When planning a trip to Paris, one of the first things you might think about is if your French level will be enough to overcome the
experience. Of course, if your level is close to zero, the doubts can be bigger. Also, living in a globalized world as we do, you might
think that by now, everyone around the globe speaks English, right? Well, let’s dive in.
The short answer is yes. Despite the language barrier, Paris is a city where many languages collide, due to cultural, economic, or political reasons. Since Paris is one of the more visited capitals in the world, most people that work there, especially if they work in tourism, will have a proper English level that will allow them to communicate with you.
Well, not entirely. You see, visiting a country, whereas for tourism or a deeper purpose, will expand your view of the world. I took the liberty to bring here one phrase from our brotherly language, Spanish, in the words of Miguel de Cervantes: "He who reads much and walks much, sees much and knows much". Travel is the best way to expand your knowledge of the world and to get to know yourself, and your chances of achieving all of this will improve if you know at least a bit of the language spoken in the country you are visiting. Because of this, let’s explore some of the reasons to learn (at least a bit) of French before you embark on your travel to Paris (Or any other francophone city).
While you might get everything you need from an app nowadays, don’t underestimate the power of knowing how to ask for directions in Paris. Once you are there, you’ll find that getting around the city is fairly easy (for a big capital of the world) but knowing how to ask for directions can be really helpful, especially in some sections of Île-de-France, where because of the presence of many communication devices, antennas and such, your phone’s GPS can get a bit confused.
Despite English being spoken all over the world, speaking (at least the essentials) of the language of the country you are visiting will help you to get along better with its residents and to see more friendly faces along the way. Even the basics, a “Bonjour” and an “au revoir” will make a huge difference in how people approach a conversation with you. There’s a saying that if you speak English in Paris, people will act as if they don’t know the language, but if you start the conversation in French, they will change to English right away. Because of this, if you have no level of French whatsoever, try having some phrases ready, like: “parlez vous anglais?” and “je voudrais…” just in case.
Knowing French will allow you to understand better what surrounds you while you are on your trip to Paris. Even if most attractions and monuments show most of the information in English, having your way around the French language will allow you to go deeper into parts of the French culture around Paris. Some museums go further into information and descriptions in French while showing only the basics in English, also, wandering around in Paris you might find signs and plaques with parts of history that are only displayed in French.
Planning your itinerary is something that starts before your travel, and discovering hidden gems across Paris too! A good tip on searching for ideas on what to do in a place you are planning to visit is to simply search for recommendations in that language. This can be done on the internet, by asking a local, or even in the form of a podcast!
As you go deep on things to do in Paris, you’ll find it more necessary to speak the language to get around. If this is your first trip, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre will be your first priorities of course, but if you have fallen in love with the city and you are planning to visit again to find out more and more about it, you’ll see that speaking a bit of French will do wonders for you and will create a connection between you and the city that could only grow in time. And remember, if you are planning to learn French, whether to start from scratch or to keep growing your capacities, we are here to help. Von voyage!
Written by Alejandro Ramírez G.
Alliance Française Silicon Valley
14107 Winchester Blvd. Suite T,
Los Gatos, CA 95032