Have you ever considered travelling to France and taking a French immersion course as part of your vacation? I highly recommend you do this. It’s fun. It’s a way to learn a new language or improve your ability to converse with others when travelling. And, it’s good for your brain! I’ve taken French immersion classes in France at three schools. The experiences were vastly different and I can report that in all three cases my French improved. This post is to help you see what you might expect when you take a French immersion course in France. It’s a learning vacation you’ll never forget.
[Updated June 9, 2022 as I visited Ecole des Trois Ponts for the fifth time in May, 2022]
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Table of contents
- Common With All Three Schools When You Take A French Immersion Course In France
- 1. École des Trois Ponts
- 2. Accent Francais
- 3. Alliance Francaise
- 4. Final Words Of Advice
The three schools I attended were: École des Trois Ponts in Riorges, Accent Francais in Montpellier, and Alliance Francaise in Paris. Here’s an overview of each French language school and an assessment of my experiences:
Common With All Three Schools When You Take A French Immersion Course In France
- Different French language classes for different levels
- Assessment of your level (to determine your placement): an online test when you register and a private oral test just prior to the first-morning class.
- End of session evaluation
1. École des Trois Ponts
Location: Riorges (1 1/4 hours north-west of Lyon)
Name of course
I have taken 1-week courses here four times.
- General language (19 hours of class instruction)-twice
- General language plus cooking (15 hours of class instruction and 4 afternoons of cooking instruction in French)
- General language and countryside walks (15 hours of class instruction and 4 afternoons of countryside walking/hiking)
1 Week Session
Starts Sunday night at dinner and ends the following Saturday at breakfast
1400-1930 Euros (single room, on-site, including all meals)
- course fee includes all materials plus all meals
- you can choose to stay on-site or stay with a host family in the neighbourhood.
- Breakfast is with the host family (or on-site) and lunch and dinner are at the site with other students.
- The number of students in a class- no more than 6 students per class.
- When I attended, the first year there were 6, the second year 4, and the third year there were 3.
Type of instruction
Combination of teacher-directed, student-focussed (much is based on student’s interests), lots of conversation and interaction with other students, audio recordings, games, written and oral exercises in class, and homework.
As you can see, I have attended École des Trois Ponts four times. I believe the experiences were so good because it was full immersion—-in class, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had a room (with a private bath) at the school and lived and breathed French. You were encouraged to speak French all the time and although it was taxing at times (you’re trying to find the right words and say things properly), one definitely can improve quickly.
Homework was done after lunch, before dinner, and occasionally after dinner. It would take me about 30-45 minutes.
The food at École des Trois Ponts has always been gourmet. Breakfast has coffee, tea, juice, cereals, breads, yogurt, and fruit. Lunch is a buffet with many different dishes such as quiche with a salad and cheese. Dinner included wine with appetizers, a main course, a selection of cheeses, and dessert. We did not rush through eating but rather did it the “French way”: we took our time enjoying our meal. The best part of dinner was the conversation (in French) and dinner often lasted over 2 hours.
The first time is always the hardest as one doesn’t know what to expect. I was quiet the first day, particularly at meals; however, I loosened up by the end of the week. During my first stay, most of the other students were very nice; however, there was one student who was quite sarcastic and I felt intimidated by her (ie. when I made mistakes). The teacher was very good at supporting me and the others; however, it wasn’t the fault of the school. Just bad luck that I was in the same class as this person.
The other three times were even better. To improve in anything, one needs to take risks and during these visits, I found myself becoming more and more comfortable taking risks. A lot had to do with the environment that was created. There was a lot of laughing, teasing, and joking….in French.
Students came from all over the world such as Canada, the United States, Germany, and Australia.
During the second visit, I had classes in the morning (9:15-12:30), followed by lunch and some time to do my homework. An example of one homework assignment was to write about something we are passionate about. No surprise, but I wrote about my passion for travelling to France so often. Then at around 4:00, we began the class learning how to prepare the meal for that evening. It was done in French and so a whole new vocabulary was learned. I also learned cooking techniques such as how to debone a pork roast, fillet a fish, and make the famous Tarte Tatin (apple pie)!
Third And Fifth Times
During my third and fifth visits, after morning classes and lunch we did a 3-4 hour walk through the countryside. We discovered the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes area while learning and using our new vocabulary. It was another unique way to immerse oneself in the language.
