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Why taking classes at your local Town Hall could be the key to mastering French

The best way of learning French isn't necessarily through apps or conversation classes... the answer could just be at your local town hall. And if you're keen to try this route you have until June 19th to sign up for the summer term in Paris.

Why taking classes at your local Town Hall could be the key to mastering French
The Town Hall in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Photo: AFP
Learning to speak fluent French is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of moving to France.
It takes time, there are no shortcuts and unfortunately French courses can be really (really) expensive. 
Luckily, there's a solution at town halls around the country — French courses aimed at foreign learners that don't break the bank. 
“I did it for a year and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot of practical information about living in France and speaking the language,” language learner Jennifer Dyson told The Local.
“I also met people from all over the world who were trying to learn to communicate in French. It was an experience I value and will not soon forget.” 
So why don't most people know about them?
It turns out that most of the information you need to enroll on these courses is in French, which can naturally leave a lot of the people who would be most interested in them unable to navigate their way through the registration process. 
But we've put together some key information to help you beat the system. 
How does it work?
The lessons are arranged by town halls across France. 
Some of these are arranged as a partnership between the town hall and a Greta, a group of local public educational institutions that pool their skills and resources to offer adult education classes, including French as a foreign language.
In Paris, they are split into two terms which go from October to February and from March to July and you can sign up for just one term or for the annual course if you're planning on being in France for the long-term. 
If you're interested you can sign up for the summer term, which takes places over three weeks in July, here and you have until June 18th to do so.
In the French capital, they mostly take place in the evening between 6.30pm and 9.30pm or on Saturdays so they're ideal for people who have a day job. 
Elsewhere in France, the way the lessons are structured varies from town to town although the ones that offer lessons often offer year-long courses. 
Who can do them?
You have to be over 18 but other than that there are no restrictions on nationality or residency status. 
…and just how low is the price? 
This is one of the major selling points of doing the town hall courses, the prices are the lowest we've come across for formal French lessons. 
Prices vary depending on what kind of course you want to take but in Paris for the standard course of 60 hours of French lessons, you'll pay around €131 and it can be a lot cheaper outside of the French capital, with some courses costing as little as €70. 
You can find out more about the prices in Paris HERE and for lessons in other parts of France, you can check the details on the website of your local town hall. 
“The primary reason I switched to the Mairie classes [from Alliance Francaise] was the cost was so much less and the times worked better for my family,” Sheila Olsen, who lives in the Paris suburbs, told The Local. 
This is France after all so it would be natural to expect a hefty amount of paperwork but here's your chance to breathe a sigh of relief.
Most places only ask for photo ID to complete and proof of address your registration . 
How to sign up 
Let's start with people looking for lessons in Paris. 
To subscribe online you'll need to create an account on the Paris City Hall website. Find out more about how to do this HERE
Once you've done that you'll be able to access the Cours Municipaux d’Adultes (or CMA) where you'll find a list of all the courses available. 
Select cours de francais and you'll be able to file your application. 
If you're applying for the first time online you'll be asked to come in for an assessment before the course starts so that they can make sure you're put in the right class for your level. 
These tests may not be held at the same place you plan to take the classes. 
It's fair to say that the online application can be a little complex but if you're struggling to navigate it, there is another option. 
Keep an eye on the registration periods online, which usually last about a week and visit either 77 Boulevard de Belleville in the 11th arrondissement or 132 rue d’Alésia in the 14th between 9am and 6pm to sign up and there will be people on hand to help you out. 
If you're not based in Paris, the best way to sign up is to contact your local town hall directly and many of them also have online applications you can use to sign up.
These are generally a lot easier to fill out than the Paris enrollment forms.
You'll want to sign up for the course named Français Langue Etrangère (FLE) or similar. 
Intensive courses
If you miss out on signing up for either term, the Paris town hall also offers a series of intensive courses on subjects such as information technology and lessons designed specifically training for a language diploma. 
How big are the classes?
Classes are usually made up of 20-25 people although some people who have attended them told The Local that their classes had been as small as ten people. 


Puns, sex and urban legends: How English movie titles are translated into French

If you've ever browsed French cinema listings or Netflix, you will instantly notice that the titles of English-language movies often have quite unexpected translations.

Puns, sex and urban legends: How English movie titles are translated into French

It is of course completely normal for the titles of books, films, TV series and other artworks to be translated in a non-literal way – usually the translator will try and get something that conveys the sense and message of the artwork, rather than going for a word-for-word translation.

But from concepts that get lost in translation to untranslatable puns and – of course – the French fondness for English phrases, some titles may surprise you. 

The untranslatable ones

Some concepts just don’t cross international borders.

Groundhog DayUn jour sans fin (an endless day) – Groundhog day in the US and Canada is a festival celebrated on February 2nd that is said to predict spring weather.

The festival doesn’t exist in France, or in the UK come to that, but while British audiences just had to accept a film with a weird title, in France it was translated as ‘an endless day’, which more accurately describes what the film is all about.  

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsArnaques, Crimes et Botanique (scams, crimes and botanicals) – the film’s English title is a pun on the phrase ‘lock, stock and barrel’ which means complete, with ‘smoking barrels’ as a nod to the gun storyline.

Puns are pretty hard to translate in general, but a mixture of two puns obviously had the French translators reaching for the white flag. Instead they’re gone for a three-word list that offers a pretty fair overall summary of what the film is all about. 

