The ‘total approach’ to learning French – the Institute de Français

The Institute de Français is a French language school in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Rivera. A few years ago I attended a 4-week course there. It was excellent.

The school is set up to immerse student in the French language to the greatest degree possible (shy of holding them completely captive). It is what the Institute calls the ‘Total Approach’ and it is highly effective. They achieve immersion through various means:

  • A ‘French only’ policy is strictly enforced on campus. And most students also try to speak only French off campus in the evenings and on weekends.
  • Most students are there for a full 4-week course which is long enough to really get deeply into the language.
  • Instruction is in French only – even at the absolute beginner levels.
  • The French-only days are long – 8 1/2 hours.
  • The day includes breakfast and lunch. Students sit at tables of eight and each table includes a teacher who is there to ensure that the meal is accompanied by conversion – in French of course.
  • In the class-room the focus is very much on functional French that gets the student speaking as much as possible. Rather than focusing on grammar theory, the emphasis is on providing patterns that can be used in conversion.

For me the Institute was an inflection point. Prior to attending I had lived in Paris for 6 years but both my personal/social and work environments had been very much Anglophone. So while my French was sufficient to get me into the top class at the Institute, it was embarrassingly inadequate considering I’d already lived in France for an extended period.

It is not cheap – 5,800 € for the 4-week course. But the month I invested at Villefranche-sur-Mer changed everything. On returning to Paris I found myself speaking French comfortably – of course not perfectly – and without hesitation. The most important benefit of my time at the Institute was that it forced me to get over any hang-ups I had about making mistakes and embarrassing myself.

Here is a link to the Institute website.

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