My fourth visit was like the first where I had classes in the morning but was free in the afternoon except on those two days when I had a two-hour class. The other students were taking part in a language class and culinary excursion package and I attended one of those outings to Château de Champlong. We had a delicious meal and of course, only spoke French.
After four visits to Ecole des Trois Ponts, I not only improved my use of the French language but also felt I had been well immersed in the culture of France. I also have become friends with the teachers and fellow students. I can’t wait to go back for a fifth time as it is a place where I feel comfortable and incredibly happy.
On my way to Ecole des Trois Ponts, I often stopped in Lyon for a few nights. It’s an easy train ride (Lyon’s Part Dieu station) to Roanne. When you arrive, it’s just a 10 minute taxi ride to the school. My favourite hotels in Lyon have been located close to the Part Dieu train station, making it very convenient to get to the school at the end of my stay in Lyon:
Ecole des Trois Ponts: French Courses In France
2. Accent Francais
Name of course
Standard French Course (1-week course: 15 hours of class instruction)
1 Week Session
Monday to Friday
330 Euros and higher
- The course fee includes all materials. The school can also arrange accommodation.
- The number of students in a class- no more than 10 students. When I attended, there were 9 of us from all over the world: Switzerland, Ireland, Africa, and Canada.,
- Different classes for different levels: yes
Type of instruction
- Combination of teacher-directed, student-focussed (much is based on student’s interests), a lot of conversation and interaction with other students, audio recordings, games, written and oral exercises in class, and homework.
I rented an apartment near the school. A number of other students did homestays where breakfast and dinner and a room were part of the package. While I see that these students had the added advantage of ongoing French conversation when they returned home after school, I just needed my space. Perhaps this is because I was older than many of those students. So my experience was not full immersion. Many of the students were taking the course for 2 weeks or more and they were very familiar with the school and were likely more comfortable with the style of teaching.
The classes were similar to École des Trois Ponts: getting acquainted with activities, games, opportunities to interact with different students, audio and video teaching aids and written and oral exercises. There was also homework. On the second last day, we had an outing and walked around Montpellier, which is a lovely city with lots of students (there is a university there).
There are two interesting points about this school. The first was that the 3 1/4 hour class was divided into two parts with a different instructor for each. It wasn’t bad. It was just different.
The second surprise was that this school draws in students from all over the world. In my class, it was difficult to understand some of the other students. Even though they were speaking French, their accents made the comprehension more difficult.
I spent about the same amount of time on homework as at Ecole des Trois Ponts.
Accent Francais: https://www.accentfrancais.com
3. Alliance Francaise
Name of course
General Course (1-week course: 20 hours of class instruction)
1 Week Session
Monday to Friday
265 Euros + cost of a registration fee (65 Euros) + materials (book, workbook, and DVD for approximately 25-40 Euros). Note: Things have changed since I attended and I can’t find a 1-week course. There are 2 week and longer courses which are semi-intensive and intensive starting at 650 €.
- As I booked my course in Paris through Alliance Francaise in Toronto the cost of the tuition was tax-deductible. You can also add on optional workshops (ie. Phonetics lessons) for an additional cost.
- The number of students in a class- no more than 10 students in a class. When I attended, there were 10.
Type of instruction
- Highly structured and a lot of teacher-directed instruction, written and oral exercises in class, and homework; conversation is based on oral exercises given in class; not a lot of interaction with other students, audio recordings.
Like Accent Francais, I rented an apartment in Paris and went to school each morning from 9-1 pm. Four hours is a lot as one is “on” for most of the time and when it is in another language it can be tiring. I had taken Alliance Francaise in Toronto (group general courses, oral comprehension courses, and private tutoring) and I was very familiar with their methodology.
Students work through a book and workbook (exercises for homework) and the teacher uses a smartboard (basically an interactive chalkboard) as a teaching tool. After class, there wasn’t any socializing, although AF does have activities scheduled throughout the week for those who are interested.
It seemed that Alliance Francaise had the most set format of French lessons. The teachers followed lessons in the text and although it seemed that they could pick and choose the exercises and homework, it felt much less “student-centered” than the other two schools. I had the feeling the teacher had less freedom to veer off into a discussion that the students were interested in. It was a much more “serious” environment.
