonal and unresponsive. I do have to say they are slow, sometimes very slow, to respond to messages, either to individual email addresses or the Contact page on their website. My response times varied from three days to four weeks (!). However, their responses were always helpful when they arrived.
Alliance française’s group courses run in four-week sessions, except for their two-week oral and grammar workshops. You cannot start on any Monday like many language schools, but rather on defined start dates. I signed up for a four-week intensive in-person French course at 20 hours/week on the website. Next step was the online placement test, which for levels upper intermediate and up just consisted of an essay.
I was originally placed into a B2 (upper intermediate) level after my placement test, but I requested to be moved to C1 (advanced) since that was my level at another French school. Alliance française was flexible about changing the level of the course.
One of my priorities was that the school offer cultural and social activities. To fulfill its mission to promote the French language and francophone cultures, the Alliance française de Paris organizes cultural activities every week: museum visits, neighborhood tours, and literary events. Some are public and some are only open to students and alumni of the school.
Accommodation in Paris
Alliance Française Paris is in Montparnasse, a Left Bank neighborhood rich in literary and artistic history I had explored and fallen in love with on a previous visit to Paris. I had never stayed on the Left Bank and thought getting an apartment there for the duration of my class would be a great way to get to know the area.
Renting a suitable apartment on Airbnb in such a desirable Parisian neighborhood turned out to be competitive. My top two choices turned me down because they wanted a tenant staying longer than five weeks. I was reserving four and a half months in advance, but six months or more would have been even better.
I searched on Airbnb using the following criteria:
- Washing machine. Not a fan of laundromats. Note that European apartments rarely have dryers, but rather drying racks or clotheslines.
- Bedroom (and preferably the whole apartment) faces a courtyard. Parisian apartments can be amazingly quiet if they face onto the interior courtyard of a building. I’m noise-sensitive and need a peaceful haven to study and sleep.
- Walking distance of the school. A lengthy morning commute during rush hour standing on the crowded metro is not my idea of fun.
- Sofa for sitting and studying. Many Paris studios just have a bed and small dining table.
- Ensuite toilet. Many cheap Parisian studios have a shared WC in the hallway (toilettes sur le palier). OK for a budget short-term stay, but long-term I prefer ensuite.
- Espresso machine. I got spoiled having one in other Airbnbs in France and Portugal and can’t live without one now. Really generous hosts even provide a starter pack of pods.
- Superhost. Somewhat optional, but it’s reassuring to have a host vetted by Airbnb to be extra responsive and reliable.
- Real bed. More of a nice-to-have, but many studios just have a sofa bed.
Finding a Paris apartment turned out to be an interesting lesson in French bureaucracy. Many Paris Airbnbs available for a month or more are only available under the bail mobilité, a new contract for furnished rentals. The Airbnb profile notes if this is the case.
The bail mobilité allows leases from one to 10 months if the tenant is pursuing graduate studies, training, an internship, a volunteer position, or a temporary professional assignment. If you search for stays of 30 days or longer on Airbnb, you’ll see the apartments pop up in results that lease under the bail mobilité.
I was concerned at first my studies at the Alliance française would not qualify for the bail mobilité. However, when my host asked for official documentation, I sent her a PDF invoice downloaded from my AF account on the website showing the course dates, and that turned out to be sufficient.
It’s important to note the strict cancellation policy for stays longer than four weeks on Airbnb. If you think there’s a chance you might have to cancel, it would be better to book two or more short-term stays with more generous cancellation policies.
Paris Alliance Francaise Review
Stay tuned for my full Alliance francaise Paris review later in 2022. (The correct spelling is française, of course – spelling it without the cédille since many people search online without accent marks.)
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Are you planning on attending the Paris Alliance française? Please share your questions and tips on studying French in Paris in the comments.