Teaching English in France: Living in France
With its rich culture, magnificent landscape, and delicious regional foods, France is a popular destination for ESL teachers and is bound to inspire every imagination.
France is full of culture, history, renowned cuisine, and a need to learn the English language. From the romance and fashion capital of Paris to the breathtaking Loire Valley, France attracts millions of visitors each year. Bordered by some of Europe's major cities and surrounded by famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame de Paris, it is difficult not to experience un coup de foudre. Hundreds of famous artists were inspired by the country, including Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, and although born in the Netherlands, Van Gogh also produced the majority of his impressionist paintings in France. Brilliant writers like Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Voltaire, and Alexandre Dumas have their roots in France.
France is a country in which many ESL teachers envision themselves teaching. Although France appears to be the ideal teaching location, due to its inclusion in the European Union, obtaining a work visa can be difficult for non-EU citizens and the process is lengthy. English teachers who are able to find a position in France can expect to make around €1,000 - €2,000 per month and spend around 10 - 30 hours per week in the classroom (in addition to preparation time). The desire to teach English in France is popular, which means the competition is strong. It is important that those looking for teaching positions have the proper qualifications and are willing to be patient in their job search. Despite the limitations and difficulties in obtaining a working visa, those willing to undergo this process and attempt to secure a teaching position in France will have much to look forward to as the country has an abundance to offer.
Due to its high popularity, finding a place to live in France can be expensive and time consuming. Very rarely will an employer provide accommodations, so it is up to English teachers to find their own living quarters. In addition, landlords tend to avoid renting to tenants they have not met in person. One option may be to hire an apartment rental service, but be aware that this can often cost the equivalent of one month's rent. As is the case with many European countries, price and availability of housing depends greatly on the location of the apartment. Not surprisingly, accommodations within the main cities will be tough to find and expensive to rent, whereas rural areas will be more affordable. ESL teachers looking to choose the right apartment should consider the location of the school, along with transportation options, to ensure they will find housing that is suitable to their needs. Most rental contracts are for at least one year; however, tenants can terminate their lease at any time as long as they provide sufficient notice (normally three months). When securing an apartment, most landlords will require a two-month deposit, though this may or may not be in addition to the required security deposit (la caution). It is also common for a landlord to ask for additional guarantors (usually parents) if a tenant's salary is less than three times the monthly rent.
In France, another important part of the rental contract is called un état des lieux (initial and final inventory), which details the state of the rental and its contents when first moving in and when moving out. Upon signing the agreement, the tenant must ensure that all damages and defects are noted in the inventory summary. Otherwise, s/he may be held responsible for the cost of the repair and lose part or all of a security deposit.
Like accommodations, the vast majority of employers will not provide airfare to their ESL teachers. Those wishing to teach English in France will be expected to arrange their own air travel to Europe.
The French are renowned for having one of the most successful and efficient public health systems in the world; every legal resident has access under the law of universal coverage. The World Health Organization ranked the healthcare in France as the best in the world in their 2000 assessment of national health systems.
EU citizens working in France are automatically eligible for free basic healthcare and are given a European Health Insurance Card. Non-EU citizens residing temporarily in France and holding a long-stay visa will be able to enroll into social security, giving them access to basic healthcare at a reduced cost. Such residents may also want to check with their domestic insurance company to determine whether a bilateral agreement will cover them while teaching English in France. Depending on their medical needs, it may be recommended that ESL teachers purchase additional insurance that will cover any prescription, dental, or other medical expenses they could incur while in France and which are not covered through social security.
French workers are eligible to receive their pensions at the age of 60-62 (depending on birth year), regardless of gender or profession. Citizens of France can determine at what age they wish to retire as there is no mandatory retirement age. That said, statistics have shown that many of the French are deciding to retire before they are of a pension-ready age, generally in their early 50's.
Technology and Advancement
ESL teachers will have no need to 'rough it' while teaching English in France. Much like Canadians, the French have incorporated the use of high-speed Internet, cell phones, digital television, and other modern conveniences into the daily routine, both at home and at work.
While some North American cell phones will work in France, the rates are typically quite expensive. ESL teachers will most likely want to reserve their cell phone time for emergencies only, or purchase a French mobile phone and a matching plan (plans usually start at €30/month for a twelve-month contract). Some of the more popular cell phone providers in France include Orange, SFR, Virgin and Bouygues. As in Canada, going to an electronics store is a good place to start. However, ESL teachers should be aware that they will need to provide proof of a French bank account (RIB: relevé d'indentité bancaire) and possibly of French residency (a copy of their long-stay visa) in order to sign a contract.
It is not recommended to bring North American electronics to France unless they can operate at both 110V and 220V, as AC power in France (and the rest of Europe) is 220V. Although purchase of a voltage converter can work in temporary situations, electronics that operate at 110V tend to overheat, resulting in damage. If an appliance is labelled as dual voltage, then a plug adapter will be needed in order to fit French wall outlets. French homes are furnished with Type E outlets, which feature a circular wall plug with a pin sticking out of the outlet to serve as a ground. The same power outlets can be found in Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Monaco, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and many other countries around the world.
