French Immersion: Why You Should Avoid Paris (And Choose a Small City Instead)

So, you’re feeling ready to immerse yourself in French life to take your French to the next level. C’est génial! Now it’s time to decide where to go. While many people start with the idea of living in a large city, the smaller towns of France offer advantages as well when it comes to French immersion.

This article is dedicated to Heidi, an American exchange student who chose to stay several months in a pretty small town in western France named Angers (pronunciation /ãzhay/, a bit like “angel”).

Here is why!

This article was written by Léa, a talented private French teacher and linguist. If you are looking for a more advanced French course, I highly recommend checking out The Staircase, her method for French and Spanish learners.

When I met Heidi during our lessons (I’m an online French teacher) and when she shared her memories of her time in Angers, I could see the joy and positive feelings on her face. Her memories of this small town seemed to be so vivid and positive, and she seemed to tightly associate all these pleasant feelings to the French language.

My other students who stayed in Paris, o the other hand, complained that the Parisians were rude and that they felt lonely, Heidi’s French immersion in this small town seemed a much better experience.

Paris may be a vibrant city full of wonderful cultural activities and talented people but I honestly believe a smaller town is a much better choice when it comes to French immersion.

Small cities are better for French immersion because people don’t speak English

In big cities like Paris, conversations flow smoothly since you’re surrounded with expats, exchange students and other English speakers.There are also lots of educated French people who speak good English. You will feel more at home and are less likely to feel homesick.

This may sound great but there is one huge drawback:  instead of speaking French with you, many Parisians will be trying to improve their English. The trick is to be stubborn and answer in French anyway. But it can be frustrating and make your French immersion less immersive.

In smaller French cities like Angers, steering your way through conversations only seems possible if you speak the language so you won’t be tempted to switch to English.

While you might often find yourself getting tongue-tied, there’s no better way to enrich your vocabulary than to interact with the native French speakers.

It’s easier to build meaningful relationships with locals in a small city

Invitations to social gatherings and community events are plentiful in la Province, offering authentic cultural experiences while making new friends and improving your French.

And because the population isn’t as enormous as in the capital city, building meaningful relationships can come more naturally. With small towns being home to fewer foreigners, locals are usually quite eager to share their culture with you.

Other larger cities like Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and Lille are bursting with modern-day culture, which has some perks. There will undoubtedly be live music, theatre and other cultural events.

However, cities are generally the first part of a country to become internationalized. Quite a few of these events will be in English, or the people attending will be English speakers so you may find it harder to speak French.

You will better experience the French lifestyle in la province

It’s sometimes difficult to experience what many people think of as the ‘real’ French way of living in a cosmopolitan city because city dwellers are busy.

While big cities like Paris offer exciting experiences, enjoying Sushi with your newfound Irish friends can drift you away from your French-language goals and won’t help you learn French as well as surrounding yourself with other people who are committed to learning and practicing the language.

In a small town, you’re likely to get to know a more traditional way of life. People tend to go about their lives at a much slower pace and focus on getting to know each other.

Because there are fewer distractions, focusing on your learning goals can be easier as well, although the lack of entertainment might be challenging if you’re accustomed to big cities.

Are you preparing for an immersion stay in France? I will be happy to help if you have any questions. Please post them below in the comments. You can also share your anecdotes and personal stories!

20 thoughts on “French Immersion: Why You Should Avoid Paris (And Choose a Small City Instead)”

  1. C’est une tres bonne idee, l’immersion dans une petite ville pour mieux apprendre la langue francaise et aussi la culture. Le premier fois que je voyage a la France, 1968, j’avais de la chance de faire la connaissance d’une jeune fille qui m’avais inviter chez elle en Lille. Sa famille etait proprietaires d’une cafe. Elle etudiais ballet. Pendant une semaine cette famille m’en avait faire parti en tous sense. J’avais travailler avec ma nouveau amie dans leur cafe, attender ses classes de ballet avec elle, l’aider sa mere preparer les repas, tous en francais parce que aucune membres ne parlaient un mot d’anglais. Aujourd’hui, plus de 50 ans depuis cette experience, j’ai le plus beaux souvenirs et tres vifs a ce jour. Aujourd’hui Lille est meme plus belle mais beaucoup plus grand qu’en 1968. L’avis de Lea c’est tres vrai, les residents ont plus du temps et l’interet de vous acceuiller dans une petite ville.

