What it's really like studying French at university
Eiffel Tower, Paris France
Photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

The Highs and Lows of Studying French at University

Chelsie Henshaw December 17, 2021

There has to be a certain level of irony attached to the fact that I am writing this article
considering the fact I really should not be studying French at university. I guess it is time to
expose myself and reveal that I achieved a C at A-Level for French. It will never cease to
amaze me that I managed to secure my place studying at UoB despite missing my offer of
AAB and doing Joint Honours English Literature and French whilst French was in fact my
lowest grade. Let’s be honest, I scraped my way into this university, and I would not at all be
surprised if I am just the token working-class student at a largely middle and upper-class
university. But anyways, let’s focus on the content of my degree as opposed to the path I
took to get there.

Now, I don’t want to put anyone off, but French is a rollercoaster of a degree. I’m not lying
when I tell you I was one minor inconvenience away from dropping it at the end of my first
year. My first ever university class was a fast-paced hour of listening exercises. Coming from
a Sixth Form attached to my small-town state school where most people were not getting
As and Bs, meeting my post-A-Level peers in French was certainly a shock.

After being so used to being taught in slow French by my lovely Sixth Form teacher (who was English) to
being directed in fast, native French, I was left floundering. Everyone else in the class
seemed to understand everything but me, able to answer the tutor’s rapid questions. I left
the class extremely overwhelmed and doubting in my ability, I remember ringing my
boyfriend as soon as I left the class and bursting into tears – how was I ever going to pass
my degree when I was already so behind my classmates at the very beginning? Although I
can safely say I have progressed since my first year, I am still firmly behind my peers and not
at all at the level I should be coming to the end of my degree.

In the words of my slightly less inept friend, ‘the one thing I’ve learnt in my French classes is
that I’m incapable of learning French.’

However, do not let this deter you, my experience is in the minority; everyone will tell you
they struggle with languages whilst also simultaneously achieving 2:1s and Firsts.
There are some benefits of studying French, of course. Studying any language will make
your employability rocket, companies are always searching for bilingual candidates. No
matter the discipline that you are aiming for, being fluent in French (debatable in my case)
will always give you the edge.

Also, for any of you lucky readers thinking about taking French at university or those who
already are, you will (fingers crossed) get the amazing opportunity to study or work abroad
in France. Your year abroad will be such an enriching experience and will genuinely shape
you as a person – I have not met anyone who has regretted spending a semester or
academic year in France. Just try to not make us ancient fourth year students jealous who
did not necessarily get that experience, thanks again coronavirus.

Basically, the main takeaway from this article is that French, like all languages, may be ‘easy’
for some but a lot more difficult for others (can you guess which category I fall under?).

If you do choose to study French, try your best to not compare yourself to others because everyone will have had different opportunities and French is sadly one of those degrees where having money greatly helps your ability.

See also: How to make friends during Freshers’ Week (or not)

Have something to tell us about this article?
Let us know
Chelsie is an English Literature and French student in her fourth and final year at the University of Birmingham. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Redbrick Newspaper (the official student newspaper at UoB). Her experience covers writing for a variety of sections including News, Culture, Life&Style, and Comment (she was a Comment Editor last year). She is interested in raising awareness and commenting on important issues such as classism, feminism, and ableism.