I'm thinking about moving to France, but can't speak french

I’m new to the group.
I’m thinking about moving to France and buy a house to retire, but can’t speak french. How difficult would it be? Regarding the state paperwork and finding a translator, and anything else that might be a problem-

It depends very much upon where you plan to move to. In many areas English is spoken in many key places and/or it’s straightforward to find people who are in business to help or translate while in other locations you might find that you’re very much on your own. Which area were you thinking of?

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May one ask if you are married or live with a partner who speaks a little French? That could be a great help. However, if not, then you may need to consider carefully, because you may be hugely frustrated when you have to deal with French bureaucracy,which can be a REAL PAIN if you cannot understand French. I taught French for a living for many years, but when I moved over to Brittany I was really struggling to make myself understood, and were it not for a Twinning friend who is French to help me out I would have been in great difficulty. France has a lot to offer in terms of scenery, food, and history, things that one can enjoy when on holiday; but if you choose to LIVE in France permanently, you have a steep learning curve to follow just to survive. That is a worst-case scenario, of course. But one thing: if you make that first vital step when meeting a French person by trying out a couple of French words, such as “Comment ça va?” you will have made the first step in having a friend for life! But you MUST make the first move!
Good luck to you; but you are best advised to reconsider if you can’t speak basic French. The most common thing I hear from other expats in France is “But they always speak so damned fast!” But then I hear the same from my French friends too…It is only recently, having lived in France for 15 years now, that I can more or less hold my own on the telephone with a stranger, or know what to say to a cold-caller on the phone, me, having taught the language for many years!!


Hi David,
I was thinking of somewhere around Limousin. Hopefully somewhere that does not get too much rain.

Hi Richard, thanks for taking the time to send such a long reply.
I am not very good at languages, I have lived in Germany for the last 9 years, and would not have made it without my late wife, who was German. But I’m pretty independent and am good at “Charades”. I’m a bit worried about getting official letters that I can’t understand and need translated.

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What does that mean?

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There are some thriving expat communities throughout the Limousin so you should find help close to hand. In fact that will be easier than finding a location where it doesn’t rain a fair bit. Beautiful green countryside though. The point made about having basic French is important, it not only allows you to communicate but enables you to get far more out of your life in France. Sites like this are a good way to find English speaking insurance agents and financial advisors etc who can make your settling in period less stressful.

I am quite willing to learn french, but would expect that to take a couple of years, just to get the basics, It’s the first couple years that I’m concerned about and problems that I have not thought about, that might crop up.

Seriously - and you’re online?

Hi John…

May I ask what is prompting you to move to France ??

Not an idle question, since you clearly say that you would not have survived in Germany without your late wife … due to your language skills (or lack of).

Charades are an excellent way of getting the message across… we often laugh at ourselves, when we recall the lengths to which we had to go in the early years… but…it is not suitable in all situations…and you will need to be able to converse (albeit it simply) with neighbours etc…after a while.

“Comment ça va?” or “ça va?” = how are you… the formal version is “Comment allez-vous?” … and the reply is “ça va” which means whatever you want it to mean, depending on your tone and facial expression (or charades)

I know 2 words in patois… only 2 words (patois for “ça va” no idea how it is spelt), but when I use them folk smile happily…then they rattle back to me in patois and I have to shrug my shoulders… grin widely… and admit defeat… an excellent way of breaking the ice and making new friends. :wink:

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You can always get help with documents, bureaucracy etc, there are plenty of expats who make a living solely from providing that kind of service. For me the questions would be, firstly would you feel OK at being reliant on others to keep your day to day life running smoothly? Personally I very much wouldn’t, I need to feel that I’m on top of my bills and domestic paperwork etc, maybe I’m a closet control freak! but some people seem more than happy to hand over all that side of things. And secondly, would you risk feeling isolated if you can’t communicate easily with the neighbours, can’t pass the time of day with shopkeepers/the postie, don’t understand the posters on the noticeboards, don’t know what the current big local and national issues are and what’s “in the air”, etc? We all need human contact in our daily lives and usually we like to know what’s going on around us and feel that we belong, some of us more than others, and some people are better natural communicators than others.
I knew a couple who retired here and both spoke next to no French - the chap was an outgoing type, talked to everyone, used what French he had and could carry on a conversation almost without words, he joined the local bowling team and loved it here, his wife didn’t dare go out on her own, even going to the hairdressers was traumatic for her, she lost all her self confidence and in the end her nerves started to suffer and they moved back “home”.
So I think attitude and personality plays a huge part, how much do you need a social/emotional support network around you and how easy do you think it will be to go out and find it; and that is something only you can assess for yourself.


