July 2005 issue

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French for all

France and Belgium have many things in common: they have plenty of history, beautiful cities and are both great French language destinations for students. Gillian Evans reports.

The Students who want to learn French can do so in France or Belgium, two countries where anyone can feel at home. France is renowned for its culture, and literary and artistic heritage, while the Belgium of today is most famous for being home to much of the European Union's political infrastructure. And both populations share an intense love of food and drink.

"Food is an important issue [for] the French," confirms Peter Carmen at the Paris American Academy in Paris. "They are proud of their produce and expertise in wine, cheese and cooking." It is not surprising then that both food and drink feature heavily in the activity programmes of most schools in France. ISEFE in Chambery, for example, offers wine tasting, which includes a trip to local vineyards and wine cellars, and dinner to sample local delicacies.

Through the language programmes at Ecole Perl in Paris, students are introduced to the many culinary, artistic and literary facets of Paris. The school's Educational and Commercial Manager, Maud Bertrand, explains, "Our school organises different art and cooking programmes. Students [can] learn in French how to cook in our cooking-school partner with a French chef and French students. Students [can] go to artists' studios and practise sculpting, drawing and painting with French artists from Paris. Our school also organises theatre training with a French actor and writing workshops."

The capital of France, Paris, is one of the world's best loved cities and students studying there have all its famous sites on their doorstep - the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre to mention just a few. Despite being a large cosmopolitan city, Paris is also, as Carmen puts it, a "collection of villages", each with its own food markets, cafés, restaurants and shops. The most popular place to shop for haut couture, however, is in the rue du Faubourg-St-Honore, which is home to couture houses such as Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Chanel and Christian Dior. Just one-and-a-half hours from Paris by the high-speed TGV train is the historic city of Angers and Cidef language school. "Angers, located in the west of France, in the Loire Valley, is famous for its quality of life," asserts Marc Melin, Cidef Director. "Those who attend our courses appreciate the châteaux, flowers, fruit, wine and above all, the quality of the language of the region." The historic capital of Anjou, Angers has a magnificent 13th-century chateau, which is home to one of France's finest medieval tapestries. Dating from the late 14th century, it depicts the Apocalypse, with battles between hydras and angels.

Another of France's historic gems is Chambery, once the capital of Savoy and "one of the most remarkable old neighbourhoods in France", as Karine Joly at ISEFE puts it. Chambery has a distinctive Italian feel, with a 14th-century chateau and extravagant fountain, Fountaine des Elephants. Chambery is also well positioned for those interested in making the most of France's beautiful countryside. "Chambery is located near the most important ski resorts in Europe [and] the largest natural lakes in France, the Bourget Lake and the Aiguebelette Lake. [It is also] the gateway to the regional natural parks of Chartreuse and of the Bauges, and to the Vanoise National Park," says Joly. Activities include snow sports, hiking and cycling around the vineyards, while trips to Lyon with its Basilica and Gallo Roman museum, and hiking in the Mont Blanc region with an overnight stay in a mountain chalet, are also popular.

For a taste of the lively side of the Côte d'Azur, EF Nice is ideal. Famous for its long hot summers and mild winters, Nice is France's largest resort on the Mediterranean coast and the country's fifth biggest city. It has palm-tree fringed avenues and grand hotels, restaurants and museums, and is great for those interested in taking up watersports or mountain activities, according to Anne Demange at the school.

If students are looking for a quieter experience of the Côte d'Azur, France Homestays in Mouans-Sartroux has a network of home tuition providers in the region. "Students looking for [the] typical Mediterranean lifestyle can go to our hilltop villages where our [traditions] are preserved," says Isabelle Conte at France Homestays. "If the students want peace and night activity, they can choose to live in the country and go out at night to big cities like Cannes, Nice or Monaco."

Further westwards near Avignon, the school, Ceran Lingua Provence, is ideally located for those wanting to explore the many attractions of the region. "The regions of Provence, the Côte d'Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon offer thousands of sightseeing opportunities - walking, relaxing, going to the beach or mountains and visiting picturesque villages," says Maïté Mignot at the school.

Ceran also has a school in Spa, Belgium, a town located less than 50 kilometres from Germany and the Netherlands, right in the heart of Europe. And, according to Mignot, the surrounding countryside is ideal for nature lovers. "The Ceran-ILC centre at Spa is located in undisturbed nature: the forest of the Ardennes and the plateau of the Hautes Fagnes," she says. "Spa is also 'the Pearl of the Ardennes', occupying its rightful place amongst Europe's top spa towns, with its new thermal spa centre and water and health sports facilities." Another Belgian school, CLL, offers French language programmes on university campuses in Brussels and Louvain-la-Neuve. "Louvain-la-Neuve is a university town, [with] a nice student atmosphere [and] everything is easily accessible on foot," says Marie-Eve Havaux at the school. According to Havaux, trains to the centre of the town and a shuttle bus service link Louvain-la-Neuve university campus with the Brussels campus, just outside the city centre. Brussels itself is a beautiful city with a magnificent medieval square, the Grand Place, various art museums and the superb Horta art-nouveau house. "Brussels is a great cosmopolitan city," adds Havaux, "home to the European Union and Nato."

Although France may be the first place to spring to mind when considering learning French, Belgium has a wealth of attributes to make it a great French language destination. Havaux mentions the "flexible mentality of Belgian citizens" as well as its beautiful cities such as Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges and Leuven. In addition, its position in the heart of Europe means students can easily explore European cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and London. Another advantage of Belgium is, of course, its delicious chocolates!

Agent viewpoint

"The Belgians are linguistically open-minded and bilingual. What all Belgians have in common is a love for the 'good life', which they find in their excellent food and drink, comfortable housing, and reliable medical and social services. Belgians tend to be rather reserved or introverted in their first contacts with other people, but are sincerely warm and friendly once you get to know them better. In Belgium you can buy over 350 types of beer and nearly as many types of chocolate."
Jill Arcaro-Gordon, Best Programs, Spain

"The advantages of studying French in France are the culture, lifestyle and the image of the country of course! The Provence region in the south is the main destination for our clients – it has something special and exotic for the Finns. Meanwhile, Belgium is in the heart of Europe, it is multilingual and multicultural, [which makes it appealing to clients]."
Michel Bichri, MLC International, Finland

"[Students enjoy] experiencing the everyday life of French people, finding out about the history, tradition and culture of France, and visiting different places of interest – theatres, museums, etc. We only send students to France, to Paris, Nice, Montpellier, Bordeaux and Biarritz. Among Polish students the most popular cities are Paris and Nice. Students are fascinated with the beauty of [Paris, the abundance] of monuments [and] museums, the atmosphere of the city and the friendly people. [In] Nice, they like being close to the sea, and the possibility to improve their French and have some fun."
Slawomir Lisowski, T&T, Poland

"I send clients to all parts of France, but mainly to Paris. Montpellier and Tours are also popular [cities with my clients]. It's probably the French way of life [that attracts students] compared with the stress that Japanese [people] can have in their lives. Lots of students now want to go to the countryside to get a new picture of France – the information brought back by Japanese [students] who have visited [areas within the French] countryside is increasing this trend."
Jean-Jacques Truchot, Presence, Japan

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