Learning the Lingo

Dear All,

My wife, Ness, and myself have recently moved to France and set up home in Bordeaux.

First things first, we are looking to take French lessons as something of a priority, as neither of us has any real French to speak of.

We had hoped to do the old 'immersion' thing but now recognise that we need some sort of accelerator to give us a basis for live learning.

Can anyone therefore recommend a good language school in Bordeaux?

We are currently not working (as we intend to form a business in the New Year), and so could easily attend a week-long course in December should anyone know of a place that does this.

By preference, we would like a short, intense, course over a several day period, rather than attend for two or three hours a week over an extended period.

any recommendations?

Shaun :)

To me vocabulary is the way to go. My missus can conjugate for France but is always asking me the names of things ! I found that the moment I had enough 'French' to ask basic questions &/or find other ways to explain things another way it took off. I think with any spoken language one only hears every other word or thereabouts but get the gist of what's being said. The Eureka moment comes when that happens in France. I've been helped by having to talk to a dozen drunken Bretons at the same time when it's my turn to 'do' the boules bar, Talk about a baptism of fire. Learn the nouns. You can talk for ages but if you don't know the word for chair you'll never get to sit down if you get my drift ;-)

I am sympathetic. When my OH and I met she was living in Geneva, had some school English which she had learned in her Italian speaking home area so we used French as our common language, although we came to realise we both speak the same version of Spanish later. Anyway, her English picked up enough for her to have been a lecturer in a UK university for five years. We moved here. Grand.

A couple of years ago I got ill and part of my treatment was a cocktail of cardiac and neurological drugs that wiped a large part of my head. My languages went walk about. My English was badly battered and I went back to my childhood language, neither of the required. I had to do lots of relearning with my memory very shaky, especially short term thus relearning things was easy in principle but then searching for words difficult because I had (re-)learned them and when I needed them I to often give up.

It taught me something about language I was not aware of. This helps with learning. Instead of fighting for words allow the other person's words to flow. Take in what you can, ask for repeats of some things, but do not waste an enormous amount of energy trying to find words and grammar whilst taking in what is being said to you at the same time. Patiently listen and be minimalist in your responses. That way your store or familiar words builds up, the phrases they are most commonly in or associated with slowly but surely do the same and then the connecting bits fall in place. You also begin to identify different uses that defy the rules you are used to, for example: In the English language one should always try never to repeat a word in a single sentence. A good example of that is 'therefore' which is an almost hard and fast never more than once word. Yet in French one might well use 'donc' several times in a single sentence.

I had to relearn such things and now realise that the core of language is comprehension of not just words but contexts, which is far more important than word perfect speech. So just allow yourself to fit gently into it, go for learning aids as people have recommended. Above all else, patience, especially with yourself. Losing it really can lead to losing it!

The only way I found to progress ,if that's a correct statement, is to get out amongst 'em & make a fool of yourself. My twice weekly boules sessions have helped me enormously with my Breton swear word vocabulary & me French ain't too rusty now also ! :-) My verb conjugation is still rubbish but most folk realise I did something yesterday if I use the 'hier' word & suchlike & don't seem too bothered if I cock up the conjugation. I always figure my crap French is much better than most French folks English so why should I be embarrassed. Get over the fear factor & you'll fly.

For help understanding spoken French try audiolingua - click on French & just work through the recordings listening to them as many times as necessary. People often find understanding a language as it is spoken more difficult than expressing themselves or reading.

Have a look at AVF- I am sure there will be branches in Bordeaux. It is a social organisation originally set up for French people who had to move around for work ect and found themselves in new towns with no social network. They have expanded now to welcome all nationalities who find themselves in new towns. The social side is very good -they organise theatre trips, walks, museum visits ect so it's very good for conversationsal french and they often have french lesson for non native speakers. All very informal but friendly and fun.

I watch movies a lot. French movies gives you a glimpse into the French psyche and every day vernacular, as well as slang, expressions, and idioms, as well as body language. Body language in different countries is as palpable as the spoken one.

For the movies in English I do as follows: I'll watch it again, right afterward, (or the next day), in French. I can pause it and re-listen/read how something was said. Sometimes I'll even play it a third time if I'm puttering about the house, just as background. You'd be surprised how much you'll pick up every time you re-watch it. Beware though that things translated into a foreign language still contain mistakes, so take it with a grain of salt. The language seeps in almost by osmosis. It's a painless way to grow your language skills quicker.

Hi Shaun,

I'm based in Bordeaux and organise free events for English speakers learning French and vice versa.

Lots of resources on my Youtube channel. Feel free to get in touch (http://www.youtube.com/newlanguageguy/videos)


One of my students goes to the Alliance Française ( and likes it) in addition to taking lessons privately with me on Skype. What this means , really, is that it is best to have several exposures and dedicate as much time as possible to learning, practising and using the language in a variety of ways. The Uniiversité du temps libre has classes as well and there must be some conversation groups for FLE in your area. Bonne chance!

There is some info that might be useful to you in


bon courage :-)

My sister does a vocabulary boost every morning on About.com/France. Although I am a fairly fluent speaker I also use some of the advanced exercises to maintain my vocabulary too.

Bonjour Shaun et Ness,

Firstly there is no quick fix on learning French, it's a journey and not a race. Little and often would be my advice. Sure, try and get some basics in place for everyday stuff but then it's building blocks. Do a little each day, say an hour and a half. When saying something in English, have a go at how you'd say it in French. Sticky notes of everything around the house & the car, including their gender le/la). Everytime you learn a positive, learn it's negative too. Michel Thomas is very good but try and buy a used set of CD's, produced by Hodder & Stoughton. The new ones have been muck about with and are not so good. You will not get a good accent from MT but there's lotsa good stuff on the mechanics of the language. Paul Noble does a similar course and uses a French linguist, so this helps towards achieving the accent. Also try 'Coffee Break French' online, some of which are available as free downloads. I also use Rocket French which I like. Remember though, learning to speak the language is only 50% of the process, you also have to develope an ear for what comes back, so try to intergrate with as many French as you can, the shops, the bar, the resto etc and don't get flustered by getting it wrong, it's part of the learning curve and it's fun. You will find the French helpful, if they see you making an effort. Some French words are difficult for us Brits to pronounce, so suggest you say them out loud, again & again & again, so when it comes time for you to use it, it'll be there. If you do take lessons, take a recorder with you because when you get home, you'll be able to replay it & catch anything that didn't sink in. Lessons are expensive and some teachers teach to a curriculum which in my view, doesn't help with what most Brits want, which is conversation. Anyway, Bonne Chance, Jk

Hi Shaun,

you could always try the Alliance Française, my wife went there in Bordeaux and it helped her a great deal. They are not the cheapest but certainly efficient (she did go in 2008 though!)

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Hi Shaun,

Whether you do an intense course or not I (and many others) would recommend the Michel Thomas foundation CD set...it's basic and very easy on the ear for someone who has very little French.

Amazon do it....http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michel-Thomas-Foundation-Course-French/dp/0340938919

Good luck in your new endevours.