Commuters in France have many travel options for both long and short distances. The French transportation system allows for ESL teachers to easily plan a long-distance trip throughout the French countryside or to simply get around town and to work by city transit. The combination of roadway, rail, metro, and bus access makes France an easy place to explore, regardless of location.
There are many French taxi drivers who speak English, but be sure to write down in French any destination before getting into a cab just to be on the safe side. Taxi rates vary depending on the time of day: rates in the daytime (7:00 am to 7:00 pm) tend to be less expensive than those at night (7:00 pm to 7:00 am). Be aware that there are extra fees when a taxi takes a customer to the airport. Taxi rates also increase if a customer calls the cab company directly, with the extra cost varying based on how far the car needs to travel to the pick-up location. The most affordable ways to hire a taxi are to simply wave one down or to find a taxi stand (usually located at a busy shopping area).
Train and Subway
With France's central location in Europe, the French rail system (SNCF) is not only a great way to get around France, it is also an excellent way to travel to other European nations. Commuters on French rail are able to travel to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, and Spain. With the completion of the "Chunnel" (Channel Tunnel) in 1994, ESL teachers can now use the Eurorail service to travel between France and England as well without the hassle of transferring. Because of this ease of travel, many Brits have made their way to France to teach English. With their EU passport, they have a much easier time finding jobs than those without EU citizenship, thereby increasing competition in this market.
In addition to having 31,840 km of railroad, the nation's urban dwellers are able to ride one of the six French metro systems, as well as many light rail and tramways. Subway systems can be found in the following French cities: Paris, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes, and Toulouse. Since 1900, the Paris Métro has been transporting the citizens of Paris throughout the city. Today, the Paris Métro is one of the busiest metro systems in Europe, with only the Moscow Metro experiencing more daily European traffic.
There are plenty of metro stations in Paris. With over 300 located throughout the city, commuters can usually find a station every 500 metres.
Although not as comfortable as the other options, the bus is an affordable transportation alternative in France. The bus systems can be somewhat confusing, as each region and town has its own network. For ease of use, asking employers ahead of time for the addresses of the major stations near the school will help in acquiring maps and transit schedules once in country. Remember that a bus travelling between cities is usually referred to as un car, whereas a bus operating within the city limits is referred to as un bus.
The Paris bus system - operated by the RATP - runs from 5:30 am to 8:30 pm, though main routes usually stay open until 12:30 am. A ticket to ride the bus is roughly €1.70. Many Paris commuters prefer to take the metro, or a hybrid of both bus and metro, when travelling.
Other Modes of Transportation
Other modes of transportation that are available to ESL teachers include:
The idea of riding a bicycle around the countryside of France is a popular notion for some foreigners. In addition to being a way to take in the French scenery, a bicycle is a cheap and excellent way to get around a French city. Bicycles can be either purchased or rented.
European drivers are generally known for striking fear into those expatriates who decide to get behind the wheel. Driving in France will take some practice, but eventually most people find that they grow accustomed to fast speeds, narrower lanes and bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.
Drivers are able to drive for up to one year with their Canadian driver's licence. Once an ESL teacher has been in France for 365 days, s/he may only drive with a French driver's licence. ESL teachers from the following provinces can simply trade their provincially-issued licence for a French version: Alberta, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec. Residents of other provinces or territories will need to go through a testing process before being issued a French driver’s licence.
Preparing to Teach English in France
Many recent TESOL graduates find that researching France is an excellent way to learn and grow familiar with their teaching destination before even stepping onto a plane. While experience with the French language will greatly help with a job search, there are still numerous English sources available online. Many of these resources offer information about living in France and its many attractions, and provide guidance concerning finding an English-teaching job that fits. In addition to providing factual information, the Internet is a great resource for reading about the experiences of other ESL teachers working in France and there may even be options to interact with those already established in the country.
Take a look at the websites listed below.
- Oxford Seminars ESL Teaching Resources
- Teach Abroad - http://www.teachabroad.com
- French Government's Tourism Page - http://ca.franceguide.com/
- The Connexion - http://www.connexionfrance.com/
- Dave's ESL Café - http://www.eslcafe.com/
- Transitions Abroad - http://www.transitionsabroad.com/
French may be a language not that foreign to most, since many have taken at least one French course during their schooling. Brushing up on or learning the following day-to-day phrases will be of great help while in France. Additionally, many ESL jobs require that the applicant have some understanding of the French language:
- My name is______.
Mon nom est __.
- How are you? / How's it going?
Comment allez-vous? (formal) / Comment ça va? (informal)
- I'm from Canada.
Je suis du Canada.
- Thank you / You're welcome.
