Do you need to learn French in order to live in Paris?
Nope. Nope. Nope, but let me tell you why you should. I speak French at a conversational level and hardly used it. I did this by either not talking to people, or somehow being approached by 80% of the English speaking people in Paris. Now, I will say that speaking French does open up a lot more spaces for you and allows you to feel more comfortable in the country. You will get a more immersive experience the more French that you do speak. But, like I was saying it is not necessary to enjoy your trip especially if it’s a short one.
I say this because during a long-stay trip like I was doing when I studied abroad, you have a lot more time to explore and really get to know the city. Knowing the language can smooth out this exploration process and allow you to more easily make friends. Making friends in a new place can give you an instant tour guide who can weed out all of the places you don’t want to visit while dragging you to the places you should see. But, remember, just because there are people who speak English in Paris, doesn’t mean that they are fluent or familiar with any common phrases (idioms) or slang in English, which varies greatly depending on which form of English you speak. Bridge the gap. Meet other people halfway. If you put in the effort to try speaking French, there will always be people who will step forward to help you, and, this extra practice will help you increase your fluency. (If that is something you want to do, of course.)
According to some of the people I met while I was in Paris, they are taught English in many of their schools. In addition to that, many American TV shows and movies are very popular across the world and are not always available dubbed in other languages. And so, lots of the English-speaking people in Paris, are somewhat bilingual. They do say practice makes perfect. So if you are looking to become more fluent in French before your trip or move to France or any other French-speaking place, you can try the TV and movie watching too. Naturally, this goes for any language you may be trying to learn. I only focus on French because it’s the one I’m most familiar with.
Reading is fundamental.
Another thing that helps me increase my fluency is reading books in French. It is easier to start off with stories you are already familiar with because you already know what is happening in the story and that will help you figure out new vocabulary words, tenses, and grammar that you may not already be familiar with. This will also give you the ability to pick up slang and other common phrases, including idioms that do not seem to be drilled into your heads during language classes, which was my experience while taking my own French classes.
There will also be a lot of signs all written in French to give you a daily vocabulary quiz. Other things you can do to increase your vocabulary bank include going to the grocery store, going shopping (department stores, malls, thrifting, book stores), and trying a lot of different restaurants. Since you’ll be able to put your eyes on an image and immediately associate it with a word, it does seem to help you study the language in small, everyday ways. Though I hate to suggest it because I got tired of it myself, going to art museums is another way to add a lot of new vocabulary words to your language skills. You know the little plaques and stands with the descriptions? There are going to be a lot of new words (and for people who have previously studied French, a lot of familiar ones too). What is great about this is that you have the painting, sculpture, or drawing right there to help you through the description, and as you see words repeated from description to description, you’ll pick them up a lot faster and remember them better.
You’re never too old to go back to school.
There’s also the option of taking French Classes after you get to France, and that way, you can find a bilingual teacher with the capabilities of explaining French grammar to you in detail. You could also enlist one of your newly found friends or if you’re already traveling with someone, practice together. The more you speak, the faster your recall will become and the more comfortable you will be with the language.
I encourage you to make the effort to learn French at at least a basic level. Not speaking the language can be an isolating feeling and that is something to be avoided if you plan on making Paris your longterm home. Even with my moderate-level of French-speaking, I often spent a lot of time by myself when I was out in public. Of course, there is nothing wrong with spending time alone, but, it would’ve been a much different trip if I’d been more comfortable with the language.
Before I go back, I’d definitely like to increase my fluency even more so that I feel a lot more comfortable attempting friendships with native French-speakers. There is something a little heart-warming to find new people who are willing to help you learn and support your journey as you learn such a complex and challenging new skill.
To wrap-up: no, you do not need to speak French to visit or move to Paris, but just like moving or visiting any place, speaking the language give you a deeper, more immersive experience that will make your efforts worthwhile but also building your resume.
Join the List
Ikki Hibiki is a wonderful, online place where I will share travel advice and my travel adventures. Sign up to get new travel tips on places you should go, things you should do, and ways to save money while doing what you love.