In August-September 2022 I spent four weeks at Alliance française Paris learning French. Overall, Alliance française is a solid choice for studying French in Paris. Read on for more tips on finding French courses in Paris.
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Why Learn French in Paris
Originally I didn’t want to do a French course in Paris. Like any big city, it can be expensive, crowded, and stressful, and finding accommodation is a challenge.
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.
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. You can still 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.
When to Study French in Paris
Both August and September are great months to be in Paris. While temperatures are high in August (especially during the heat waves of recent years) and tourist sights are crowded, Paris is empty of its residents, who are mostly on vacation. Many shops and restaurants are shuttered. In my residential area, I really enjoyed the peaceful and deserted streets!
September brings cooler weather and fewer crowds. I loved the renewal and optimism of la rentrée, when summer holidays end and the French return to normal life. The calendar overflows with cultural events during this time.
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.
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 seeking a boutique, personal style of learning, however, I recommend contacting them.
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 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 French capitalization rules, “française” is lowercase.) Its headquarters are on Paris’s Left Bank in a historic building in the 6th arrondissement, near the lovely Luxembourg Gardens.
The Alliance française has been at its current location on Boulevard Raspail since 1919. The elegant stone stairs are hollowed from more than a century of French students tramping up and down to class. It was fun to imagine the previous generations who had studied in the building!
Alliance française Paris receives 10,000 students a year from 120 countries, with an average of 1,000 students a month attending.
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. Response times varied from immediate to three days to four weeks (!). A few emails never received a reply at all. Other students had similar experiences. One reported she had difficulty reaching anyone by phone. Unfortunately, Alliance’s website also didn’t provide answers to many questions.
To meet the staff and answer any questions, I recommend the school’s free weekly Zoom sessions “Exchange with the Alliance Française de Paris.” See their events page. On site, the staff members I met were friendly and helpful.
Despite some initial communication challenges, my experience was good once I was in Paris, and I would recommend the school. My intent with this review is to demystify the process and answer the questions I had about Alliance francaise Paris. (The correct spelling is française, of course – spelling it without the cédille since many people search online without accent marks.)
Alliance française’s intensive group courses generally run in four-week sessions. You cannot start on any Monday like many language schools, but rather on defined start dates around the beginning of the month. In summer they also offer two-week and even one-week courses; contact them to book these options if not listed on the site. Additionally, there are two-week oral, grammar, and phonetic workshops.
It only takes one four-week course to complete A1, but the next levels from A2 to B2 take 6 weeks or more. Because of the four-week duration, some levels overlap in a course. For example, the first two weeks might cover advanced B1 and then the second two weeks start beginner B2.
Depending on demand, there might be only one or multiple C1 sections. Do book in advance as they fill up.
One of my priorities was that the school offer cultural and social activities. Alliance française organizes cultural activities every week: museum visits, neighborhood tours, and literary events. Most are only open to students and alumni, but some are public.
Language schools have been hit hard by the pandemic, and returning students told me cultural activities used to be more frequent. During my stay there was an average of about one a week. However, the ones I attended (museum and neighborhood tours, guided discussions, and movie screenings) were all excellent. A professional guide leads the museum and neighborhood tours, with an AF staff member to assist. These tours in French were fascinating and a good way to practice listening comprehension.
AF offers a useful tour of the school as well as a verre de bienvenue (welcome drink and snacks) each month when classes start.
Activities are capped at about 30 students and fill up fast, especially the free tours. Try to register the first day signups open. If you’ve paid for your course, you can register even if classes haven’t started yet. There is a waitlist if you can’t get in.
The AF student card qualifies you for discounts at selected sites. Some tickets must be bought from the Vie Étudiante office in the AF library; others are obtained showing your card on site. I used the discounts for a sunset Seine cruise on a bateaux mouche (buy your tickets in advance for half off at AF) and for the opulent Musée Jacquemart-André (show your card at the museum). Other recommended partners include the nearby Le Lucernaire theater and Giacometti museum.
AF’s excellent library contains more than 8,000 resources such as novels categorized by difficulty level, magazines, newspapers, bandes dessinées (comics), tourist guides, grammar references, and multimedia materials. There are friendly librarians to help. Unfortunately, it is not possible to check items out, but it’s a nice spot to relax and study.
Pre-pandemic, AF had a full-service cafeteria, but now just offers fresh snacks and coffee via vending machines.
