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French course - which city?

Old Oct 24th, 2006, 08:06 PM
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French course - which city?

My wife and I plan to visit France next year, probably May, and would like to do a French language course through Alliance Francaise. We've never been to France and our problem at the moment is not knowing which city to choose. The choices are Montpellier, Bordeaux, Nice, Toulouse, Lyon, Strasbourg, or Rouen. We're in our 60s, so not looking for wild nightlife, something more sedate! From my reading so far Lyon has appeal. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Adelaide99 is offline  
Old Oct 25th, 2006, 12:17 AM
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Much depends on your tastes, and to the side trips you'll probably be doing. Also check the location (central or not so much) of the AF in each city. All are interesting, if different cities.

Lyon is by far the largest one, which has its good and bad sides. Lyon is a mere two hours from Paris, has many fine art museums, good shopping, is famous for its gastronomy. Some of the local terrain is hilly. It's also good for excursions to the Alps or to Provence.

Strasbourg has a lot of character, interesting architecture, a beautiful cathedral, and a nice pedestrian district. You can visit parts of Germany from there.

Bordeaux, Toulouse, Montpellier, Nice are each in its own way southern cities, again with good and bad sides.

Montpellier is an old university town, with a student atmosphere.

Nice is a more ritzy, more tourism-oriented location, and of course it's on the Med and the "capital" of the French riviera.

Montpellier is very close to (rather unremarkable) local Med beaches. Bordeaux is 30-45 minutes away from largely undevelopped Atlantic Ocean beaches. Bordeaux has an interesting 18th century architecture, but is quite spread out. Deservingly or not, local people have the reputation of being a bit reserved (its the "north of the south", as they say). Of course all the famous wine chateaux are nearby.

Rouen will have the more "northern" feel with a great cathedral, a few streets of character, and possibly the dampest weather. It's a good location if you are interested in Normandy, trips to the landing beaches, to Etretat and Dieppe with their chalk cliffs, to Paris, the Norman abbeys. It has a more working-class feel, and, the city having been heavily bombed in WWII, some areas have that distinctive "post war recontruction" style.

However I have never lived in any of these cities, with the exception of Nice. Keep researching on their respective websites to make up your own mind.

Some people on this forum may have an experience of the AF in these cities.

Trudaine is offline  
Old Oct 25th, 2006, 12:51 AM
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I've only been to Montpellier, Lyon, Nice, and Toulouse. Montpellier and Toulouse have lots of charm and are not too big. Lyon is beautiful, but with more of a big city feel. I don't like Nice too much, but of course you have the sea...
Eric_S is offline  
Old Oct 25th, 2006, 06:47 AM
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I spent two weeks at Centre pour Linguistique Etrangers in Tours several years ago. It was a good experience, and Tours is a very manageable city, and a good place from which to tour the chateau region. The school limits the class size to 7. Tours is an easy less-than-two-hours train ride on TGV from Paris.

I'm interested in looking into the program at Coeur de France in Sancerre, which would probably be considered to be a very small town or perhaps village, known for its white wine.

Whoops, I just now see that you want to go through the Alliance; my info is about private schools; worth a look, perhaps,b/c of small teacher/student ratio.
grandmere is offline  
Old Oct 25th, 2006, 07:52 AM
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Without passing judgment on the cities, which to me all have their good points, in May for guaranteeably good weather avoid Rouen and Strasbourgh as it could be cool and rainy or could be bright and sunny but in the south you will have great weather.
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Old Oct 25th, 2006, 04:31 PM
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Thank you all for your advice. Much appreciated. We've almost decided on Lyon because of its proximity to Provence... and the weather!
Adelaide99 is offline  
Old Oct 25th, 2006, 06:31 PM
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I once spent two weeks in Lyon...and loved every minute of it!

Gorgeous setting - where two rushing rivers come together -- the funicular up to the famous shrine...the troboules - mysterious passageways in the Veille Ville, the beautiful park on the south bank of the Rhone...the magnificent main square...pedestrian shopping streets...

and great transport hub - hop trains to Avignon, Arles, Aix-en-Provence in about an hour or so or even to Geneva in a few hours or Paris in under two hours - Burgundy and its wondrous vineyards and tranquilizing hilly pastoral countryside just a short rail or car ride away - or Grenoble and the Alps!

Bon Voyage!
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Old Oct 25th, 2006, 06:55 PM
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I don't know how set you are on the Alliance Francaise, but last summer my husband and I spent a week at the Ecole des Trois Ponts at Roanne-- about 45 minutes from Lyon, and it was fabulous!

I'm hoping to go back again next summer- preferably for 2 weeks. It was really a wonderful experience. We're in our 50's, and felt right at home-- there was a broad range of ages.

Here's the website:

They also have cooking classes, which my husband did, and he loved it.

Here's the link to my trip report:
marcy_ is offline  
Old Oct 25th, 2006, 07:22 PM
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I have attended the Alliance Française in Paris twice, the last time about 20 years ago when I was in my 40s. I had the wild nightlife for a few months and learned some French.

If I was to do this again I would probably choose Lyon, maybe Montpellier. The reason is that the Paris school attracts young people from all over the world, some of whom cannot control themselves in class, much less at night. I should know because I threw my share of parties, and I was the oldest in the class.

