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Is it possible to work in a major French city without being fluent in French?

(36 Posts)
bunjies Fri 02-Oct-09 16:45:23

My family and I moved to the Limousin 3 years ago but I have started doing short term contracts in the UK to keep my hand in and earn money. My French is of an intermediate level but wondered if I could get a job in say, Bordeaux or Paris, where it is usual to speak English. My field is public sector project management but I have plenty of transferable skills in administration. Does anyone have any advice or done this?

NancyBotwin Fri 02-Oct-09 16:48:56

Why don't you try to improve your French if you are planning to stay in the country long-term?? If that is not possible for some reason I would say your best bet would be something tourism related where there are a lot of English-speaking customers or a business that specifically wants an English-speaker to deal with clients in the UK/US say.

Otherwise you have about as much chance as a non English-speaking person trying to find a job in the UK smile

bunjies Fri 02-Oct-09 17:08:12

Thanks for your reply.

I have spent the last year improving my French but I'm at the point where I don't think I can improve anymore unless I am completely immersed in it, i.e. in a job. The problem is finding a job in France when you're not French. Believe me I have tried, applying for any part-time minimum wage jobs that I could do standing on my head. There does seem to be a prejudice (certainly where I live in rural France) against non-French nationals. I did work for 3 months over the summer in a jam factory but this isn't so good when you want to improve your French as it is impossible to hear anyone over the noise! Hence, why I wondered if it was possible to work in France in an English speaking environment. I realise that this would only be possible in one of the very large cities and not Limoges or Brive which are the closest to me.

I don't think it is the same as a non-English speaker trying to find a job in the UK as English is the language of international business whereas French is not.

Are there any non-fluent French speakers who have found work? Are there any agencies who deal with this?

slim22 Sat 03-Oct-09 02:04:15

"The problem is finding a job in france when you are not french" I think you nailed it.

Sorry to say that's my own experience as a law school graduate from the best Paris university. Native french speaker and yet could not even get a decent interview because of an "exotic" surname.
So like so many, I moved to London and did really well, really quickly for myself there.

I think Nancybotwin ( love the name :-) has a valid point. Maybe something in the tourism/hospitality industry.
As for public administration? I think that's delusional.
You could send your CV for admin jobs in International schools / Universities that run erasmus programmes (pan european), chambers of commerce, fairs & event organisers.

Good luck!

MmeGoblindt Sat 03-Oct-09 02:18:59

DH is a non French speaker working in Geneva for a multinational company. It is not uncommon here, but Geneva is very international.

It would be near to impossible for me (limited French) to get a job here except in an intrnational company.

And then you don't learn much French cause the working environment is English.

Most Expat wives that I know are either not working or doing something like English language tutor.

Would that be something that you could imagine doing?

Othersideofthechannel Sat 03-Oct-09 06:06:26

Some organisations that employ English language 'formateurs' only take English mother tongue employees. Berlitz is the most famous but there are plenty of local ones too. Also it may be possible to work as a lectrice at a university.
The problem with these is that you would mostly be speaking English to your students and only be using your French in the staff room.

If it is financially possible, could you afford to do some voluntary work for a while in order to be immersed in French?

Mybox Sat 03-Oct-09 20:30:36

Can you write in french? This is the crucial aspect to actually working in french as conversation can be incorrect some of the time & it's not a problem but to write fluently in french is another matter.

bunjies Mon 05-Oct-09 09:46:40

Thanks for all the replies.

To be honest, my written French is probably better than my spoken as I find it far easier to construct sentences when I'm not under pressure to get it out quickly.

I did work voluntarily at my children's school for most of the last academic year, teaching the older kids English, but unfortunately this wasn't enough to get an interview as a english language teaching assistant. Not quite sure what else I could have done there.

Hence, I've come to the conclusion that I am not going to be able to find work in a French speaking environment which is why I am looking at options with English as the main language. Don't worry I am deluded enough to think I will get a job in French public administration. I only mentioned my field to demonstrate I have transferable skills, whether this be in the public or private sector.

MmeGoblindt - did your dh get transferred to Geneva from the UK or did he apply for the job himself?

OSOTC - do you know if you apply directly to universities as a lectrice?

bunjies Mon 05-Oct-09 09:48:07

This should obviously read "Don't worry I am NOT deluded enough to think I will get a job in French public administration" smile

BonsoirAnna Mon 05-Oct-09 09:52:14

You could get a secretarial job in Paris without fluent French - if you were prepared to work in a law firm, for example, or a bank. Very, very dull work but regular hours and reasonable money.

NancyBotwin Mon 05-Oct-09 10:02:07

Is there much tourism where you live? The campsites where we go in the summer are very popular with English people and lots of the staff seem to be English (though living in France full-time now). You could either approach the campsites directly about work in the reception area or try one of the holiday companies like Keycamp (though I would imagine the hours might not be family-friendly)

sayanything Mon 05-Oct-09 10:06:15

I live in Brussels and my French is far from fluent precisely because I only speak English at work - which is a shame.

You can definitely get by in Brussels without good French, but like Geneva, Brussels is very international, more so than Paris. However, have you had a look at international organisations, like the OECD? I have no idea what your background/experience is, but have a look here - you can search by location and you'll find ads for all sorts of posts in int'l orgs.

Good luck.

Othersideofthechannel Mon 05-Oct-09 21:44:09

I did it over 10 years ago and I got my position because the uni I had just graduated from was twinned with the French uni where I worked as a lectrice.

