Ambassadeurs ONLYLYON

Studying in France is an exciting prospect for many students. The country is famous for its world-renowned universities and its vibrant student life. While you may be interested in this destination, the language barrier may be what makes you hesitate. Do you need to speak French to study in France?

The French language in France

French is the only official language in France, and although there are many regional languages throughout the country (notably Basque or Breton), the language you will hear in the vast majority of situations is standard French, with different accents depending on the region you choose to study in.

The French tend to be proud of their language. It has a long literary and cultural history, and many laws have been passed to protect it and encourage its use. In most professional and everyday situations, French is the dominant language and you will rarely, if ever, hear another. In work contexts, of course, it is a matter of company culture and some may routinely use English.

French is therefore very important when moving to France, but don’t worry, there are many ways to adapt and live there even if you don’t speak the language (yet).

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What are the language requirements for French universities?

Now, one of the main barriers you may face if you come to study in France without speaking French is the language requirements of French universities.

While your situation will limit your access to some programmes, there are actually many institutions that offer courses entirely in English. This is particularly true in some sectors such as science or business. Many of these institutions are world-renowned. For example, EM Lyon Business School offers 11 MScs in Finance, Luxury Management & Marketing, Strategy & Consulting, etc., all available entirely in English. Public universities also offer programmes entirely in this language. For example, the Master in Behavioural Economics at Lumière University Lyon 2 is taught entirely in English.

In other words, you don’t need to speak French to study in France. But you might still be wondering: What about everyday life, how do you live in France if you don’t speak the language?

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How to live in France if you don’t speak French?

As French is the official language and is usually the only one spoken by French people, it might seem that you need to speak it to come and study in France. In reality, the situation is more nuanced.

The level of English proficiency in France tends to be relatively low, but there are many disparities. For example, the younger generations are more fluent than the older ones. There is also a great difference between rural and urban areas. The level is highest in cities like Paris or Lyon. As a foreign student, you will most likely be studying in a large city with a high concentration of people who speak English.

Making friends will actually be very easy: if you choose a programme taught in English, all the other students will be fluent speakers. It is also easy to find a community of fellow international students with whom you can socialise and spend time.

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Should you learn French when you are there?

With that said, you are probably wondering if you shouldn’t just start learning French and continue to progress while you are there.

This is an important idea to consider. The benefits are many. While it will obviously make everyday life easier, you will also benefit from the fact that French is a widely spoken language in the world. Many job opportunities can be opened up thanks to your ability to speak it at a professional level. Learning French will also make your international experience more immersive and enriching.

There are many ways to do this. You can prepare in your home country in the months or weeks before you go, so that you already know how to deal with basic interactions. There are many group courses and private teachers (some even online). Apps are a good supplement, as they often have a gamified approach that makes it easier to work a little every day. In any case, don’t worry: you don’t need to be fluent to study in France.

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What support for non-French speaking students?

If you don’t speak French or are just starting out, don’t worry, you can expect support from the institution you have chosen to study at.

If you want to learn French, you can start with classes at your university, some of which offer free courses for international students. If not, there are other centres that teach the language. For example, if you are coming to study in Lyon, you can go to:

  • The Centre International d’Études Françaises (CIEF), which is part of Lumière University Lyon 2 ;
  • L’Institut de Langue et de Culture Française (ILCF), which is part of the Catholic University of Lyon.

Cities with large numbers of international students organise events for foreign students to help them integrate. For example, every year in October, Lyon and Villeurbanne organise a “World Students’ Night” with concerts, international games and prizes, a photo booth, etc. A village of student associations is also there to welcome you and help you find extracurricular activities. It is free on invitation.

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Why is Lyon one of the best cities for international students?

Lyon is one of the best cities in France for international students. As mentioned above, it has many world-renowned universities and private schools that offer programmes taught entirely in English.

As an international city, Lyon welcomes thousands of students from all over the world every year. In this melting pot, you will have no problem making new friends who speak English or your native language.

It is also a very touristic city, which means that many restaurants, bars and other places where you can gather with other students have English-speaking staff.

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Prepare to study in France!

As you can see, your chances of success are high! Although it’s better to speak French if you want to study in France, you don’t have to master the language on arrival. And although we strongly recommend that you start learning it as soon as you arrive (or even before you leave your home country if you can), there are many ways to overcome the language barrier. Coming to France to study will be an experience of a lifetime.

Are you particularly interested in coming to Lyon? Discover how to prepare!

Prepare for your studies in Lyon