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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

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. 
 
Paperwork
 
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. 
For members

LEARNING FRENCH

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in France, or take down the address of a website, and there is some specialist vocabulary that you will need.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 

Punctuation

Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com – and if the website is a government site such as the tax office it will end with .gouv.fr (pwan goov pwan eff eyre).

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas hotmail pwan eff eyre 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway;

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 

Numbers

If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 06 12 34 56 78, in French you would say zero six, douze, trente-quatre, cinqante-six, soixante-dix- huit (zero six, twelve, thirty four, fifty six, seventy eight, rather than one, two, three, four etc)

Mobile numbers in France all begin with 06 and ‘zero six‘ is a slangy way of talking about your phone number.

Donne-moi ton zero six pour qu’on puisse se capter parfois. – Give me your number so that we can hang out sometime.

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in France too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in France and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aime (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the Academie française can think up a French alternative.

There’s also the phenomenon of English terms being mildly ‘Frenchified’ such as having a slightly different pronunciation or being adapted to sound more French, such as the below UberEats advert, which uses the words ‘swiper, matcher, dater’ – not really correct French but clearly instantly understandable to the young demographic that the advert is aimed at. 

Photo: The Local

READ ALSO Why do French adverts love to use English words?

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