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French Immersion Advice Needed

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Apr 4th, 2011, 01:14 PM
  #1
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French Immersion Advice Needed

Hi All,

After 2 years of night classes I have finally decided to take the plunge and do an immersion course in France. Now i just need to pick which program! I have narrowed it down to the following three and would very much appreciate any advice/opinions on them!

CLE (Tours)
Coeur de France (Sancerre)
Millefeuille Provence

Here is my thinking: On the one hand, I do want to boost my french, especially my speaking and oral comprehension, so I want a program where I will be surrounded by French 24/7. (ie: Where the students are as serious about french immersion as the teachers are so we don't leave class and just switch back into english). On the other, this is my first trip to France ever, and I worry that a program like the MP, because their schedule has classes morning til night, keeps me on their compound - and for that I could just go to a super good immersion program in the US. I need to make my decision super fast (this week!) so, please don't hesitate to share any opinions!

Thanks,
Lena
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Apr 4th, 2011, 01:36 PM
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Trying to learn a foreign language in only a classroom setting clearly has disadvantages as you point out. If oral comprehension is your primary objective, tune in to one of the many French radio programs available on the internet. There are podcasts and audio instructional material of all types available for free to those who simply search them out.

Not knowing your age, language skill level, or where you live make suggesting solutions difficult. However, I know many people who speak very highly of this location:

http://www.institutdefrancais.com/

One of the best language schools available in France is in Tours (sorry, it´s not CLE):

http://www.institutdetouraine.com/en

The only other school I should consider is in Aix-en-Provence:

http://www.iefee.com/

The advantage to Tours and Aix-en-Provence is that these locations have a large university population meaning there are a good number of young French people you can meet and hopefully with whom you might develop friendships.

Still, if you really want to develop in French you will need to converse on a daily basis, with French people, not fellow language students. For that I strongly suggest you spend a week at one of the many UCPA camps located all through out France. These are operated by the French government and are all oriented towards outdoor activities. One week at UCPA is worth two months at a school:

www.ucpa.com
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Apr 4th, 2011, 02:09 PM
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I live in Tours and have only heard good things about the Institut de Touraine (don't know for CLE, sorry). Also the Tours region supposedly has the 'purest' form of French. To be honest, that claim makes me roll my eyes a bit - I don't speak the Queen's English, but I don't think that makes me any less 'pure'! However, I have lived in the South (Nice) and I found it instantly easier to understand people's accents here, so after only 2 years of night classes, you probably will too. I also find that it's much rarer for people to answer me back in French here than in some other parts of France.

I know some schools organise homestays, not sure if you would be into that, but it could be a good way to make sure you speak with real French people outside the classroom.

Sarastro - hadn't heard of the UCPA camps before. How bizarre that the government runs them, but I suppose that's France for you!
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Apr 4th, 2011, 03:03 PM
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I have attended both CLE and Coeur de France and whereas both had the same great teacher-student ratio, I found the program at CLE to be a much more serious approach to learning French. There were people at CLE from all over the world, with French being our common language. OTOH, when I was at Coeur de France everyone was an anglophone, and everyone I met there, including me, was studying for "enrichment" whereas at CLE many students were working hard to learn French for their employment.

Coeur de France was a pleasant sejour in a charming village, and I enjoyed my week there, but my two weeks in CLE was much more valuable in terms of improving my French. I did a homestay there and would recommend that.

Whereas Institut de Touraine may have a good reputation and is less expensive than CLE, the teacher-student ratio is not nearly as good as that of CLE, 7-1, and to me that is very important.

Good luck in making your decision; I'm sure it will be a good experience wherever you go. Any further questions about these two places, I will be glad to answer if I can be helpful.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 04:58 PM
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Hi All,
Wow - such quick responses. Thank you everyone!

The UCPA thing sounds fantastic, though possibly at slightly too high a level for me at the moment. (I am just about to finish advanced beginner.) I have bookmarked it and will definitely consider it next time around!

Grandmere - thanks for your comparison between CLE and Coeur. That was sort of the feeling I got based off the websites and it is nice to have it confirmed. I am now leaning toward CLE over Coeur. I have to admit, I am not sure about the homestay, though I know I really ought to! At CLE, did it seem like the school put real effort into placing the students in homestays that were appropriate? Did your classmates all like theirs generally? Also, at CLE, did the school or students themselves organize things to do on the weekends/ afternoons when there weren't classes or was everyone pretty much off to do their own thing?

Sarastro and Gwan - thanks for your recommendation of the Institut de Touraine. I had heard that it had a very strong program but had been originally scared off by the high student-teacher ration as grandmere alluded to. (I know that in my classes with 6 students I made more progress than in the classes with 12.) Possibly I should reconsider? Have you found/heard that student-teacher ratios have less of an impact on an immersion experience? (As in, it might be different in a classroom in the US when we do french twice a week versus in France where french is ostensibly all around us.) Looking at the website, it seems somewhat standard. Had you heard what it is that makes the Institut de Touraine so much better than most other schools? (Sorry, I know that kind of puts you on the spot a little.)

