Learning French Online
Tips on French Culture and Customs

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If you’re like most people looking into learning French online, you’re on to a sweet little secret. Learning French online, or any language for that matter, is an amazing and easy new way to acquire foreign language skills.

The top reasons people want to learn French online is either out of genuine interest and enthusiasm for the language, a school curriculum requirement or elective course, or they are traveling to France (or some other French speaking country). In all cases, learning French online is becoming if not essential, at least an additional tool of great value.

With regards to your Paris trip, it wasn’t so long ago that an anti-France campaign orchestrated in very high places (after the France-United States clash over the decision to attack Iraq) swept America. Remember the renaming French fries “Freedom fries” class act?

Well, since then it appears thankfully, that the general public has begun to sharply question these often misplaced anti-French sentiments. Internet travel forums are full of posts from people who report having spent a glorious time in Paris and having come across no evidence whatsoever of the sweeping “they hate Americans over there” propaganda. In fact, most of them state candidly that they generally found the French to be very nice and polite.

Many of the posts have also gone on a welcomed mission to instruct future Paris visitors on ways to act in France in order to avoid violating some French cultural sensibilities.

Things that come back again and again in posts are of the nature of the following: “Do not act as if you were in your backyard”; “Do not expect that every one should speak English”; “France is not some amusement park, it is a foreign country”, and “The French are fiercely proud of their heritage, culture and language”.

Also, “You do not need to be fluent in French”, but a minimum effort, even as little as basic greetings in French will show that you are trying and will ingratiate you to the French many folds.


Thus, learning French online in preparation for your trip could have many side benefits in readying you to better deal with French culture and customs. It is true that the French are sensitive to what, in French culture and customs, can be seen as bad manners. This applies to visitors or to other French alike.

The trouble is that foreigners are sometimes at a disadvantage, not knowing the language or local French culture and customs, all of which can be easily forgiven by simply making a good first impression. To start with, always begin a conversation with someone you don’t know by greeting them (in French).

This is not meant to be condescending by any means. I live in America and I know that initiating a conversation with a stranger over here, without first exchanging greetings is not necessarily impolite. In fact, it can be considered gregarious, friendly and something that outgoing people do. This is simply a cultural difference to be aware of.

Another one is that in America, while shopping or browsing in a store, people expect that "the customer is king" and will be pandered to. In French culture and customs, that is not necessarily true. Store employees may actually not approach you if you appear to just want to browse undisturbed. Do not mistake that for being ignored by them. It's just a less urging mindset.

One more language related tip in French culture and customs is that, if you have no choice but to speak in English, always start by asking “Pardon me, do you speak English?”. You will be absolutely cared for if you say “I’m sorry but my French is not very good” (and absolutely adored if you say it in French!)

Remember that some people in France genuinely do not know much English and have their own insecurities about using a foreign language they speak poorly, something I’m sure you can relate to. So, don’t assume they’re just being rude...


The reason learning French online is now such a boon is that it gives you the fantastic combined tool of voice and text, which previously was only the turf of language labs, pricey recordings and print packages, or live human instructors.

A free Web site like Bonjour.com allows you to immediately pick everyday phrases and words you’d most want to use, and to see the written translation and hear the correct pronunciation. All you do is repeat, practice and you’re off to a great start.

This is a superb tool to take advantage of in learning French online before your trip, and amazingly, it’s all free! The next best thing would be a pocket version to carry with you. Now that would be an answer to many people’s prayers…

For those who are looking for more in-depth French lessons (language students and others), check out the downloadable French learning software from RocketFrench.com. I’m not learning French (I'm French-English bilingual) but looking around, Rocket French has struck me as one of the most appealing offerings out there, and I especially liked the clarity of their presentation.

The last thing you want when learning french online is more clutter and confusion. Their package seems easier to study from. My only complaint is that they went for the typical thickly laid sales pitch, really unnecessary in my view. But if you can forgive them for that, you’ll find a quality product.

Now, if you are gadget prone, chances are you already own an I-Pod. If so, have you checked out the French Pod Class? All you have to do is go to "iTunes" on the Apple Web site. On the current list of "featured podcasts" at http://www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts, you'll find the French Pod Class. Download it to your Ipod and Voilà! You now have fun audio French lessons to go.

Whatever you choose to do, have a blast. Learning French online on your own time and in the privacy of a computer near you should be fun! As for me, I’m looking to learn Portuguese online for my next trip to Brazil! Ciao!!!

More on French culture and customs: Are Paris waiters rude or is it you?

More on how to learn French

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