Would you like to improve your French? If you're not a linguistic genius you're probably keen to pick up some French phrases while on holiday so you can travel around hassle-free and immerse yourself in the culture. But if the idea of trawling through a phrase book or relying on a language mobile app fills you with dread, don't worry. There are plenty of alternative ways to swat up on the local lingo. Here are our top 7 tips for learning French while on holiday…
1) Head to local markets
You can pick up some delicious fresh bread, or should I say pain, and learn the French words for different foods. Look at the product names and signs and ask for a quantity or weight of something. Next time you're going to a market you can write your shopping list in French to reinforce those words in your memory. That way, when it comes to ordering your evening meal from the French menu, the words with roll off your tongue and your pronunciation will be spot on.
Local flea markets, or brocantes, are perfect places to learn French as the stall holders are used to chatting with customers about the age, make and history of products and haggling prices. One of the best ways to learn a language is to interact with a fluent speaker. So don't be shy, making mistakes is all part of the learning process. Make sure you ask someone to correct you if you slip-up so you can keep improving.
2) Take a tour without an audio guide
If you think you have some basic phrases down and really want to extend your vocabulary past small-talk then choosing not to have an English audio guide could be just the ticket. Combine your visit to a museum or gallery with some self-taught French by browsing the displays and reading the French signs as well as the translations. You'll quickly pick up some impressive phrases. Plus, reading French in an unfamiliar setting will help keep the information fresh in your memory.
3) Chat to the locals
To learn a language quickly, take every opportunity to practise your French with a native speaker – whether that's chatting to the receptionist about hotel facilities or asking a local for directions. If you hear a new phrase, ask them to explain and try repeating it to yourself.
Cafes, bars and restaurants are great places for learning French while on holiday. Keep your ears open and you'll pick up phrases from overheard conversations and get plenty of opportunity to practise speaking French when ordering or asking the waiter for recommendations.
Head to the nearest tourist information centre and ask, in French, what's on and for recommendations of places to visit. Someone working in tourist information is likely to speak English too so they can correct you or explain if you don't understand.
4) Tune into French radio
Tune into a French radio station (including internet stations) to listen to French classics from greats such as Edith Piaf and you'll be pronouncing your words perfectly in no time. Or, let the French news readers show you how it's done. From rock music to classical there's plenty of choice. Who knows, you might even find yourself singing along.
5) Sing in French
While we're on the subject of music, how about learning some French songs? You can get the whole family involved by teaching the kids French versions of famous songs. Coming up to Christmas, popular choices include Douce Nuit (the French version of Silent Night), or Vive le Vent (Jingle Bells). As the melody will already be familiar you can concentrate on your pronunciation and the meaning of the words. You'll find plenty of French Christmas carols here.
6) Watch French films and TV programmes
Watch French films with English subtitles to follow the plot and learn the lingo at the same time. You'll subconsciously pick up on key words and phrases and it will help you memorise the correct enunciation. Switch the TV to a French channel and turn on the subtitles so you can reference anything you don't understand. With practice, you could soon progress to following a French film or programme without the need for subtitles!
7) Choose a French language holiday
If self-teaching using books, recordings or any of the above aren't right for you then sign up for a French language holiday where the interaction and guidance may help you learn even quicker.
These are fully-immersive experiences which will help you get a deep understanding of the French way of life and culture. You'll also pick up local expressions and sayings, giving you the confidence to chat with French speakers in any situation.
Find a residential French course in your favourite destination in France or Belgium and your accommodation and food will usually be included in the cost of the course. You'll discover life off the tourist trail by visiting local markets, vineyards, speaking to locals and chatting with the group and your tutor over leisurely lunches.
The family-friendly French Language Holidays in Saint Raphaël, in the south of France, welcomes parents and children of all ages. They offer intense language courses (including those for children aged 4-12 or 13-17) and you can stay with a host family for complete immersion.
Not got much time to spare? The Alliance française promotes French language and culture around the world and you can join day courses (or longer) at its centre in Paris and locations throughout France. More details and a course calendar are available on their website.
Getting there: It's a short 35 minute crossing from Folkestone to Calais, France with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. From Calais, it's less than 3 hours' drive to the French-speaking region of Belgium.