Monday through Friday during our trip to France, we attended French language school. After multiple positive experiences with language schools in Europe: Treffpunkt Bamberg, Germany (different directors now, sadly), Hispano Continental in Salamanca, Spain, Estudio Sampere, Salamanca Spain, and Portuguese Connection, Lisbon, Portugal, Andrew and I both know that we enjoy attending language school as part of traveling and vacation. We decided that studying French and staying with a host family while in France would enrich our experience, teach us about culture and language, provide a group of people to practice our language skills with that have similar goals and interests, and give us a home base for exploring the Loire Valley Region. CLÉ Language School in Tours did not disappoint.
Each morning, after eating a breakfast of toast and jam, Andrew and I set off on a 15 minute walk to the language school, located in the center of old-town Tours, for our classes that began at 9:00 am. Until 12:15 each weekday, we participated in intensive language courses. Andrew placed into a more advanced B2 course, while I “parleyed” with the beginners in an A2 class. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, the school offered afternoon workshops for all students that was included in the price of tuition. I learned how to talk about my daily routine, practiced oral comprehension of numbers, listened to songs in French, drilled pronunciation (I still need a lot of work), and learned how to order like a French person at a bar or café. My favorite “atelier” though, was the wine tasting course, in which we learned about the wine regions of France, and how to properly taste wine, followed by a practical application of our learning: a wine tasting session of two different white wines of the region.
Some advantages and highlights of studying at Clé:
- The school and teachers were serious about language learning! French people do not take the proper instruction and study of their language lightly. We received homework almost every evening, and teachers reiterated the need to study! Every Monday, students were given a test to assess whether they understood the concepts covered the week before.
- The library at Clé is immense and filled with resources for students who are serious about taking advantage of their time to expand their French knowledge. Andrew loved taking home the French magazine, Bien-dire, written for second language learners, and I was able to fill some gaps in my understanding with a comprehensive verb-conjugating manual. Andrew snagged old copies of GEO and National Geographic in French to peruse at home. Clé also owned a vast collection of French movies, which students could check out to view at their host homes.
- The afternoon workshops were creative, oftentimes based on student suggestions for what they’d be interested in learning or improving, and allowed students to work with different teachers, which is always refreshing. Although I don’t love pronunciation workshops, I did see the value in each different aspect of language learning that the 1.5 hour sessions highlighted.
- Geographical location: Located in the heart of the Loire Valley, Tours is the perfect place to base if one wants to visit impressive chateaux.
- Host family: We experienced a wonderful host family, and had the impression that Clé worked hard to match students with caring families. We ate delicious meals, profited from the time spent over dinner with our family to improve our language skills, and liked that a bottle of rosé showed up at many meals.
Since we have spent time studying at other schools, we felt a few areas were lacking in what Clé had to offer:
- Afternoon and weekend activities: Canoeing on the Cher River under the Chenonceau castle was a number one highlight of the trip, and Clé organized this experience for us. Unfortunately, it was the only guided excursion we participated in while at Clé. In Spain and Germany, we loved going with a group and teacher from the school on the weekend to explore the region. These type of excursions provide an insider’s view of a landmark, and more language immersion. I would have loved to see afternoon movie screenings at the school, a guided tour of the impressive cathedral, a visit to a winery, or an organized meeting at the local watering hole offered for students. It seemed like the director of the school was directly responsible for all the afternoon and evening activities, and it could have been too much a burden for one person. French people take their weekends just as seriously as they do their language, so it might have been that asking teachers to work on weekends was simply impossible for the school.
- We missed having students from more varied backgrounds studying together with us! Clé attracted Americans, Swiss, and British students. We wondered where the Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, and Asian students were? A variety of cultures and perspectives always enriches the experience, and gives people more motivation to practice French – it becomes the common language!
- Cost: This was the most expensive school Andrew found as he searched for places to study in France. It could be why we didn’t have quite the cultural melange we hoped for. We decided on Clé since it was located in a small, safe town, in a region we’d been wishing we could explore, and because the internet reviews are overwhelmingly and astoundingly positive (all deserved). I am definitely glad we chose Clé, and now feel like I know the region well, but we did hesitate based on price initially. The afternoon workshops do help to justify the price, I should add.
We took full advantage of our time in France and at Clé, and are absolutely satisfied with our choice of language school. I am already plotting which French school we’ll attend next and in which region, so we can up our levels of French proficiency, and get to know another part of a country we love to visit.