Q: "How hard is it to live in France if you do not speak French? And are there classes?" Submitted by @fitness_is_my_jam99
Moving to and Living in France series.
A: Challenging, isolating, frustrating, and frightening are all words that came to mind of my early language learning days when I first moved to France. I'll provide examples for each of these below.
1 - Challenging. When you move to France, there is a multi-step immigration process that includes medical tests, civil courses, and a language test. If you do not pass that test, which is a level A1, then you will be assigned mandatory language classes.
You will not be able to pick these courses' dates, times, or locations - OFII (the immigration office) assigns them to you. Depending upon your score (and my observations), the minimum set is 200 hours of French classes. So far, the max I have seen is 400.
Thankfully, I passed my language test! Whew!
2 - Isolating & frustrating. Certain parts of France, such as Paris, have many English speakers you can connect with. But, tbh, I didn't choose move halfway around the world to connect with other Anglophiles - I want to immerse myself in my new country and proactively participate in the culture. But a lack of language is surprising to the depth of isolation one can feel. You may not even notice it now, but try this exercise for the next few days: Count how often you engage with a stranger as you go about your daily tasks. Maybe you strike up a simple conversation with the person in line next to you. The cashier asks you a question. You need directions. The pharmacist is giving you instructions about a new medication.
Now, imagine all of these interactions in France. Without those skills, it can be very lonely and isolating. And the English-speaking friends you do make aren't always available to be there for you or to help out.
3 - Frightening. Since I have moved to France, unfortunately, I have had a few major medical problems. I didn't manage the roller coaster of stress, loneliness, personal and professional challenges when I first arrived in France. And within the first months, I landed myself in my local hospital's emergency room and underwent emergency surgery. There's not much you can do to prepare for that. But my lack of French language skills made the experience even more frightening, as I could barely communicate my needs.
In turn, consider this scenario: I have seasonal asthma and had such a horrific attack that I couldn't even communicate. But my husband, who has no French language skills, couldn't make a phone call to help me.
Could you help yourself if you moved to France and had a medical emergency? It's truly a frightening experience I do not wish for anyone to experience.
Learning French, through immersion as I have, is possible. But I would recommend to anyone asking me to take the time to learn the language at least to an A2 level, preferably B1, before you immigrate. Additionally, proposals for new immigration laws might require this level of French, so you might as well start now!
Have questions? Put them in the comments below or send me a DM!