Today we have a guest post by Danielle Swisher, a political science major who previously ran a blog called The Traveler Next Door.
Danielle has published five books including Murder on O’Hollow’s Eve and Other Short Stories (which is a collection of short stories inspired by her life in France, Boston, Everglades City, Florida and South Carolina), and a poetry collection on love and loss called When You Were Here.
Here she’s decided to share with us her experience and perspective on the benefits of doing French immersion outside of Paris.
Oh, and make sure to take a look at my French resources page if you’re looking for more useful French material.
Over to you Danielle! 🙂
When I had first chosen my immersion programs in France, I made it clear to everyone I knew that I wasn’t going to Paris because they immediately assumed that is where I was going to go. After returning to the United States, they thought I had spent my nine months in Paris rather than in Dijon and Aix-en-Provence, even though I had pictures and souvenirs to prove it!
What I took from interactions like this before and after I studied in France was that the misconception that – all France has to offer is Paris – is real.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love Paris.
I feel privileged to have visited the city as much as I did and I tell everyone I know that they must visit Paris at least once.
However, as I have written once before from a traveler’s standpoint on my travel blog, The Traveler Next Door, if you only visit Paris and not the rest of France, yet still insist that you have seen France, you are missing the point.
I am going to tell you exactly what a French person will tell you in response: all you have seen is Paris during your visit, and not the country.
France is filled with so much diversity – each city and region is so different that Paris doesn’t really do France enough justice.
Plus, if you want to immerse yourself in the French language, Paris is not necessarily the best choice because it is a very singular location from a cultural standpoint, and not a true representation of France.
Here are my 10 reasons that will help to elaborate the points I have made so far as to why Paris is not the best choice for doing an immersion program in France if you really want to learn French well.
1. French people do not consider Paris to be a cultural voice for France
Despite Paris’ international fame, the French don’t see Paris as a voice for French culture.
I will explain it to you exactly how a friend’s host family in Dijon explained it to me:
“There are Parisians, and then there are Provinçals.
Anyone who isn’t a Parisian is a Provinçal because they come from and/or live in other regions of France.”
This is a language differentiation that has existed for centuries, coming from a time period before France was a unified country.
As a foreigner immersing one’s self in French, you will encounter this mentality while in France with any native speaker you will encounter.
2. Parisians see themselves as distinct from the rest of France
Ok, so maybe you thought after reading number one that “I’ll just travel outside of Paris to see what French people are really like.”
It’s not just French people outside of Paris who differentiate between Parisians and Provinçals, but the Parisians themselves! Even though Paris is the home of the French national government, Parisians haven’t shaken off their traditional cultural identity.
The reason why everyone else in France is labeled a Provinçal and not Parisian is because the Parisians see themselves as unique from the rest of France.
In fact, the region that Paris resides in is known as Île-de-France, or Island of France in French.
The region pretty much consists of…you guessed it, Paris! So, for Parisians, they culturally have lifestyle, historical, artistic and linguistic differences that make them so singular to the rest of France, it is like Paris is a disparate country!
Paris, of course, isn’t its own country.
However, if you are traveling to France to immerse yourself in French, does doing so in Paris defeat the point with this kind of culturally-set mentality that sees no time of changing anytime soon?
3. The various regions of France are just as interesting, maybe more so than Paris
The fact that Parisians and the residents in other regions of France refer to themselves as Provinçals might make you think that everyone outside of France finds themselves to be absolutely boring.
On the contrary! 🙂
I lived in the Burgundy region for six months, and in the Provence region for four months.
In that time period, I felt I learned so much more about France’s history, culture, art, architecture than if I had lived in Paris for those nine months.
This is because every region of France its own unique history, culture, art and architecture. Even French dialects are different than Parisian, which has helped to add to France’s rich history and cultural contributions to the world as a whole.
You miss out on this when you just stay in Paris.
If you leave Paris (especially if you live outside of Paris), you get a real taste for how the rest of France has contributed to its cultural, artistic and linguistic heritage.
4. There are regions of France that have had a stronger cultural contribution to France than Paris has
Foreigners seem to think that Paris has been the true center of French history and culture when in fact, this isn’t 100% true.
Take for example the region of Provence, which is home to the city of Avignon. Avignon served as the headquarters for the Pope for five-hundred years, because of all the wars that occurred between the principalities that eventually made up the unified, modern-day Italy in 1860.
The old papal residence still exists today and is known as Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace). There’s also Arles which is where Vincent Van Gogh lived for the last few years of his life and produced some of his best paintings.
It is also home to one of the oldest, well-preserved Ancient Roman colosseums still in use today.
In Burgundy, you have the city of Dijon, which is where Dijon mustard was first invented and produced strictly for centuries until things tragically began to change in the 20th century. It was also one of the capitals of the Burgundian Empire, which was one of the largest and strongest empires to have existed in the Medieval World.