Paris Alliance Francaise Review
I signed up for a four-week 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 consists 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.
Since I arrived in Paris the week before my class started, I visited Alliance to familiarize myself with the building and get my student card. (They take a digital photo of you, so no need to bring a passport photo.) The receptionist also told me which classroom I’d be in.
The Friday before class started, I received an email confirming the room number with a link to the Apolearn e-learning platform used to support in-person classes.
My teacher, Walmir, who goes by Mike, was excellent. He focused on verbal communication practice, which is what I needed. We spent a large part of the class speaking and sharing our opinions, either as a larger group or in pairs. Lessons focused on a variety of interesting and current topics such as the arts, self-driving cars, fashion, smoking, or the problem of homelessness.
We also covered grammar as needed, vocabulary, and listening practice. Mike explained many colloquial French expressions. He also provided dozens of helpful suggestions for cultural activities and sightseeing outside of class.
Every AF teacher has their own style, and not all focus so heavily on speaking. Students told me previous classes had emphasized grammar or traditional lectures about French culture instead, for example.
Class was from 9 am to 1 pm with a 20-minute break around 10:30 or 11 am to get a coffee or snack.
Alliance française is more expensive than some other schools, but they also pay their teachers well. In my experience, this was reflected in the quality of the teachers.
We also had substitute teachers for three days. Although there was one sub whose style I didn’t care for, overall I enjoyed the variety and break from routine.
One advantage of studying in Paris is that it’s so international. Our class of about 14 students was from Germany, Switzerland, Britain, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Russia, Argentina, US, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Mexico.
I also appreciated the diversity of student ages, which ranged from 19 to late 60s. Alliance seems to attract a more mature demographic, and many students are working professionals. When I studied French in Montpellier, most students were in their 20s, so I liked having more classmates my age (50+) to connect with.
Some students only took two weeks of class, and others only attended sporadically, so daily class size varied from about 7 to 12. About half the class were Paris residents. Most were returnees who had previously taken classes at AF. One group of retirees from different countries had become friends and returned each year in September to take a C1 course together at AF.
Overall, I really enjoyed my studies at AF and would return for more classes. For C1 students, I think AF is an excellent choice. However, I think it might be best suited for students that already have a decent level of French. Beginners might want to consider smaller schools instead that offer more support and personalized attention. (For absolute beginners, I recommend a basic course at home first to maximize your immersion in France.)
Accommodation in Paris
Alliance Française Accommodation Options
AF partners with nearby aparthotel chains Adagio and Citadines to offer 15 or 20% discounts for stays longer than a week if you book with the school. Depending on location, these extended-stay hotels offer breakfast buffets, kitchenette, weekly cleaning, gym, laundry room, and air conditioning. I didn’t meet any students staying at an aparthotel (most classmates had long-term rentals or Airbnbs), but it seems like a convenient option that avoids the hassle of Airbnb.
AF also partners with Host Families in Paris to offer homestays. Homestays are a good way to dive deeper into the local culture and get more language practice.
AF also maintains a listing of inexpensive apartments and rooms for rent for registered students, both at the office and online. Contact them for details.
Personally, I prefer the privacy and independence of my own Airbnb apartment. Alliance Française Paris is in Montparnasse, a Left Bank neighborhood rich in literary and artistic history I had fallen in love with on a previous visit to Paris. I had never stayed on the Left Bank and thought living there for five weeks 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 reserved four and a half months in advance, but six months or more might 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 standing on the crammed 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 it now. Usually hosts provide a starter pack of capsules.
- 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 results pop up that lease under a bail mobilité.
I was concerned my studies at the Alliance française would not qualify for the terms of the lease. 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, which was sufficient.
While owners have to document the reason for the stay on the lease, from what I’ve read there is actually no enforcement by the city, so Paris visitors have a lot of flexibility in justifying the purpose of their stay under the bail mobilité.
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.
Transport in Paris
I got a weekly and then a monthly Navigo travel pass for all zones. It was very convenient to be able to hop on the metro, bus, or RER freely to any part of greater Paris. Bring a passport-sized photo from home if you have one, as queues for photo booths at CDG can be long.
Future French Study in France
Since I love France and want to keep up my French, I definitely plan to return to France in a year or so for more study.
I would definitely consider returning to Alliance française Paris for a two-week or four-week intensive French course, or an evening course.
I’m also considering Bordeaux, Lyon, or Nice. Stay tuned!
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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.