When I first began considering studying abroad in France, I searched every inch of the internet for advice. What should I wear? How does their school work? What will I be eating besides macarons and croissants for 6 months? Fortunately, the internet is full of information that ranges from “Just be yourself and nothing can go wrong!” To “Whatever you do, DO NOT wear leggings in public.”
Although I could use this blog post to tell you that indeed, leggings should be kept to the house and that you can never go wrong with black jeans, adidas, and a sweater, the information I hoped to find online, but rarely did, was pre-France French language preparation. No matter what any program website says, it makes a big difference whether you have a single year of French under your belt or five. That being said, you can’t be expected to show up day one with a complete vocabulary, but you can prep ahead of time so that you can at least ask your way around and tell your host family that your allergic to eggs.
Here are some of my favorite resources that I’ve found to be the most useful both before and during my time in France.
Youtube is, in my humble opinion, the best free foreign language resource on the internet. Besides the plethora of French teachers who post their lessons online, they’re are tons of entertaining channels that are certainly worth a good watch before you step on the plane. I recommend the channels Damon and Jo, and Comme une Française TV.
As vital as vocabulary words are, the ability to organize and express coherent thoughts is equally important. Picking up a basic grammar book that you can start over the Summer and continue working through during your time in France is a great idea if you want to jumpstart the French experience. I use the CLE International “Grammaire Progressive du Français” books, which come in five different levels. One caveat with this books is that they’re made for anybody learning french, regardless of country of origin. For that reason, all explanations are in French, but then again, I view that as a good thing! Another option would be picking up a DELF preparation book, even if you never plan on taking the test.
*The DELF is a French language proficiency test that determines your fluency level. It’s offered from the A1 level (Beginner) to the C2 level (Native Speaker). Having taken 5 years of French already, including AP, I picked up the B2 book and found that it was the perfect compliment to the schoolwork I was doing.
Buy it. Learn it. Live by it. I recommend buying the Lonely Planet Phrasebook, but I would suggest getting an English Phrasebook made for French speakers. I know, it seems silly, but I assure you, this is the best way to learn genuine French phrases. A lot of English expressions don’t translate well, but with this method, your getting a genuine French phrase and an English equivalent. Definitely learn how to introduce yourself, ask directions, and school vocabulary.
Spotify is an underrated, often overlooked method of foreign language learning that may just hold the key to adapting colloquial expressions and, of course, French slang. If you go to Spotify’s top 50 by country section and select France, you’ll probably see a whole lot of English music, but buried in the mass of perky American pop music and whatever genre “Panda” is classified as, you’ll find some popular French music. Give it a listen and look up the lyrics online. I suggest decoding it line by line using wordreference.com, that way you not only learn the vocabulary , but also memorize the lyrics.
To resume, no matter how much you prepare, there’s no magic formula that will save you from frequent awkward pauses and missing vocabulary words on a daily basis, but knowing the difference between past and present tense is something I would definitely recommend knowing pre-departure.