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LEARNING FRENCH

How to find affordable language classes in France

Language classes can be expensive so if you're seeking to learn French or just improve your language skills, here are some of the free or affordable classes on offer.

How to find affordable language classes in France
Learning French conjugation in school at Ile d'Arz, in western France (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

Learning French can be a daunting experience, especially if you move to the country with minimal language skills. Perhaps you thought that it would be easier once you got here, but your social circle seems to be filled with fellow English speakers and no one to practice your French with.

Maybe you are thinking of going for French citizenship and you need to get your French up to scratch (this might be the case for those seeking permanent residency too, soon).

Regardless of your reasons, language courses are notoriously expensive, so we’ve put together a list of options that won’t break the bank.

Compte Formation Professionnelle (Mon CPF)

All employees in France get an annual ‘training budget’ of up to €800 that you can spend on developing your professional skills – and if you’re foreign you can use that budget for language classes.

You first need to register on the Mon Compte Formation app or website, using your social security number and then once you have worked a full year in France you become eligible for the budget.

Search Français Langue Etrangère (FLE) in the site to find courses near you – the training is run by local language schools and so inevitably you will find more of a choice if you live in the city.

Find full details of exactly how to sign up HERE.

One thing to note – unfortunately the CPF scheme name is often used by scammers, if you get phone calls or text messages offering to unlock your account it’s better to ignore them and just head directly to the government website or app.

The Office for Integration and Immigration (OFII)

The Office for Integration and Immigration is a compulsory stop for many people living in France, and if your French is very basic/non-existent they can order you to attend classes.

But as well as the compulsory beginner-level classes, the OFII also offers voluntary classes at higher levels. 

Offering language courses of 50 to 600 hours depending on the needs and level of the person concerned, the OFII seeks to ensure that anyone seeking a long-stay residency permit in France can at least speak, read, and understand basic French.

The standard course is aimed at the A1 level, though they also offer courses for A2 and B1. The classes are provided by “AFCI and its co-contractors” and are held “during the day, evening or weekend.”

If you are on a long-stay residency permit you have likely either already finished your half-day reception at the OFII or you have it coming up. During the reception, the OFII representative will determine whether your French rises to A1 level or not, and if it does not reach that threshold then they may prescribe you French training courses. While OFII’s goal is to help those at or below A1 level, you can always reach out regarding options for A2 and B1 as well.

Your local town hall

The town hall (mairie) is responsible for many things in France. If you are new to the country, it might actually be one of the best places to visit first.

Your town hall is a great resource for finding recommendations for services, organisations, and activities, especially if you live in a more rural area. Any many mairies also offer heavily discounted language classes.

In Paris the mairie offers ‘Cours d’Adultes de Paris‘ in everything from sewing classes to lessons in Excel, but there are around 300 classes in Français langue étrangère. The modules are between 20 and 180 hours and are adapted by level and ability.

The courses are usually held in school buildings throughout Paris.

If you live outside of Paris, you can contact your local mairie to ask what they recommend in regards to subsidised language courses. They will likely be able to point you towards NGOs operating in the area that hold classes.

For parents of schoolchildren 

If you have children in the French public school system, but France is not your native language and you want to improve, then there is a specific programme just for you.

Ouvrir l’école aux parents pour la réussite des enfants” (Opening schools to parents for the success of students) is a government scheme from the Ministry of Education aimed at helping parents integrate in order to better support their children’s schooling. 

OEPRE allows parents of non-French children in the school system to take between 60 and 120 hours of French classes over the course of a year (about four hours per week) with the goal of improving their French and better understanding the school system. The lessons are free and are offered to groups of approximately 8 to 15 people. 

You can learn more HERE

Pôle d’Emploi

This is the French government organisation that helps job-seekers find potential professional opportunities. It also offers formations (courses) to help those seeking work keep their skills sharp, including free language classes for those who are not French natives.

You first need to be registered with Pôle emploi as a job-seeker, which usually means you have already been working in France. 

If you are a registered job-seeker you can then create an account on the Pôle emploi website, head to ‘Trouver ma formation’ and search “Français Langue Étrangère” to see what courses are available.

Université pour Tous

The ‘university for all’ programme is about offering further education to adults, but unlike the UK’s Open University it’s not all at degree level and many offer beginner and intermediate French classes for foreigners.

It’s organised on a local level so you will need to find the Université pour Tous website for your département and then search the courses – prices and courses on offer vary according to location. 

Language exchange

As a native speaker of English you have a valuable skill to offer and ‘language exchange’ options are a great way to get free or reduced price tutoring.

As the name suggests, you chat with a French speaker and they help you and correct your errors and in exchange you do the same for their English.

There are numerous groups who offer this, so search online. Most are either free or charge a reduced price. You generally need to be able to chat at some level so they’re not ideal for complete beginners but are a good way to improve your fluency once you have the basics.

The social network “Meetup” is a great resource for finding pre-existing language groups in your area, or virtually if you prefer. This website might favour those who live in large cities, but you might be surprised to find options in small towns as well. Plus, if something does not exist yet, you can always create it.

Facebook groups are also another great way to find likeminded people who are seeking cultural and linguistic exchange. Groups like ‘BlaBla (insert your city)’ can help connect you to conversation groups. 

Online groups

During the pandemic many language classes moved online, and plenty of them have stayed there, giving more options to people who live outside the cities or bigger towns.

If you are looking to practice your French solely online, some websites like Polyglot Club offer free choices for users to interact and practice their language skills.

Conversation workshops at libraries 

In Paris, both the BPI and BNF, as well as at least 15 other municipal libraries, offer one hour to one hour and a half language exchanges that are led by library staff and/or volunteers.

You can learn more at the Paris library website

Outside the capital, some libraries also offer conversation groups, so ask your local library if they have something similar.

Bon courage

Member comments

  1. You didn’t mention the UPE (Université populaire européenne) which offers a wide range of language classes including various levels of French. The academic year runs from end September to end May and the price is very reasonable. Lots of other classes ranging from gym and yoga to art are also on offer.

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FILM

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. 

Canada

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. 

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