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Speaking the Language

France - Speaking the Language

The official language of France is, of course, French, which is the first language of 88% of the country’s population. It is the official or main language in some 55 countries across the globe and French is spoken by almost 300 million people.

The standard French spoken today is derived from the variety of the language used in the area surrounding Paris and the Loire Valley.

There are, however, also a number of minority languages and dialects that can be heard across the country, particularly in regions surrounding the country’s borders. None of these languages have any official status within the country, however.

Breton, a Celtic language similar to Welsh and Cornish, is spoken in the Brittany area by approximately 1.2% of the overall French population and has approximately 200,000 everyday speakers. Other minority languages and dialects spoken in France include Flemish (in north eastern France), Provençal (in the south east), and Alsatian (a German dialect in Alsace and Lorraine).

In Southern France, over 7 million people speak Occitan dialects but, again, these do not have official language status. Occitan is also known as Provençal or Langue d’oc and is used in Southern France as well as the Aran Valley in Spain and some areas of Italy. Whilst it is not recognised by the French government, Occitan has approximately 610,000 speakers, many of whom speak French as their first language.

Other minority languages have been brought to the country thanks to immigration – there are communities across France speaking Arabic, Chinese, English, or one of many North African languages as their primary language.

The French education system has a strong focus on language learning and students start learning additional languages from an early age. Within cities and large towns, therefore, it is not uncommon to find that the majority of people have at least a basic command of English.

Despite the fact that much of the French population can converse, or at least communicate, in English, it goes without saying that anyone considering moving to France should make a concerted effort to learn the language. Not only will it give you a head start when it comes to finding a property, a job, and navigating all of the related red tape, it will also help you to settle into the social aspect of your new country. The more skilled you are in French, the easier you will find it to settle into your community and make friends, as well as deal with doctors, shopkeepers, officials, and anyone else you might need to engage with. So, whilst English is widely spoken amongst the French and you could technically survive without learning the local language, if you want to make a success of your new life, it’s certainly advisable to learn it.

Expats have plenty of opportunities to learn French once they have arrived in the country. With the amount of English speakers moving to the country increasing, language schools are popping up to accommodate them and, with night school classes, intensive courses, and even one-to-one tuition on offer, there is sure to be a class that fits around your needs and your lifestyle.

Although it is always advisable to learn the language of the country you are moving to and mastering the French language will certainly help you to settle into the country both personally and professionally, there are a number of jobs available that don’t necessarily require expats to speak French.

With so many Brits and Americans moving to France, it’s not surprising that English-speaking estate agents are in demand. As a result, there are numerous estate agents who are crying out for purely English speaking staff. Other expats find work as bartenders, English tutors, ski-instructors, tour guides, and even freelance writers or editors. Many French families also look for nannies whose native language is English, in order to give their little ones a head start in language learning!

Useful Resources

BBC Learn French website

LanguageGuide.org - Francais

The French Tutorial (standard edition offered free)

Alliance Francaise (AF) - non-profit state-approved language training

Hachette (publisher of guides to improve children's language skills)

Read more about this country

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Bupa Global

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