Unfortunately, I had a frustrating experience during this particular visit. The teacher was friendly and supportive; however, I believe I was placed in a class that was too hard for me. My difficulty was in the area of oral comprehension. When the teacher said some things it was done so fast it went over my head. I was OK with reading and writing. Oral comprehension can be difficult for those who don’t listen to a lot of French in their homeland. While I do watch French movies and listen to French music, it is not a regular habit and perhaps if it had been I would have had an easier time.
The other issue was another student who monopolized the conversation. Too often the teacher would choose this woman to answer questions, rather than having other students share their answers. Was it also the fault of the teacher? Yes. Having been a teacher, it is important to create an inclusive environment where ALL can participate. Teachers should respond to all students, not just the loudest. This student was constantly being called on to answer questions or contribute. It wasn’t in my imagination either. I talked to another student from Turkey who felt the same way.
I spent much longer on the homework at Alliance Francaise, perhaps 1-2 hours each night. Of all the schools, I was quietest at this school. Fear of taking a risk? Yes, likely. Having been a teacher and Principal, it was a strong reminder about how all students need to feel welcomed and included in a class. I have also found that the best learning has occurred when there’s laughter and fun. I didn’t find as much of that at Alliance Francaise. So, would I go back? Yes, possibly; however, I would want to be sure that I am placed in the right level or change after one day if I feel things are beyond me. It’s a tough call.
Alliance Francaise Paris: https://www.alliancefr.org/en
4. Final Words Of Advice
There are so many French courses in France but if you want to learn French in France there are French-language schools all over the country and it’s important to investigate the teaching methods, class size, and expectations (ie. homework). Some schools are fully immersive (ie. living at the school) and some are just classes for part of the day. It depends on your budget, comfort level, how much you want to be immersed in French each day, and how much free time you have (to explore the town).
The most success for me was in an immersive environment, like at École des Trois Ponts. They combine learning the language with learning more about French culture. Speaking French morning, noon, and night can accelerate your progress and you will feel more comfortable more quickly.
You can read more about my experience at the Language/Cooking course I took at Ecole des Trois Ponts here: Language And Cooking Classes At Ecole des Trois Ponts.
If you can’t make it to France, consider taking French lessons via Skype. I did it with Ecole des Trois Ponts.
[Note: information has been updated to reflect the most recent published prices-2021/2022
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Keith Van SickleOctober 19, 2017 at 11:17 am
Good for you for taking a risk. It’s not easy to learn a new language as an adult–we are used to feeling competent and an immersive language class is a great way to feel incompetent! I’m glad you enjoyed them so much (well, most of them) and improved your French. Allez Jan!
JanOctober 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm
Thank you. I love to learn so taking French classes have been a lot of fun for me.
AnitaOctober 20, 2017 at 4:50 am
Wow, this is a great post Jan and, although you’re reviewing specific schools and teaching programs, it can be generalized for all of us trying to learn a new language. It sounds like the full-immersion style and École des Trois Ponts was the best fit (and most fun) for you. I loved your statement, “to improve in anything, one needs to take risks” which really sums up a whole approach to life itself for those of us, no matter what our age is, who want to keep learning and experiencing new things.
We enrolled in several Spanish classes in various countries in Mexico and Central America and had our own frustrations with trying to learn a new language. Perhaps the hardest thing is trying to retain it all as older students, because we just aren’t the sponges we used to be. I think, for us, the best learning experiences came in having to perform the practical day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping, ordering from Spanish menus, and interactions with local people. Our own version of total immersion!
Your persistence and can-do attitude in studying French is inspiring me. I definitely need to start working on learning (some) Portuguese, however difficult it may be. Here’s to risks!
JanOctober 20, 2017 at 7:35 pm
I hear Portuguese is hard to learn, but I’m sure if you’ve learned Spanish you’ll do well! (Better than me! I’m just sticking with French!). You’re right though, the day-to-day experiences and positive reinforcement make each day a little easier.
Melissa BurfordJanuary 31, 2020 at 5:19 pm
Thank you, Jan. Your review was very informative to me with all of the details about each school.
I look forward to going this summer, finally! I love your posts, and it is great to know another person
that is as crazy about France as I am.
JanJanuary 31, 2020 at 7:23 pm
Thank you! You’ll love the school and the whole experience!
