Life in Paris: How I am Learning French

| April 17, 2017 More

Learning French in ParisI opened the envelope and saw an old handwritten note. “Il faut persévérer en français,” it said, meaning “You should go on with French.” I remembered it well.

The comment was on my report card from Lycée Pasteur, the school I attended in Oran, Algeria as a teenager. My family lived there for a few months due to dad’s engineering job. Unfortunately, we had to leave the country when the Algerian Civil War broke out. Returning home put an end to learning French, something I have always regretted.

When mom sent me the note a few years ago, I was settled in Chicago. Being in Paris was a wish, a recurring thought… I kept visiting, took some French classes, but a one-way ticket to CDG came later.


I never thought I would live in another country before getting fluent in the language. Yet, moving to Paris happened when my level of French was intermediate at best. Enough to get by in everyday situations, but not enough for my liking.

As a travel writer and Business English trainer, I don’t need French for work. But what if I wanted to make use of my marketing background and find another job? Or continue my education? Or have to deal with official matters?

Then there is social life. Knowing French makes it easier to date and make friends – or rather, not being fluent makes it harder to build relations.

In other words, I chose to live in France and need to speak the language well. For my own comfort. And that teenage me in Algeria.


At times learning French feels like acquiring a superpower. The language is complex and will take time to grasp, but I’m enjoying the challenge! What better classroom than Paris?

Simply by being here, I absorb new vocabulary daily. You learn best when you have to use the language, but I also make a conscious effort to study.

Grammar books (to satisfy my inner nerd), slang dictionaries, French movies with subtitles, free papers on the Metro (to practice reading and stay informed on cultural events, a double win). It also helps to have a local friend who is willing to teach and challenge me. Even though he speaks great English, we have a deal that only French is allowed. “I used to simplify it for you, but now I talk the way I do with other friends.” Merci, prof.

Learning French in Paris

There is one thing needed in the mix: regularity. I would like to have weekly in-person sessions with a trainer, like I do with my clients. But planning is hard without a fixed work schedule.

Recently, I have been introduced to Lingoda, an online language school based in Germany. They provide one-on-one and group instruction with native speakers via Skype. Classes are offered around the clock and you get to pick topics, which is the main appeal for me.

Learning French online is a new experience, but going well so far. I like having access to materials before each session. Since I spend much time on the train, I get to download PDF files onto my tablet and prepare on the go. I have been focused on grammar, but plan to take speaking and writing classes down the road.


When I moved to Paris a year ago, being able to read books or see plays in French was a distant future. Encouraged by a special someone, I picked up one novel, then another… and eventually got theater tickets. There is work to be done, especially with speaking, but I am headed in the right direction.

I’m going to continue, je vais persévérer.

Learning French in Paris (3)

Thanks to Lingoda for my online classes. All opinions in this post are mine.
Portrait photos by Parisian Clichés.

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Category: STORIES


About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

Comments (26)

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  1. avatar Edgar says:

    Very brave of you. My challenge is spanish. I should know it but I’m not fluent…yet. Still a work in progress.

    • Don’t give up! Practice makes perfect, as they say. :) love Spanish and was worried I’d lose it after moving to France… luckily I still get to use it.

  2. avatar Erin Musich says:

    Good for you! French is a language I’ve wanted to learn, although my skill with language is not so great. I’ve taken Spanish, Latin, and Italian, haha. I think I need to move somewhere in order to learn a new language. OR you can teach me! ;)

  3. avatar Joanna says:

    Heh, French is a language I’ve lerned in primar school and I can’t speak now. The best way to learn other language is move to proper country like you :) Good work! French is beautiful, but to hard for me.

  4. avatar S. says:

    Oh, a fellow English teacher, hey there;]
    Well yeah, I’ve also had this dream of moving to a country, then acquiring the language, and then I understood I can’t really move away from my source of power, which is my hometown, for longer than two months. After this I start withering like a dying flower. But congrats for you, as you put it so nicely, there’s no better classroom than Paris.

  5. avatar Antonina says:

    There’s no better classroom than Paris – I totally agree! I spent one year working as an au-pair and living in Paris. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Talking French everyday, going to classes at language school, watching French movies in the cinema… I learnt so much! Unfortunately after I came back home I stopped using French, I only needed English in some situations. Now I try to go back on track and refresh my French. Good luck with your French classes!

  6. Well, I would say that speaking Polish could be a real super power for you, but you already speak Polish :) I have never lived abroad so there was no need for me to learn any other language but English, but I’m pretty talented to catch new languages, although with French I would need help for sure! :)

  7. avatar Leah says:

    My French isn’t any better than the last time I saw you. Good for you for really taking it seriously. I know it needs to be a bigger priority, but it’s just so maddening!

  8. avatar Marcin says:

    It’s the best case to be able to learn language directly in the country of origin! I envy you and I wish you good luck with it! 🙂

  9. avatar Kate Storm says:

    “At times learning French feels like acquiring a superpower.”
    That’s exactly how I feel about my efforts to learn Spanish! Good luck! French is such a beautiful language and I’ve always loved it, though most of what I learned in high school has been forgotten now.

  10. avatar Cat says:

    There’s no better way to learn French than being in France and practice it regularly! But learning it online seems like a good option as well, especially for people who can’t be in the country and immerse in the french-speaking environment. Good luck with your French learning!

  11. avatar Francesca says:

    I am a language nerd (as you know) and I agree – the best way to learn a language is to be fully immersed in it. I love how you called Paris your classroom :-) And then to have friends to converse with… it all makes a big difference. Great job, amiga!

  12. avatar Only By Land says:

    You’re very dedicated to learning French, even down to reading the newspaper on the metro. I wish I could have your dedication to learning a new language!

  13. avatar Rehlat says:

    Love this! I had not seen such s detailed post before and it made me feel like I was there, such a fascinating culture.

    • Hello Rehlat. I’m glad the post made you feel like you’re in Paris. Hope you’ll get to visit and enjoy the city one day! Thanks for the note.