Studying French Abroad, The Pros and Cons

Are you thinking of studying French abroad? Do you think that it’s the only way that you can truly take your French to the next level? Well although it can be very useful in improving your French language skills it isn’t all rose gardens and white-sand bliss. There are some legitimate reasons why you should be weary of the full-immersion approach or at least not as jealous of those who get to experience it.  It’s for this reason that we’ve put together some of the pros and cons of learning French in a French-speaking country. Let’s start by looking at some of the pros…

Pro #1You can learn much quicker – It’s no surprise that by being immersed in the French language most people will tend to pick up the language quicker than those who aren’t. If you’re learning French at home or in school it’s virtually impossible to get enough practice and exposure to be able to match someone who literally lives in the language. Yes, there are techniques you can use at home or in your daily life to better replicate an immersive experience, but at the end of the day nothing beats 100% exposure 100% of the time.

Pro #2You’re forced to practice your speaking – In our day and age it’s very easy to get a large amount of speaking practice for virtually any language anywhere in the world thanks to technology. Although living in a French speaking country is definitely a good way to improve your French listening skills, it isn’t what I would call a requirement. There are endless amounts of music, podcasts, TV shows and movies that you can use to get plenty of listening practice even if you’re at home. What’s difficult to get at home however is speaking practice.

If you’ve read the article “How to Improve Your French” you’ll know that of the four components of language learning (reading, writing, listening and speaking ) speaking is definitely the hardest. When you are able to study French abroad you don’t really much choice other than to practice your speaking which should hopefully increase your overall confidence with the language.

Pro #3You’ll learn things that you’d never learn at home or in class – You can only learn so much when you choose the “textbook approach” to language learning. One of the biggest problems that face students (or anybody really) who try to learn abroad is that despite their level of French prior to leaving they end up struggling once arriving. This is because the French that native-speakers speak is often different than what you learn from grammar books and traditional classes.

When you are immersed in a language and its culture, you don’t have to study vocabulary or grammar rules. You simply have to pay attention to what native-French speakers say and try your best to mimic it. This can often prove easier than learning complicated grammar rules.

Now that we’ve looked over a few of the benefits to studying French abroad it’s time to look at some of the disadvantages. If may be hard to believe that there could be any disadvantages, but in my experience if you aren’t careful there definitely can be. Let’s get started…

Con #1You’re forced to speak at a level you probably aren’t ready for – A lot of people believe that the best way to start speaking is to just jump in and start from day one. I typically disagree with this idea. The problem with being forced to speak at a level you aren’t ready for is that you are bound to make mistakes that you may internalize (meaning they don’t sound wrong anymore). When you are an adult learning a foreign language people are going to treat you like one rather than like a child.

This means that you aren’t going to have someone there to correct you every five seconds when you make a mistake. What can end up happening is that you get to a point where people can understand what you’re saying no problem, but you still make a lot of simple grammar mistakes. You get the impression that you speak French totally fine, but in reality nobody wants to be rude and correct you.

If your goal is to just be understood then this may not bother you very much, however if you want to speak French well then you need to be more careful. This isn’t to say that this will always happen to you, but if you don’t take the time to try and learn things correctly it certainly

Con #2It can be stressful and take the fun out of language learning – Learning French is a long and arduous process. Because of this people generally say that you should learn with materials that you find enjoyable. When you truly enjoy your learning material then the process no longer becomes long and difficult, not to mention material that is interesting is easier to memorize and learn from. Being in a new country with a language you don’t know that well can be surprisingly stressful.

For the most part, there is no way to “take a break” from it all like you can when you’re in your home country. For some people the stress of speaking French with natives can put them off learning the language entirely. Yes, you’ll still likely see improvement in your French if you’re still living in the country, but if your heart isn’t really in it how good could you really get.

Con #3It can be expensive – We all want to speak French as best as we possibly can, but has anyone ever considered the potential price tag of studying abroad? I’m not here to dissuade anyone from doing as I do believe that it can be an amazing experience for most. I’m just saying that when you take into account all the potential expenses it can be a lot more than you think. Although that’s not to say that it ALWAYS has to be an overly expensive experience, but if you don’t carefully plan you can easily spent A LOT more money than you originally hoped for. Between housing, tuition, food and transportation the cost can quickly rack up. Of course, this doesn’t have any direct impact on your French studies, it can be somewhat of a roadblock for certain people.

Do you agree with the pros and cons to studying French abroad listed here? What other pros and cons to can you think of? Comment below and tell us about them.