What Level of French Would I Need to Live in France?

France, being the most popular tourist destination in the world (source) has many people considering moving there. With its beautiful scenery from the rolling green fields of the North to the mountains in the South, the geography is diverse – as is the culture.

Of course, living in any non-English speaking country has its challenges, primarily the language difficulties. So, if you were considering moving to France to live, exactly how much French would you need to know? Could you get away with not knowing any?

For anyone considering moving to France to live, I would recommend their knowledge being at least the DELF A2 level. Although your knowledge would still be at a beginner level, you’d understand the basics. You’d be able to introduce yourself, understand simple spoken French and you’d be able to get by. Ideally though, prior to moving, your knowledge would be at the intermediate B1 level, which would really help you integrate better.

Could I live in France without knowing any French?

Yes, you could theoretically live in France without knowing any French, however it’s certainly not recommended. Apart from the obvious difficulties you may have performing the basic day-to-day tasks such as shopping and asking for a cup of coffee in a cafĂ©, you would never be able to integrate properly with your local community.

According to a survey taken in 2018, around 90% of people who move to France are either learning French or are fluent. This makes sense, if you have a strong enough desire to move to the country, you will most likely have a strong desire to integrate and learn the language. I was surprised it was only 90%!

Although many French people do indeed speak English, as you may be moving to their country it should of course be you that tries to integrate with them, not the other way around.

What’s the minimum level of French I would need to live in France?

The very minimum level of French I’d recommend people who are considering moving to France would be the DELF A2 level. If you’re at this level, then you will know the basics. You’ll even be able to have basic conversations and dialogue with native speaking French people.

You’ll be able to read signs, write basic communications and you’ll be able to ask directions, go shopping and and create short sentences relating to things that interest you. You’ll still struggle to understand spoken French if it’s spoken at normal speed and you won’t be able to follow most French TV. Although, you will be able to pick out a lot from news reports and weather programmes.

If you’re interested in understanding the different French levels, take a look here where you’ll see the DELF French levels and what they actually correspond to. The great thing is if you’re prepared to immerse yourself in the culture then you’ll find your language learning skills will increase dramatically when there.

Do all French people speak English?

A few years ago I drove through France to Monaco on the South coast. I had a great few days there but was embarrassed about how little French I spoke and how much I relied on the French to speak English. It was arrogant of me and was actually the catalyst for me learning French.

Prior to the trip, I had the impression that everyone in France spoke good English and I wouldn’t have any problems when over there. I was wrong and actually most people I tried to communicate with couldn’t speak English – which caused some obvious problems.

It surprised me to learn that less than 40% of French people claim to be able to speak English, I’d assumed it was much higher. However, that 40% is a whole lot more than the amount of people in the UK (or the US) that can speak French!

So, I can categorically say that not all people in France can speak English.

Would French people get angry if you don’t try and speak French?

Having spent some time in France prior to learning the language, I have my own opinion and views on this. Of course, there are so many variables. The reaction you get when you don’t even try and communicate with a French person in French and put the emphasis on them to understand what you’re saying can depend on a few things:

  • What kind of person you are and how you pose the question – are you kind and considerate? Or is your tone aggressive and demanding?
  • What kind of person you’re speaking to? There are all types of people on this planet, regardless of what country you’re in. Some people will be short with you, regardless of how nice you are.
  • Whether the person is in a rush or not
  • Your location, if you’re in a tourist area where non-French speaking people frequent then you may encounter more patience than if you’re on a street corner in one of the larger cities in France.

What you may find, even if you’re really trying to make an effort and struggling with your French – the local may just switch to English and help you out. This can be a little frustrating if you’re really trying to learn the language but bear in mind it can also be frustrating for the native French-speaker who might just want to get on with things!

Advantages of knowing French when living there

Wow, there are literally no disadvantages to being able to converse in French whilst living there. Some of the obvious advantages are:

  • Being able to socialise with locals, and just chatting with them. You’ll be able to make friends a lot easier when you can talk with people. When you’re trying to integrate with a local community, you’ll struggle to do this without being to talk (and listen) to people.
  • You’ll be able to go out to cafes and restaurants and not have to stress that you’ll struggle to get what you want or you’ll not be able to understand what’s being asked with you. It just removes so much of the stress from these situations!
  • You can watch French TV with native French-speaking people and not have to rely on subtitles (which won’t always be available).
  • Telephone conversations are practically impossible without having a grasp of the language. Imagine moving to another country and not being able to use the phone!
  • If you’re trying to work there, you’ll have to at some point write written communications (emails for example). Yes, you can use google translate but you’ll find using that, your language doesn’t flow and itt takes considerably longer!

Ultimately, you’ll find yourself being happier and enjoying life in France so much more if you’re able to speak their language!

Consequences of not knowing French when living there

There’s two sides to this – one with longer term problems and one with not. If you have aspirations of learning the language, and just don’t know it now, then these problems will go away. Also, the people you’re talking to will (mostly) appreciate the fact that you’re at least trying to learn the language and will most likely have a little more patience with you!

If you don’t know French and have no desire to learn it in the future, then you’ll struggle – primarily for these reasons:

  • You will struggle to make friends outside of other English-speaking individuals.
  • You will not be able to find work (if you need it)
  • Any social event will be challenging and stressful
  • Going out to cafes, restaurants, shops will need to involve a French-speaking friend (who also speaks English)
  • You will be considered potentially arrogant for not even trying to learn the native language of where you now live.

I think the key here is to at least make an effort!

Conclusion – living in France and knowledge of their language

It will only be the most arrogant of people who would assume they can move to another country and think they can get away with not even trying to learn the host language whilst integrating into the country.

To be able to live in France and enjoy life then you really need to integrate, and the only way to do this is to learn their language. There can be no excuses, not even age – there’s no reason why someone older can’t start to learn French.

Learning another language can be the most rewarding thing you can do in your free time. Combine this with the benefits you’ll get whilst learning in that country is priceless.