At its peak, it stretched from what is now Northern Spain, to as far north as Southern Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium. The dukes who ruled Burgundy were more powerful than the kings of France!
Plus, Dijon was the birthplace of the famous philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Jean-Phillippe Rameau, the famous Baroque composer who served King Louis XV’s court.
Let’s also not forget Burgundy’s culinary contributions, which include some of the best wines in the world, cocktails like the kir, dishes like Boeuf Bourguignon and coq au vin, as well as condiments like Dijon mustard.
If you stay in Paris, you don’t learn these things unless if you live in another region and actually speak to the locals there.
5. The French language is standardized throughout the country
It’s true that French, like most languages, has regional distinctions in regards to words and accents.
However, thanks to the French education system, French phrases, grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary have become extremely standardized. The Ministry of Education has made strides since the 1960s to standardize the way French is taught and spoken.
As a result, the French dialect distinctions are diminishing to the point where you don’t need to study within a specific part of France to properly learn the language.
6. Paris doesn’t have the best language immersion schools in France
Paris does have amazing universities like La Sorbonne, Paris School of Economics, and a branch of L’Institute Science Po.
However, if you want to study French in Paris, don’t expect to get the same education quality you’d get at La Sorbonne or the Paris School of Economics.
This is because most of the immersion programs in Paris are geared towards tourists and not towards people who want to immigrate to France.
Even if you aren’t going to move to France permanently, you will benefit more from a program designed to teach immigrants and international college students French because they have to be able to use the language on a daily basis once they’re done.
Plus, immersion schools designed for immigrants meet EU language school standards which means you could receive a certificate proving your proficiency.
The immersion language schools with the best reputations lie outside of Paris, like CIEF in Dijon and IS Aix-en-Provence in Aix-en-Provence, which cater to immigrants, college students, and visitors alike.
7. French is not exclusively spoken in Paris
If you want a true immersion experience, you need to live somewhere where the foreign language you are trying to learn is the primary language spoken.
As with the United States and other major, cosmopolitan cities around the world, Paris is so international and popular with tourists that French is the preferred language but isn’t necessary.
This is because Paris has a lot of immigrants, tourists and ex-pats who don’t use French unless they have to.
Outside of Paris, French is the primary language.
Therefore if you choose an immersion program outside of Paris, you will be forced to speak French and French only.
8. Paris doesn’t have exclusive rights to excellence in France’s higher education system
As stated above, La Sorbonne and the Paris School of Economics may be located in Paris, but Paris is not known for having the best universities.
Therefore, if you really want to immerse yourself in learning French, do so in one of the major university towns like Montpellier, Rennes, Nice, Lille or Nancy.
These towns often have language schools that cater to foreigners wanting to study at local universities so you will learn French quickly, and with the expertise needed to survive on a French campus.
9. The French don’t see Paris as student-friendly
According to the French online magazine, L’Étudiant (The Student), Paris doesn’t even make the Top 10 in regards to the most student-friendly cities in the country.
Even one of the towns I studied French in, Aix-en-Provence, has a better reputation as a student-friendly place than Paris.
I found Aix-en-Provence very student friendly.
My immersion school even had a program where we could socialize at cafes with local college students, and there were great nightlife options and bookshops that you wouldn’t expect to find in a such a small town.
However, Aix-en-Provence has become student-friendly because of the great universities there, like their branch of Sciences Po, which I was told was better than the one in Paris.
If you are looking to learn how to speak French in an educated manner and speak it in a friendly environment for learners, going outside of Paris is a better option.
10. The best food, wine and cheese lies outside of Paris
If you’re looking to come to France to learn the language so that you can better sample the local food, wine and cheese, Paris isn’t the place to go.
Paris does have some amazing restaurants, and Montmontres does produce wine.
However, its wine stores, fromageries and restaurants truly hail the culinary traditions of the rest of France.
If you want amazing wine then live in Bordeaux, Strasbourg in Alsace, Dijon in Burgundy or Reims in the Champagne region.
If you want great cheese, go to Besançon in the Franche-Comté region, or Grenoble or Lyon in the Rhône-Alpine region. For great cuisine, Lyon, Dijon, Nice, Lorraine, Nancy, Brest, Bordeaux and Strasbourg are better choices than Paris.
So, those are my 10 reasons why Paris is not your best choice for an immersion program to learn French well.
True, Paris is great.
But if you really want to immerse yourself in French culture, language and life, you will have a better experience in another city in France (or find a good online French course alternatively).
If you study French in another part of France, you will have a more authentic cultural, linguistic and social experience than you would in Paris.
You’ll also have the chance of studying at a better quality immersion school than you would in Paris, because of the better higher education institutions scattered throughout the country.
Even though studying French is better in other parts of France, don’t forget to visit Paris, at least once! 🙂
Have you done French immersion in France? Where? What advice would you offer?