Angerville, France
Tree-lined lane in Angerville, France, 2007.

Getting Ready ~ Learning French

Parlez-vous français?

If you’re planning to go to France, especially for the extended adventure of a good long walk, there is no better way to enhance the experience than to speak French as well as possible. Not only does it make travel easier and less stressful, it makes it more fun. You can really get to talk to ordinary people and exchange stories and ideas.

But don’t let a lack of language prowess deter you from hiking the sentiers de grande randonnée. On my first walk, I knew only the bare rudiments of basic French, but just trying to speak their native tongue seemed to bring out the friendly best in people. Everywhere I went, people tried to help me out. That’s part of the reason I wanted to learn more.

In major towns and cities there’s a fair chance you’ll meet someone who can speak some English, but in the rural countryside, it’s quite uncommon. Anywhere you do, the person is likely to be as shy about trying a bit of anglais, as we might be about speaking français to a visitor from abroad. In any case, do what you can to learn as much French as possible before you go.

Here are some great resources for learning this important and beautiful language – to help you get up to speed, or brush up on your long-ago high school or college French.

“Bonjour classe…”

My personal preference is small group instruction. I like the organization of a structured course, the challenge of a someone else setting the pace, and the ability to ask questions as they come up. I’ve been studying for several years at the Beverly Hills Lingual Institute, which offers first-rate instruction in a couple of dozen languages. They specialize in small classes for adult students, taught by exceptional native-speaking instructors. Even though there is a syllabus and textbook, I like the flexibility my teacher has in pacing the course to our class. If you happen to be within reach of “90210”, there’s no better choice for learning a language. And since it’s only about nine miles from my house, as part of my pre-walk training, I just walk home after class! Highly recommended by Longwalking.

I like using other learning tools as well. Each technique or course has a different approach. Some may mesh better than others with your best ways of learning, or your schedule. All of them reinforce and complement classroom or other instruction. My suggestion is to actively study with two or three different approaches. Here are some I really like.

An American in Paris

French in Action is a cool and quirky educational series produced in 1987 by Pierre Capretz. There are 52 half hour episodes, entirely in French, which follow the adventures of two college students in Paris. It’s amazing how this immersion method quickly builds familiarity with the language. Since there’s a story, filled with diverse characters, you stay motivated by wanting to know what happens next. FA is still broadcast on some PBS channels, and you can watch it online for free. The course covers a lot of ground in an offbeat yet structured way that creatively adds new words and concepts while continuously reviewing earlier material. There are many legions of fans, many of whom enjoy tracking down some of the places haunted by Mireille and Robert, like La Closerie des Lilas, in Paris (Episode 19). Recommended.

Let’s watch more TV!

TV-5 (pronounced “tee-vee-sank”), is one of the big French broadcasters. Their TV5MONDE website has a tremendous amount of content including news programs, cultural stories, and an extensive section about learning to speak French. TV-5 live programming is available in some satellite and cable TV market areas.

Self-study, and practice, practice, practice…

One of the best reviewed home study courses comes from Rosetta Stone. Although it may seem a bit pricey, it packs a lot of education into the cost of a term or two in many language schools. Rosetta has developed a wide variety of self-paced “Dynamic Immersion” techniques for learning a language. It’s a way of letting you move directly into using a language without having to first translate to your native tongue, interpret, respond, translate back, etc. A lot of cool, fun exercises. As with all personal learning products, Rosetta Stone requires a bit of self-discipline for you to succeed – but so does walking 25 miles a day! It’s both a great way to get started and a complement to classroom instruction.

An affordable language booster

Another course I’ve really enjoyed is Rocket French. It’s an inexpensive but very clear, well-structured series of French lessons. Good fundamental dialogs with explanations and variations. Download some sample lessons from their website and check it out. I found it a great way to get up to speed and keep polishing. For the price, it’s my favorite. Recommended.

And remember…

The better you can speak a language, the lighter it is to carry around with you. You can get by with a smaller (lighter) dictionary and/or phrasebook. If you’re going to hike in France, fluency is one of the most practical weight-saving methods around!

Ways to learn French

Here’s our list of suggestions. Asterisks (**) means “Free!” See which ones you like. Send us your favorites. J’espere de vous voir sur le chemin!

Alliance Française USA


Barron’s French


Berlitz classes

Beverly Hills Lingual Institute

Click On French

Coffee Break French**

Easy French


French in Action**

Pimsleur French

Rocket French

Rosetta Stone

SureFire French


Walk, Talk and Learn French**

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