Lost in Translation: The Importance of Learning French Before Moving to France


Bonjour, mes amis! Or should I say, “Hello, my friends!”


That’s the kind of linguistic faux pas that can happen when you’re not adequately prepared for a move to France. Today, I’m going to share my tale of trial, error, and lost-in-translation moments from when my family and I made the leap across the Channel in January 2018.


Not So Well-Prepared


When we decided to move to France, I thought I had it all figured out. After all, I’d visited the country many times, knew the culture, and had a good sense of the town where we were headed – Bellac. Plus, we had a network of friendly locals who welcomed us with open arms, especially my mother’s friends who hosted BBQ’s and various drink parties.


The actual move, however, was an adventure of its own. My husband and I packed up our lives (our storage had already made the journey and the kids too with my mum), squeezed into my mum’s car with our Siamese cat Maggie on my lap for the ride. After three months of living with my mum in her two-bedroom house, it was time to dive headfirst into French bureaucracy whilst completing our house renovation.


Lost in Translation


My first priority was to contact CPAM (French social security) as I’d been told that was crucial. Our visits to the Sous prefecture left us bewildered, to say the least. My school French was rusty, and I felt exposed. But I had to press on, managing school visits, helping my husband set up his business, dealing with utilities, TV packages, and layers upon layers of insurances.


The first year was, without a doubt, the most stressful. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the labyrinthine French bureaucracy that drove me to the brink; it was my inadequate French. I simply lacked the vocabulary to express myself effectively. My embarrassment over my linguistic struggles overshadowed any irritation I had with the administrative hurdles.


The Language Lesson


Here’s the point I’m driving at: more than anything else, I wish I had dedicated more time to learning the language before we arrived. My to-do list was meticulous, but without strong language skills, I felt like a fish out of water, disconnected from my French community.


Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but my advice to you is this: before you make that move, immerse yourself in learning French. Use language apps, listen to podcasts, hire a tutor, watch TV5 Monde, binge-watch your favourite show in French – make it your daily ritual. By the time you arrive, you’ll have the confidence to communicate effectively.


Continuous Learning


But the learning doesn’t end there. Upon arrival, register with Pole Emploi (the French employment agency) and express your willingness to work even if your language skills aren’t top-notch. They often offer free courses; in my case, it was 90 hours in a classroom.


Also, seek out local forums for coffee mornings or informal gatherings where you can practice your French. Step out of your comfort zone daily and embrace those mistakes – trust me; I still make plenty. One friend’s husband famously announced to their guests at a dinner party they hosted for their French neighbours ‘Je suis femme (faim)’ instead of ‘j’ai faim,’ telling their French guests, “I am woman” instead of “I am hungry.” Hilarious, but at least he gave it a shot!


Free French Learning Resources


To get you started on your language journey, here are some of my favourite FREE French learning platforms:


  • Duolingo: Duolingo French Course
  • TV5 Monde: TV5 Monde
  • Coffee Break Languages: Coffee Break French
  • Tandem: Tandem Language Exchange


Remember, the key to unlocking the magic of France lies in its language. So, start learning today, and when you make the move, you’ll be ready to embrace the beautiful chaos that is life in France.


À bientôt!





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