But not all the other lecteurs were from 'twinned' universities. Some were mother tongue English speakers living locally.

Othersideofthechannel Mon 05-Oct-09 21:46:32

Two years ago I would have suggested contacting estate agencies who are keen to exploit the UK buyers. But I think the market is still pretty quiet at the moment.

invlanderen Tue 06-Oct-09 13:36:51

I´m afraid you´re going to find this situation very difficult, especially in the current economic climate..

There is always work in private language schools teaching English, mostly for in-house training classes, financially supported by the state. This could also build up your contacts to put out feelers re other work.. Schools recruit language assistants via an organisation that is affiliated with the British Council (I think..), drawing on gap year university students.

Have you tried work in the hospitality industry? More chances to make conversation with customers.. and work on your fluency!

Don´t stop learning French! If you are only at an intermediate level you have an awful long way to go.. and you will start to make grammatical errors that will not be corrected by your teacher and will become ingrained and nigh on impossible to change in the future. The French are very intolerant of someone who doesn´t speak French correctly so worth making the effort for this reason alone!

branflake81 Wed 07-Oct-09 07:52:49

DP and I lived in Paris for a while and his French was rusty to say the least. He got a job in a call centre whcih did not require French. It wasn't the best job but paid enough and kept him going until his French improved and he could move on.

MmeGoblindt Wed 07-Oct-09 08:00:06

Bunjies
DH was transferred over here with his job.

If you are planning to stay in France, I would just try to get a job doing basically anything.

I worked as an aupair in Germany, met DH and decided to stay. I worked for a year as a kitchen assistant/cleaner in a couple of different jobs then started work in a shop. After 2 years of speaking German all day, I was pretty fluent.

If you stick with English speaking work you are never going to be fluent in French.

bunjies Wed 07-Oct-09 13:16:54

Thank you all for your very useful replies. I do want to improve my French for personal reasons but I don't think it will help me get a job in a French speaking job IYSWIM. There does seem to be an awful amount of prejudice against non-French nationals that I think even someone with fluent French would find it hard.

I will follow up all these leads and hope something turns up but I do realise this is a very bad time to be looking for any kind of work. I just hate being in the UK whilst dh and dcs are in France sad

Thank you all again.

AuldAlliance Wed 07-Oct-09 21:57:46

You could try sending your CV to the universities near you (Limoges, Bordeaux, etc.) as lectrice places sometimes become available just after the rentrée, if someone drops out. I think there is an age limit for being lectrice, but there is also the possibility of working as a maître de langue. You need a 4-yr degree level and to have English as your mother tongue. Maybe worth trying?

Or the Rectorat would probably have some hours teaching in primary/secondary school, if that could interest you. Not sure whether you wouldn't have to have a 'main' job/be self-employed, though, as often they don't want to pay your social security costs. They don't usually interview, because (excuse my cynicism) they are not really interested in your actual ability to teach.

Am interested that you note such prejudice against non-French nationals, as I've not come across much of that where I am. Specific prejudice, yes, but not blanket prejudice against the non-French.

Othersideofthechannel Thu 08-Oct-09 05:43:25

I have a friend who is lectrice at the moment, she is mid to late thirties. I don't think you can do it for more than a couple of years.

AuldAlliance Thu 08-Oct-09 07:25:15

Will try and find out about the age thing. You can only do it for 2 years, I think, it's a 1-year contract, renewable once.

BonsoirAnna Thu 08-Oct-09 08:58:17

I agree with AA that I haven't encountered prejudice against non-French nationals. However, I do think that there is often almost total incomprehension of non-French qualifications and that, coupled with less than perfect French, can make job hunting very frustrating indeed.

If and when you do learn to speak French fluently, I find that the French are really quite flattered that you have bothered to go to so much trouble to learn their language and culture and can even think you are more intelligent than you really are because of it! smile

Mybox Thu 08-Oct-09 09:01:46

What job are you looking for? If you want to be in france why not do cleaning & babysitting?

BonsoirAnna Thu 08-Oct-09 09:01:48

How about training to be an English teacher in a French state primary school? I believe you only need to do a short (six-week?) course at the British Council in order to get qualified, providing you have a degree.

bunjies Thu 08-Oct-09 11:29:30

I do have to admit that my experience of prejudice is from a personal pov. I have applied for administrative posts in lcoal schools that pay minimum wage for 20 hours a week work. Bearing in mind I have over 10 years experience in public administration I was very surprised not to have received at least an interview. Then I applied for a number of english language primary teaching assistant posts after having voluntarily taught at my children's school, again to not be given an interview. Of course it may be that I am just not seen as qualified in their eyes but it does seem that not being French is a barrier, especially where I live.

I will try the lectrice avenue as even if it is for a year I will have gained some experience in France.

I have already registered with an organisation that matches those who want to do work such as cleaning, baby sitting, shopping etc for those who need the help. They're called ATOS where I am. Unfortunately this work is only occasional (2hrs here and there) and the only time they contacted me about some I was due back in the UK!

Bonsoir Anna - I was very surprised to read that. I uderstood you had to do a CAPES qualification and this was very difficult to get on to. My understanding was that French schools will only accept French qualifications to treach in their schools. I am happy to be proved wrong though. I do have a degree (in English!) so would be extremely interested in this. Do you happen to have any links to this although I will look myself.

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