Mary SullivanNovember 8, 2021 at 5:00 pm
Thank you for sharing your experiences! I’m looking at immersion schools in France and found this extremely helpful. Do you consider yourself fluent after all your experiences?
All the best to you!!
JanNovember 8, 2021 at 6:14 pm
Thanks so much for your comment on my post about French immersion in France.
Do I think I’m fluent after all these trips? No. But I’m certainly getting better.
Fortunately, taking Skype classes weekly with my teacher who is IN France has really helped keep me on top of my game.
Kicking off a trip with French classes really has helped me be more confident and comfortable with my French language skills once I start my journey.
I’m so happy the post was helpful to you.
Mike CosgroveJanuary 14, 2022 at 2:12 pm
Thank you for sharing! I stumbled across this after listening to you on the Join us in France podcast. I would love to try École des Trois Ponts, and was wondering what the average age of the students when you attended (wondering if I’m too old!). Thanks again.
JanJanuary 14, 2022 at 3:09 pm
Glad the podcast and post were helpful.
As for the average age of students at Ecole des Trois Ponts? I would say around 50???? The students were primarily early 40s to——70s but certainly there were some that were in their 30s. One time a mother/daughter also attended. You might want to reach out to Valérie Perez who runs the school. She likely has a more definitive answer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
NicolaMarch 3, 2022 at 10:39 pm
Thank you for posting these really informative comments. Much appreciated in helping with the decision to choose a school!
MaryMarch 24, 2022 at 1:42 pm
Thank you so much for your reviews of the various immersion courses in France. I am signing up for two weeks at the École des Trois Points and am happy to learn about your positive experiences there. Can you tell me what your favorite course choices were? I’m planning to take French in the mornings and then the Countryside Walks in the afternoons the first week. The second week will be just French and I am wondering about signing up for other things too or if that will keep me busy. Thanks again!
JanMarch 24, 2022 at 2:15 pm
So glad my post was helpful. Good for you for taking two weeks! I think you’ll really like the Countryside walks. I’ve actually signed up to do that again in a few months. You were asking about your second week, and when I did just the French lessons, I signed up (and joined the others who were part of the gourmet excursions) for the lunch at Château de Champlong. At the time I paid 50 Euros and it was totally worth it. The food was fantastic and so were the surroundings and the fact that all of us were speaking French with Valerie. It was a nice diversion. I wrote about the experience here: Lunch At Château de Champlong: A Delicious French Immersion Excursion During the week I walked into town, went running, did my homework, and relaxed. I know class mates of mine who took 2 weeks went into Vichy for the weekend. I believe it’s an easy train ride so you might consider that.
KateAugust 3, 2022 at 2:08 pm
I’ve been reading all your writings (blogs?) about Ecole des Trois Ponts and am getting very interested in attending the school with my husband next summer. Thanks so much for all your detailed descriptions! Do you ever attend more than one language school on your trips? I’m tempted to get a sampling of schools, maybe a week at another I’ve found that people seem to like (Coeur de France) and a week at this one. Or is it best to just stick with Ecole des Trois Ponts for two weeks? Thanks!
JanAugust 3, 2022 at 4:46 pm
Interesting question! In fact, a number of years ago, I spent a week at Accent Francais in Montpellier for French classes, then headed to Paris for another week of French immersion at Alliance Francaise, so I have done it. It actually wouldn’t be a bad idea to do two schools. One reason is that if you stay for 2 weeks at Ecole des Trois Ponts, you’re basically on your own Saturday and Sunday. Many people do excursions to Lyon or Vichy.
Each week at Ecole des Trois Ponts there are usually different themes (ie countryside walks, historical visits, gourmet excursions), so you’d get a variety of experiences in the afternoon.
It’s a tough decision and depends on how much you want to move around and what each school has to offer. I’ve never done 2 weeks at Ecole des Trois Ponts but many of my classmates had (and even did 3 and 4 weeks). I also haven’t been to Sancerre so I can’t comment on the size of the town. Riorges (where the school is) is like a suburb of Roanne, which is a small town with a pedestrian-only shopping area and lots of shops, a movie theatre, etc.
Coeur de France is about 2.5 hours away and the journey would give you a little time to explore the area (assuming classes start on a Monday). It also might be an opportunity to try out 2 schools.
Hope this helps with your decision.