    Reply
  2. C’est une tres bonne idee, l’immersion dans une petite ville pour mieux apprendre la langue francaise et aussi la culture. Le premier fois que je voyage a la France, 1968, j’avais de la chance de faire la connaissance d’une jeune fille qui m’avais inviter chez elle en Lille. Sa famille etait proprietaires d’une cafe. Elle etudiais ballet. Pendant une semaine cette famille m’en avait faire parti en tous sense. J’avais travailler avec ma nouveau amie dans leur cafe, attender ses classes de ballet avec elle, l’aider sa mere preparer les repas, tous en francais parce que aucune membres ne parlaient un mot d’anglais. Aujourd’hui, plus de 50 ans depuis cette experience, j’ai le plus beaux souvenirs et tres vifs a ce jour. Aujourd’hui Lille est meme plus belle mais beaucoup plus grand qu’en 1968. L’avis de Lea c’est tres vrai, les residents ont plus du temps et l’interet de vous acceuiller dans une petite ville.

    Reply
  3. My husband and I plan to visit France and would love to experience the French culture, wrap ourselves in the French language. We plan to be there in September, 2020. Unfortunately, we can only stay no longer than three weeks, too many responsibilities here at home to be gone longer. Do you have any recommendations?

    Reply
  4. My husband and I plan to visit France and would love to experience the French culture, wrap ourselves in the French language. We plan to be there in September, 2020. Unfortunately, we can only stay no longer than three weeks, too many responsibilities here at home to be gone longer. Do you have any recommendations?

    Reply
  5. Bonjour!
    I am taking a Beginning French class in Scottsdale AZ through our local Alliance Francaise organization. Although I have no immediate plans to travel to France, I saw a video about the amazing street art in Bayonne. Do you have any information or recommendations about visiting there?
    Merci,
    Marda Kaiser

    Reply
  6. Bonjour!
    I am taking a Beginning French class in Scottsdale AZ through our local Alliance Francaise organization. Although I have no immediate plans to travel to France, I saw a video about the amazing street art in Bayonne. Do you have any information or recommendations about visiting there?
    Merci,
    Marda Kaiser

    Reply
  7. Can you recommend a 2 week intensive immersion program in Montpellier? I will be traveling there in late September 2019 and would like to immerse myself in the language and culture, preferably through daily morning and afternoon classes of 3-7 students.

    Reply
  8. Can you recommend a 2 week intensive immersion program in Montpellier? I will be traveling there in late September 2019 and would like to immerse myself in the language and culture, preferably through daily morning and afternoon classes of 3-7 students.

    Reply
  9. I stayed in Annecy for three months, which was FABULOUS, and although everyone understands my french, I still miss 75% of what is said. Ma formateur m’a dit que j’ai trop des annees! I did not find it easy to meet locals outside of the apartment building, but was shy about speaking to people.

    Reply
  10. I stayed in Annecy for three months, which was FABULOUS, and although everyone understands my french, I still miss 75% of what is said. Ma formateur m’a dit que j’ai trop des annees! I did not find it easy to meet locals outside of the apartment building, but was shy about speaking to people.

    Reply
  11. My wife is currently at the Delf B1 level while I am on A1 level. We want to spend this summer in France and we’ll love to experience this immersion in a small community as advised. Can you help with the arrangement?

    Reply
  12. My wife is currently at the Delf B1 level while I am on A1 level. We want to spend this summer in France and we’ll love to experience this immersion in a small community as advised. Can you help with the arrangement?

    Reply
  13. Could you please suggest some small towns for french immersion programmes with fle tag for a stay upto 3-6 months. There are so many, find it difficult to figure out the right One to suit the pocket and purpose.

    Reply
  14. Could you please suggest some small towns for french immersion programmes with fle tag for a stay upto 3-6 months. There are so many, find it difficult to figure out the right One to suit the pocket and purpose.

    Reply
  15. I completely agree with Léa’s argument. Currently, I’m staying in Albi, a small town in the south west of France that has, at most. a population of 80,000 – roughly the size of a suburb in my home town of Coventry. But it is very easy to make meaningful relationships with people and get involved in a wide range of local, cultural activities. And each encounter gives me the opportunity to speak French and learn the local culture.

    Reply
  16. I completely agree with Léa’s argument. Currently, I’m staying in Albi, a small town in the south west of France that has, at most. a population of 80,000 – roughly the size of a suburb in my home town of Coventry. But it is very easy to make meaningful relationships with people and get involved in a wide range of local, cultural activities. And each encounter gives me the opportunity to speak French and learn the local culture.

    Reply
  17. I agree with this and can see what an enormous benefit living in smaller places can be for adult learners. Thank you for this perspective! I am hoping to move somewhere small and for my children to learn French as bilingual speakers as much as posisble – i.e. a little at home, a lot at kindergarten/school.

    I would love an immersion stay – somewhere coastal ideally. Any recommendations?

    Reply
  18. I agree with this and can see what an enormous benefit living in smaller places can be for adult learners. Thank you for this perspective! I am hoping to move somewhere small and for my children to learn French as bilingual speakers as much as posisble – i.e. a little at home, a lot at kindergarten/school.

    I would love an immersion stay – somewhere coastal ideally. Any recommendations?

    Reply

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