Merci / De rien.
- Where is the bathroom?
Où sont les toilettes?
- How much?
- I'm hungry.
- Can we go there by bus?
Pouvons-nous y aller en bus?
- I'm sorry, I don't speak French.
Je regrette, je ne parle pas français.
- Can you help me?
These are just some of the basic French phrases that English teachers may wish to practice before arriving in France. Although they will find that many French can understand some English, as part of the experience it is worth learning the language.
French food will most certainly be one of the many fond experiences English teachers will have in France. There is a wide variety of familiar dishes from which to choose, as well as some that may seem quite peculiar. The French have a great passion for food and it is worth taking advantage of the experience and trying the local dish. To get a better idea of which restaurants, bistros and brasseries are worth exploring, it is best to inquire locally for recommendations. Some of the most popular dishes among foreigners are listed below:
- Bouillabaisse - Fish stew local to the south of France. This dish can be quite expensive when ordered in a restaurant given the variety of fish, shellfish and mollusks included.
- Confit de canard - "Duck confit" is made from the legs and wings of a duck cooked in grease.
- Foie gras - The cooked liver of a duck or goose.
When it comes to fine dining experiences, French wine must certainly come to mind. The French are famous for their many varieties of wine. There are seven to eight billion bottles of wine produced each year in France, enjoyed both within the country's borders and stocked in wine cellars around the globe. In some areas of France, it can be easier and cheaper to purchase wine than water. When perusing the aisles of your local supermarket, don't be surprised if you are having trouble orienting yourself. French wine is typically categorized by region, not by grape.
Metropolitan (mainland) France - commonly referred to as l'Hexagone due to its shape - is the largest country in the European Union, even with an area that is smaller than the size of Texas. There are four seasons in France, each varying from region to region. In general, heavy rainfall and milder weather occur in the western area of the country due to systems coming off the Atlantic, while France’s coldest weather is typically found in the Alps. This mountain range and popular skiing destination is situated on the border France shares with Italy and a small part of Switzerland.
The risk of ESL teachers being exposed to a serious natural disaster while teaching in France is slim compared to other parts of the world. The most recent national emergency was the 2003 European heat wave that devastated France and affected much of Europe. The death toll in France was much higher than any other nation as many experts claimed that the French populace were not accustomed to such heat and did not understand how to cope with it. The heat wave was especially harsh on the elderly, as it was reported that many victims of the disaster were dehydrated and many French homes and retirement facilities had no form of air conditioning. Since the disaster, many more homes and residences are now equipped with central air.
Banks, government offices, schools and shops will be closed on the following dates. Labour Day is the only French holiday that is always a paid day off. Other paid holidays are negotiated between an employee and employer. Additionally, in smaller towns, it is not uncommon for local shops to close for an extended period of time during school holidays in February, April/May, August, October, and December.
- January 1st - New Year's Day (Jour de l'an) - As in Canada, New Year's Day is a celebration of the first day of the calendar year.
- Held on a Sunday between March 22nd and April 25th - Easter Sunday (Pâques) - A Christian-based holiday celebrated in similar fashion to Canada.
- The Monday following Easter Sunday - Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques) - The conclusion of the Easter weekend.
- May 1st - Labour Day (Fête du travail) - A day to celebrate the accomplishments of French workers.
- May 8th - WWII Victory Day (Fête de la Victoire 1945 / Fête du huitième mai) - Also called VE-DAY (Victory in Europe Day), it is celebrated with great passion all over Europe.
- 40 days after Easter - Ascension Day (l'Ascension) - A holiday based on the Christian faith.
- 49 days after Easter - Pentecost (Pentecôte) - Also known as Whit Sunday, it is customary to blow trumpets to recall the sound of the wind which accompanied the descent of the Holy Spirit.
- Monday after Pentecost - Whit Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte) - Part of the Pentecost holiday (see above).
- July 14th - Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) - Celebrated in commemoration of the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, a symbolic act of revolution that triggered the overthrow of the French monarchy.
- August 15th - Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (l'Assomption) - A religious holiday centered on celebrating the Virgin Mary.
- November 1st - All Saints' Day (La Touissant) - A day to pay tribute to all Saints of the church collectively. It is also the day when many people in France visit the graves of loved ones with flowers and small gifts.
- November 11th - Remebrance Day (Jour de l'Armistice / Jour du Souvenir) - A day marking the end of the First World War.
- December 25th - Christmas Day (Noël) - A French Christmas is very much like that in Canada.
Along with the national holidays listed above, France also has school holidays which occur four times a year. Schools in France are divided into three separate zones, entitled A, B, and C, with each one holding their school holidays on different weeks to avoid a flood of travellers in the country. Regardless of the zone, English teachers will have an autumn break in October, two weeks off over Christmas, a break in February, and a break in the spring (in addition to summer holidays). English teachers should note that tourist sites and transportation methods will be quite busy during these periods.