Finally, yes, I have also heard very good things about the Villefranche sur mer (Institut de Francais) program but my schedule is such (these days at least) that I always need to go sort of last minute and they have always had about 4-5 month waiting lists when I've asked. One day when I have a normal schedule I'll go there!

Again, thanks to all for your help (and if anyone else has an opinion, I don't book til Friday so please feel free to put your two sense in!)

Lena
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Apr 4th, 2011, 05:31 PM
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Lena, I studied at CLE several years ago, and while I was there, everyone I talked to really enjoyed his/her homestay. I think I heard some "hearsay" about someone who had been unhappy, but this is bound to happen from time to time. I was placed with a couple who were my age, but there was an 18 yr old staying there from Belgium. This couple had a lovely house, and they had renovated a building on the same property that probably had been a granary at one time. I had a very nice, modern room with sky light and private bath, as did the other bedroom in the building. The husband worked in Paris during the week, and "taking care" of students was the wife's job, so to speak, and she went out of her way to ensure that her paying guests had a good experience. We sat outside under cherry trees in the evening talking and sometimes played board games, etc., and I had to tear myself away to do my homework!

We were all off to do our own things in the afternoon, but there was an organized trip to the chateaux the middle Saturday afternoon I was there and dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant right before I came home. As soon as I entered the class, I was invited to have lunch each day with my classmates, and everyone was very welcoming. I went to the movies one night with my class members, also. Alliances formed along skill-level lines; in other words, people hung out mostly with members of their own class, regardless of age. Except for one person around my age, I was the oldest in my class by many years but that made not one bit of difference in my feeling accepted. You will be kept busy by homework and as busy as you want to be socializing, IME.

I really have nothing but good things to say about my little 2 week stay at CLE.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 06:01 PM
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I should point out that UCPA is NOT a language school and it is doubtful that anyone there will speak much if any English which is why it is such a great place to advance your language skills. It was explained to me by some French friends that the government, after a particularly poor performance at one of the Olympic games many years ago, decided to encourage France´s young people to become more involved in sports and physical development.

Hence UCPA offers camps in many subjects involving sports and are opened to anyone interested, understanding that those attending should be able to converse in French at some level. The camps are very inexpensive from 300€ per week depending upon subject or theme followed. Foreigners can kill two birds with one stone so to speak: have a great time improving one´s skills in a sport and really become immersed in the language.
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Apr 5th, 2011, 12:30 AM
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Lena - I think l'Institut de Touraine's reputation is just based on the quality of the teaching, rather than the class size or extramural activities per se. That said, I think I've only heard opinions from French people on it, rather than people who have studied there!!

I've never done an immersion programme (unless you count living here ha ha), so I can't really comment too much on that, but of course student-teacher ratio is generally pretty important.

Villefranche sur mer is a very beautiful place, but again, touristy. I had a lot of trouble connecting with French people when I lived in Nice (7 months). A lot of it was due to my different living and working situation, but still, I find it a lot easier to chat with people here while I'm out and about.

They will probably tell you this if you do a course in Tours, but there is the 'Café des Langues' on a Monday night, which is basically a language exchange night in a bar. The tricky part will be not speaking English, as of course there are a lot of French people there who are keen to speak with a native!

If you do decide to come to Tours, feel free to drop me a private message, presuming you can do private messages here (?) if you want to ask any other questions about the area or to grab a drink some time. Je parlerai français, promis! I'd rather not give out my email address, but you could alternatively contact me via couchsurfing - gwan57.
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Apr 5th, 2011, 09:28 AM
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Hello Lenalee - I can't offer you any first-hand advice on either school, yet, but I am headed to Coeur de France this summer (in less than two months!) and will be posting about the school after that. A friend of mine will be attending CLE in Tours at almost the same time, so I'll know a little bit about that school, too.

My friend and I choose our schools for completely different reasons - I wanted a vacation/language experience and she wanted intense language instruction. We are both at the advanced level of French - she has been studying for several years and has taken advanced level college classes, and I am one French class away from finishing a B.A. in French.

The thing about Coeur de France that attracted me was the setting. From the video, it appears that the entire village of Sancerre participates in the learning process, and I liked the idea of being able to speak French with "everyday" people vs. classroom instructors. My last "hump" before becoming what I consider fluent is comprehension, and this is what I hope to improve in Sancerre.

Although there may be many English speaking students at the school, my goal is to only speak French during my two weeks in Sancerre. I'm going alone without my family in order to accomplish this.