The Shawshank RedemptionLes Évadés (The Escaped) – Frank Darabont’s slow-burn classic prison drama based on Stephen King’s short story couldn’t really translate into French, so you can’t blame them for not trying. Instead, they kept it simple.

Home AloneMaman, j’ai raté l’avion (Mummy I missed the plane) – another example of deciding not to bother trying to translate a phrase and just giving a straightforward description of what the film is about comes from Home Alone.

Con airLes ailes de l’enfer (the wings of hell) – the 1997 US film centres on a prison break aboard the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System aircraft, nicknamed ‘con air’, with ‘con’ the English abbreviation for convict (prisoner). Not having an exact French-language equivalent, the translators went for the frankly much more poetic ‘the wings of hell’.

Die HardPiège de cristal (The Crystal Trap) – Bruce Willis’s famously festive film gets a completely different name in French – and Spanish and Italian, come to that.

It gave French distributors a bit of a problem when the sequels came out, but they solved it by ignoring any links between the first film and those that followed completely. Die Hard 2: Die Harder translated to 58 Minutes Pour Vivre (58 Minutes to Live), while Die Hard with a Vengeance – which, in English, also pretty much glossed over Die Hard 2 for aesthetic reasons –  became Une journée en enfer (A Day in Hell)

The totally different 

TwilightLe saga du désir interdit (the story of forbidden desire) – Stephanie Meyer’s series of teen vampire romance novels, later turned into a film franchise, appeared in the English-speaking world with the series name ‘twilight’.

A French translation of this time of day of course exists (crépuscule) but instead French translators decided to spell out the theme of the series – forbidden desire. The books appeared in France under the titles of Fascination (fascination) Tentation (temptation) Hésitation (hesitation) Révélation (revelation) L’Appel du sang (the call of blood) and Midnight Sun.

The A TeamL’agence tous risques (the risk-all agency) – similarly with The A Team, French film distributors apparently decided that audiences needed to be clearly informed of the premise – a group of agents who would take on any mission, even the most risky.

Airplane!Y a-t-il un pilote dans l’avion? (Is there a pilot on the plane?) – they kept the name of the 1980 disaster movie spoof, surely? No, the French decided to rename that, too  … and don’t call me Shirley.

The improvements

No time to dieMourir peut attendre (death can wait) – if you didn’t know better you might assume that the cool, classy ‘death can wait’ was the original title of the latest James Bond film and ‘no time to die’ the awkward translation. In fact, it was the other way round.  

JawsLes dents de la mer (the sea’s teeth) – the title of the Spielberg movie in English just refers to the shark, but the title in French refers to both the shark itself and the greater sense of the unknown dangers of the deep. 

The weird and/or sexist  

Mean GirlsLolita malgré moi (Lolita despite myself) – French schoolgirls are mean, bitchy and cliquey too, so there are plenty of options in French for a near-literal translation of the title of high-school drama Mean Girls.

Instead the translator went for the fairly problematic option of ‘Lolita despite myself’ – by which we can assume he never read Nabakov’s classic novel (first published in France, incidentally) telling the story of the paedophile Humbert Humbert and his victim Lolita.

Little WomenLes 4 filles du docteur March (the four daughters of Dr March) – it’s a film (based on a book) entirely about the lives of women, the four March sisters and their mother. Dr March barely features (because he’s away fighting in the American Civil War) but that doesn’t stop the French version from deciding that it’s all about him.  

The inexplicably sexy ones 

Sometimes English language movie titles remain in English but with different titles – for example The Hangover in France is Very Bad Trip. But there is also a distinct trend to just add the word ‘sex’ or ‘sexy’ to an English language title to, well, sex it up a bit . . .

Not Another Scary Movie – Sex Academy 

Out Cold – Snow, Sex and Sun

Wild Things – Sex Crimes

Euro Trip – Sex Trip

The English titles for French films

With all the effort that goes into translating English titles into French, you might get a surprise when you start viewing something with an English title, only to find that it’s as French as a snail-filled baguette.

Family Business – the Netflix series about a Paris family who get drawn into international drug smuggling is smart, funny and completely French – it just has an English title.

LOL – although there is an American remake of the teen film LOL, the French version (starring Sophie Marceau) came first.

In France people use the acronym MDR (mort de rire or died laughing) in text speak, but the filmmakers obviously reckoned that the English acronym was well enough known for the title.

The film is entirely in French, with only a very brief foray into English when the characters go on a school trip to London (and experience rain and horrible food, naturally).

MILF – the American acronym MILF (Mom I’d like to F**k) really hit the mainstream thanks to the 2003 film American Pie and by 2018 French film-makers were confident that it was well enough known even in France to use as the title of a French movie.

The film depicts three older women who take a road trip to try and rediscover their youth and friendship – no prizes for guessing what they end up doing.

We asked our French friends if there is a French equivalent of MILF and no-one could suggest one. 


For all that French cinema distributors are happy to have the odd partially or wholly English title, strict language rules in French-speaking Canada mean that movies there often have completely different titles.

For example American Pie – released under its English name in France – became Folies de graduation (graduation madness) in Quebec, while Ghost also kept its original title in France but was released as Mon Fantôme d’amour (My ghost love) in Quebec.

. . . and the myth

There’s an urban legend that The Matrix appeared in France as Les jeunes qui traversent des dimensions en portant des lunettes de soleil (young people who travel in dimensions while wearing sunglasses) but in fact the film appeared in France as Matrix, although it was La Matrice in Quebec.