Like the USA, people speak slower in the south of France. Thus, if I gather correctly you hardly know any French, it will be easier to learn some French in Lyon or Montpellier. Lyon is much bigger but if you want to really focus I would take Montpellier. I like both cities. Avoid the border and tourist cities. Trudaine gave an excellent synopsis of all of your candidates.

Assuming that you really want to learn some French, have patience. Stick with it and don't crap out. Find a tutor outside the classroom. Bring tape recorders so you can hear your attempts over and over. AF has language labs but your own recorders will come in handy for homework. Plan on spending AT LEAST two months in the intensive course. That is four hours a day in class. Never speak English unless your life depends on it. When you attempt French pretend you are an actor mimicking that silly accent, eating the last consonants and speaking through your nose.

Watch "French Kiss" with Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan before you go. When you are there go to every dubbed American movie with English subtitles that you can find.

May is the most beautiful month in France, and is devoid of visitors. My AF class in May had 10 students. On June 1 we suddenly had about 40 in the room. The girl from Spain was irate that all "those #%^&$#@" had taken over our class and teacher.

Wherever you go you will love it.
hopscotch is offline  
Old Oct 26th, 2006, 04:01 AM
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Why are you restricting your choice of school to Alliance Francaise? They are well-known throughout the world, but are not necessarily the best school in France. My husband and I have been quite "underwhelmed" by the Paris branch, which I have heard others characterise as an "usine" (factory). I suspect, however, that some of the AFs in other cities are better.

You might find this thread (Tips for getting the most out of your French language vacation), which I posted on the Educational Travel Forum, useful:

As for specific towns, I can recommend Strasbourg (the city) and the school I attended (CIEL de Strasbourg); Bordeaux (the city, but didn't take French there - although I'm interested in BLS and the opportunity to take French and wine appreciation); and Rouen (the city - spent Bastille Day there, but it might be a little cool in May). I'd recommend against Nice - it's chock-full of tourists (not ideal for a French language sojourn) and is very expensive.

You might also look into some smaller, residential schools, like Millefeuille de Provence and L'Ecole des Trois Ponts. They are more expensive, but class size is small and the environment is conducive to complete immersion. There are some threads on the Europe board about these schools. See, e.g.
Kate_W is offline  
Old Oct 26th, 2006, 04:15 AM
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Montpellier, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, or Rouen.

These are the nicest of those cities but it may depend on what else you want to do, Rouen is wet northern city of great historic interest and lots of local village.

Bordeaux is surrounded by one of the fiest vineyards in the world.

Now for me there is no choice
bilboburgler is offline  
Old Oct 26th, 2006, 04:50 AM
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Bonjour Adelaïde,

you've received exellent advices and descriptions of cities, I've only a few things to add: wherever you're going, you'll meet well meaning French people (like me) who will want to speak English with you, supposedly to help you. One of the first French phrase you shoud therefore learn is "Merci, mais je suis venue ici pour apprendre le français, pas pour parler ma langue maternelle ...) ";

("thanks, but I'm here to learn French, not to speak my own language" - said with a broad smile)
Florence is offline  
Old Oct 26th, 2006, 06:42 AM
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If the language and daily interaction with locals really matters in all this, be advised that the south has a range of distinct accents, culminating in Marseille - don't know if that matters to you, but if you pick it up while learning what you think is "pure" French, you should at least be aware of it.
WallyKringen is offline  
Old Oct 26th, 2006, 08:12 AM
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I would merely echo Kate's comment/query regarding your educational plan. I've attended two week-long programs in France, and have discovered a fair amount here and elsewhere about different programs. I can say that I would prefer either model that I attended over my own local Alliance Francaise model, just given the level of engagement and the tone of the respective programs. I would also advise you to take a bit more time and review some of these other possibilities--provided you want to do the research. In any event, it's a lovely idea, the time of year is ideal, so all that's to the good! If you stick with the Alliance Francaise, I might well go with Lyon for gastronomic reasons! It's a great center for cooking and dining. If you rent a car, you could perhaps drive up for a day to Vonnas, France to dine at one of George Blanc's restaurants. Superbe!
letour is offline  
Old Oct 27th, 2006, 05:07 PM
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Thank you everyone for your excellent advice. Your tips and links are most helpful. We'll certainly continue our research before we go - not just about language courses, but every place we hope to visit. The excitement is building!
Adelaide99 is offline  
Old Oct 27th, 2006, 05:24 PM
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Hello Adelaide,

Last summer, my husband and I (we are in our 50's) spent one month in Montpellier studying French. We LOVED the small city atmosphere of Montpellier. We were in Montpellier during the summer and there were free concerts (classical, jazz) being held almost every night of the week. We also spent a lovely evening at the Opera house.

The people were very friendly and the locals, who are used to students in this university town, were very patient with our attempts at speaking French.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover how beautiful the city is (like a small-time Paris). Montpellier also has lots to offer in terms of day trips including Nimes and Arles. We especially enjoyed trips to lesser known Aigues Mortes and Lodeve with our French hostess.

Will you be staying with a French family or in an apartment? We had an unforgettable stay with a French woman, but Montpellier also has lots of apartments.

France is a fabulous country -- I am sure you will have a grand experience no matter which city you choose.

Reenie is offline  
Old Oct 28th, 2006, 12:50 AM
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Thanks Reenie. Yes, we intend staying with a French family. Can I ask which course you did in Montpellier?
Adelaide99 is offline  
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