I also have to confess that white Sancerre is my favorite French wine, so I am looking forward to doing a little wine tasting while at Coeur de France - this may have somewhat influenced my decision

Whichever school you do choose, please post a review after your return. I'm going to be going back to France next year to study and plan on trying a different school.
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Apr 5th, 2011, 05:02 PM
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dlejhunt - you hit the nail on the head regarding the differences between CLE and Coeur (vacation/ language experience vs. intense study). Now I just need to figure out which I want. Either way, I certainly will post a report after I attend.

Gwan - What a kind offer! Thank you! If I choose Tours I will definitely take you up on that.
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Jul 17th, 2011, 08:08 PM
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Anyone back from language schools with reports? I'd love to hear about everyone's experiences.

As an aside, I am hearing good things about a school in Hyeres, called ELFCA. Three members of my French class here in Pgh. have been there this summer, all doing homestays.
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Jul 20th, 2011, 11:39 PM
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Grandmere - As requested, my review of Coeur de France:

I chose to attend Coeur de France with the hope that two weeks of immersion into the language and the culture of France would move me from my textbook French towards "real" French - that is, the level of French that would allow me to actually communicate in the language. My studies at Coeur de France gave me exactly what I was looking for. I was part of the Advanced class and really enjoyed my time at the school. My fellow students were wonderful; I met so many nice people. My professor, Valérie, was one of the best French instructors I have had. She not only taught us the intricacies of the language (je n'ai plus peur du subjonctif!) but also showed us how to speak and understand the language that the French use in their everyday lives. Coeur de France's lessons take place in the school's classrooms and they continue in the surrounding village - the Sancerrois are incredibly friendly and helpful to the school's students. After two weeks of speaking only French I even began to dream in French - incroyable!

After leaving the school I spent six days in Paris. As I walked the streets of the city I found myself overhearing French conversations and for the first time, understanding what people were saying! It was almost as if I had gained a new superpower - I was now "French Speaking/Understanding Woman". I had conversations in French with taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and people on the streets of Paris. I was even stopped a couple of times by French tourists who asked me for directions, which I was able to give in French. A whole new world opened to me, and I attribute this to the time I spent at Coeur de France.

I only found one small fault with my experience, that is, that Sancerre is a very small town and conveniences can be somewhat limited. I became very ill during my second week at the school and found it difficult to see the doctor since there is only one, and she works only certain days/hours. There are several small grocery stores in the town but their hours and their stock are limited, too. The big grocery store is quite a hike down the hill - it's not so bad on the way down, but somewhat difficult on the way up with a bag full of provisions. All of this would not be a problem if one has a car - so next time I attend the school I will be driving from Paris rather than taking the train. My issues are in no way the fault of the school, though, and in fact, the staff went out of their way to help me during my illness.

All in all, the school is a great value - the accomodations are spacious and comfortable and the instruction is top notch. Gerard and Marianne, the owners, are incredibly charming and welcoming to the students. The professors are amazing and the town of Sancerre quaint and friendly. I would highly recommend Coeur de France to all levels of French students. I loved my time there and hope to return soon.
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Jul 21st, 2011, 08:01 AM
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Thanks for reporting back!!!
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Aug 4th, 2011, 11:49 PM
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Hi All,

Thanks to everyone for their advice. I had a lovely time at CLE and as promised, here is my trip report:

Overall I was very pleased with CLE. Before I went, I was absolutely terrified about the prospect of staying with a host family, since I tend to be a more private person. CLE picked this great family for me to stay with, whom I absolutely adored. They took me to meet other family members during a holiday, constantly talked to me (only in French - they just slowly and patiently kept talking until I understood, it was great!), took me to street markets every Saturday, etc. They went out of their way to really engage with me and make me feel a part of French life.

I also felt the quality of the teachers was quite high. They really planned out lessons and taught well, which I appreciated as I think it really helped structure my learning. I think my writing and oral comprehension progressed a fair bit from this fact alone.

Moreover, Tours was a great place to spend a few weeks. Small enough to be comfortable for a first time visitor to France, but not so small that there was nothing to do. Tours had great train/bus linkages for those without cars and that made it really easy to explore on your own. Also, everyone was really friendly. I never had a problem with people giving me the cold shoulder because I was foreign (and had a rather atrocious accent). All the French people I met in stores, on the street, on trains etc. went out of their way to be helpful.

The one downside to the school was that some of the other students tended to be a little clannish. Not that there was anything the school could do about it, so I hesitate to say it was a fault with the school, but when I arrived there were two different large groups of students doing long stay programs who tended to associate mostly with each other and speak their own native language to each other when not in class. Not only was it occasionally quite distracting to have to hear English all around the school when I was working so hard to try and get myself thinking in French, it also made it a bit lonely at times. The school was fantastic about putting together activities and programs, but required that a minimum number of people signed up. These students never did, and at times during my stay, there were relatively few other students besides the two big groups. Again, this really isn’t the fault of the school. They made every effort to encourage after school activities in French and trips through the region.