Hello John, get the Scan and Translate app for your smartphone just take a pic of the french paperwork and it will do it’s best to translate it into english word and voice enough for you to understand anyway.

I take it that you do have a smartphone?

I m0ved to Brittany in late October, without any French language. I am moving forward, , bought a house, car but do find it would be much easier knowing the language. Starting a beginners class in Dinan to learn French. Have been lucky to find people who do speak both languages, who are willing to help. I think it isn’t an easy language to learn, especially if one is somewhat older.


Ha ha… Michael… not everyone has a smartphone… we don’t…:wink:

My advice would be to take a French language course for a year in the UK, preferably with a French native speaker. Depending on your age without proper lessons not only in speaking but reading, writing and understanding French you will struggle. We lived for 15 years in France, I was pretty well fluent when we moved over, my husband couldn’t speak a word and found life very difficult as I had to translate for him all the time. If you need professional help with the administration, the Prefecture, the Marie, Notaire, and a whole raft of others, especially with the spectre of Brexit looming, it will cost you an arm and a leg. Not every French person speaks English and a lot that can, won’t.

Are you still in Germany? If so look locally for a Volkshochschule than offers French lessons and learn the basics. Watch Arte in French rather than German and if you are in the right part of the country tune your car radio into a French speaking radio station, I used to listen to Classic 21 and Vita. Lots of hard work and preparation will help but nothing beats actually communicating in a new language. What worries me is the fact that you have survived 9 years living in Germany without picking up the language and I fear you might do the same in France.

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Hi John,

I don’t think that’s a problem. Locals, especially the young ones will be happy to show their knowledge of English. For the paperwork, you’ll rapidly find a translator in Limousin, either an English native speaker or a Dutch guy/lady who speaks perfect English. There are plenty of them in the area. .
I am not a translator but a property finder and I am based in Berry, adjoining to North Limousin. Don’t hesitate to contact me for (free:wink:) advices.

Good luck,


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I’d echo all the above and encourage you to start taking lessons in the UK … basic grammar and structure of the language to start. You could manage without basic French over here - there are always paid services who will translate for you, but you will find yourself rather isolated if you don’t have some French to pass the time of day with neighbours and community. There are plenty of English social groups and it may be that your mayor might introduce you to another English resident to help you find your way around… but don’t expect to find English speaking doctors and dentists as routine, nor official paperwork in your language. It’s all in French so take it or leave it. You’ll never be fluent - I doubt any of us, bar a handful on this forum, could say we are fluent. But start taking lessons - you may be surprised how much you already know or the similarity of certain words. Learn three new nouns a day so at least you acquire a comprehensive vocabulary of the names of things, then take lessons to structure phrases. Good luck with your adventure.

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We moved to The Aude about 18 months ago. I was armed only with a failed o’level in French from some 40 years back. One thing that made a big difference for me before I came and when I first got here was the French language course by Michel Thomas which I have on cd. It concentrates on speaking French and holding a conversation. Whilst it didn’t mean I could always understand what was being said I could at least initiate a conversation either to ask a question or ask a neighbour for something. Luckily my other half had an A level in French from her schooldays and soon picked up the swing of things once we understood the local accent. Armed with a small amount of French you unlock a great deal of help. If you are trying to speak French to them it is amazing how many French remember they can speak English. It is all about showing you are trying to integrate.


Thanks everyone for all the reply’s, they’ve been helpful already.
The main reason that I want to move to France is that I would like to live somewhere that has better summers than the west of Scotland, the property prices are better in France than in Germany and it’s not too far away for my family to visit.
I’m quite good at communicating with people on a personal level, and can now speak pretty good German. I have been working as a self employed Decorator for the last 6 or 7 years.
But what I have found here in Germany is that the official letters are very hard to understand correctly, and that fines are automatic when you don’t comply, and the worst of it is that half the time you don’t know what you have not complied with until the fine comes through the letterbox, I find that very frustrating.
p:s. I am entitled to automatic German/EU citizenship because I have lived in Germany more than 8 years, if I pass the test.

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