Are you frustrated, because French (and sometimes France) is frustrating?

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the Riviera

I am too sometimes, though a little less often now. What mostly frustrates me now is my terrible memory for all the special terms employed in French administration. And believe me, if you think there are a lot when you just come here to stay for a few months, wait until you open your own business!

But, before I got to this point, there was a very looooong journey.

Here are some things that helped me improve, and feel better. These aren’t in any specific order, and should be taken all together, if you only do one of them, chances are that it won’t take you very far!

  1. Talk to your neighbors. I know that often, French people seem a bit cold and suspicious of foreigners, but if you smile at them nicely and try to talk to them, they will usually be very happy to talk to you too! Then they’ll ask you lots of questions and you’ll have a neighbor to chat to every once in a while. It’s great practice! Of course, these are questions you will have answered a million times, but, the more you practice them, the better you’ll get!
  2. Frequent the local shops and once again, chat to the proprietors. Many of them will love the chance to speak to new people and although they will probably try to practice their English, if you tell them you are trying to learn French, they will be over the moon and more than willing to help!
  3. Sign up for a local activity, any normal local activity. It has to be French though, forget expat groups, you won’t learn French that way. Expat groups are great when you’re homesick and you need people to chat to to get away from learning. But, if you sign up to let’s say, a local yoga studio and get talking to the other members, you will quickly make French friends and progress much more. When I signed up to a theatre group in Nice, the members and teacher were all so lovely and supportive.
  4. Don’t expect to make friends too fast. As I mentioned in my first point, the French can be a suspicious bunch sometimes. Plus, they already have their friend groups and busy lives, so the best thing to do is to stick to it. If you have young kids, take them to the local playground after school. It may take some time, but eventually, the other parents will start saying hello to you and then having entire conversations with you. Most young parents have at least rudimentary English as well, so you should be able to communicate even when you can’t find your words.
  5. Again, for the youngish parents, if you have time, volunteer at the parents’ association for your kids’ school. If your kids are at a private bilingual school, then sign them up for extra curriculars outside of the private school network so that you can chit chat to other parents in French while you wait around for the activities to end.
  6. Read! Go to the bookstore, buy a book you’re sure you’ll like, and read it. It will be really hard at first, but you’ll get there in the end. Who cares if you don’t understand everything, that won’t kill you, just keep going and little by little it’ll start to sink in.
  7. Watch stuff in French. Arte is great, so is France 5, there is a great show called Echappées Belles about travelling that you can watch without needing to catch every single word.
  8. This probably shouldn’t be all the way down here, but: take a course! Sign up for a French course. The best ones will be those where you have contact with your teacher several times a week. Also, prefer groups to individual lessons, they’re better because you really learn how to converse in French with other people. Plus, you get to meet others who are in the same boat so you’ll feel less lonely.
I visited the observatory in Nice with a friend I met in my local theatre group. My French was ok at the time, but definitely not fluent!

Okay, I think I’m out of ideas for now. In any case, you probably won’t do all of the above, but you should try. The French course is important because it will be easier to figure out the language with a competent teacher and peers to communicate with. The chit chats with neighbors and locals are important because you can get practice that way, and eventually, get to know your community.

Good luck everyone and if you have questions, drop me a line!

Also, if you just need a chat because you’re feeling lonely, get in touch through Facebook or Instagram!

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