Overall, the school is well run with friendly teachers and host families, in a charming town. Before I went, I truly didn’t believe that I would actually ever really communicate in French, but by the time I left, I was doing so. I don’t hesitate to recommend the school.

(Btw, Gwan, I did try looking you up on couchsurfing but couldn’t seem to find you. Technology just doesn’t like me sometimes. Anyway, sorry for not getting in contact.)
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Aug 7th, 2011, 10:05 AM
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Lenalee and Dlejhunt, thanks for reporting back; I'm sorry to be so late in responding to your reports.

Dlejhunt,
It sounds as though your time at Coeur de France was a great experience for you. Valerie was a teacher when I attended C de F, and she had an excellent reputation. I think if I had had her or Beth, I might have had a better learning experience. My teacher was very knowledgeable, etc., but talked too much and did not give us a lot of opportunities to speak even though it was an Intermediate/Advanced class with only 5 students. When I looked online it appears that there are fewer teachers than in 2007. That's too bad that you became ill and had trouble finding a doctor; I guess charming villages have their downsides! But you give a glowing report of C de F, and it's good to hear that.

Lenalee,
It sounds that you, too, had a good learning experience at CLE and with your host family. That's unfortunate that there were large groups of students there who did not venture from the comfort of people they knew. I wonder if CLE tends to have these types of groups these days? As I mentioned it was several years ago that I attended CLE, and as a middle-aged woman I was so impressed at how readily I was accepted into the group, which was based on language ability rather than age or nationality. I traveled to Tours with a friend, but we had different homestays and b/c we were in different classes, we rarely saw each other during the 2 weeks other than to say, "Bonjour". The friendliness of the students was a real plus for me.

In general, it seems that you both had positive experiences, and I do appreciate your telling us about them.
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Aug 7th, 2011, 01:50 PM
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For any future readers about Fench Immedrsion courses, I'd like to tell you about my experience, though it's now been a few years. I first considered going outside of Paris, but finally decided on the American University in Paris because of the museums and cultural events I could enjoy when not in class. It proved to be a great decision.
I had a great family stay, though at least 1/3 of the students had complaints about their hosts and in some cases switched homes. I was fortunate enough to be in Paris 2 months before my stay, and the school arranged for me to meet the family. I wanted a home where there would not be numerous American students, so that I could speak only French and because I was much older than the college students. The family always spend a short time with me when I returned at the end of the day, usually as we were in the kitchen cooking our separate meals. Very nice, yet allowing my independence.
As in most schools, we were tested the first morning and told what level classes we should take. Half the students were college age, half were older adults. We all got along very well, even had dinners with mixed ages. We all had a general class in the morning according to level, then had ooptional classes in the afternoon. Lunch in the cafeteria always had a teacher at each table, ensuring we'd speak French. One class was conversation and met twice a week after lunch. A fabulous class was taught by an architectural historian, who took us on twice weekly walks of different Paris neighborhoods. That was the best class--seeing new areas, or with a new set of eyes, trying to listen to French in the middle of the street was a challenge in itself. On Friday afternoons our morning teacher took us somewhere--to visit inside the Poulaine bakery, visit a violin maker in his studio, ride the Bateau Mouche. It was an incredible 3 weeks. Like someone said above, you start eavesdropping on French conversations around you. My French really developed in those 3 weeks.
In my limited spare time during the week, I would rush off to various museums, attended ballet and theater with student discounted tickets, and on week-ends made day trips on the train. My landlady allowed me to cook for myself, so I stopped at the market by the school and brought home gorgeous vegetables to saute, roasted chicken, etc.
A most memorable experience.
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Jan 6th, 2013, 10:06 PM
  #17
 
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Hi All

I have read through this thread and others on French immersion and just wanted to bring the thread back to life in the hope of hearing more first hand reports, particularly recent ones.

Merci Beaucoup!
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Jan 6th, 2013, 10:17 PM
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Hi Bwino, I'm on the thread trolling for advice for this summer's Paris trip, but I have a friend who is headed to France for more study this year and will ask her to post about where she is going and why. I am plotting right now my return trip to Coeur de France, probably in the Spring of 2014.
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Feb 9th, 2013, 09:11 AM
  #19
MNV
 
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Hi !! I'm thinking of attending either CLE or Institut de Touraine .. We're 4-6 ppl and have no problem being the student ration 15:1 coz u get to meet new ppl and discuss new stuff !! So CLE or Touraine ??
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Feb 9th, 2013, 09:20 AM
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Bookmarking this very helpful information for, hopefully, future reference!
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