French course in Annecy: the perfect preparation for one client’s emigration to France

Cactus student Rob Mepham tells us about his 5-week French course in Annecy and how it has helped him immerse himself in French life.

When Rob Mepham’s feedback came in after his French course in Annecy I knew that I wanted to speak to him. Using words such as ‘my French vocabulary has exploded and grammar improved beyond expectation’, I wanted to find out what exactly had made his experience so good – and pass this on to others considering a similar venture. Now ensconced in his own little corner of France (or not so little, given his 17 acres of farmland), Rob kindly took the time to tell me what had motivated him to learn French and to pass on a few valuable tips about relocating overseas.

Retiring from the military, Rob’s course in Annecy was part of his resettlement training from the Ministry of Defense. An immersion course in France turned out to be considerably cheaper than the equivalent in London – and decidedly more effective, given that it’s in-country. It was also incredibly easy to book, Rob quoting Sandra at Cactus as being particularly efficient in organising his course and replying to every email personally. He chose the chic and pretty town of Annecy in the foothills of the Alps as the location for his studies, with the hope of indulging his passion for paragliding at the same time; the fact that he never actually got to do this became irrelevant as everything was, in his own words, better than he could have imagined.

Once at the school, where he was enrolled on a 5-week elementary French course, Rob could not have found the staff more helpful and patient. He was able to learn at his own pace, aided by the language being spoken slowly around him, and he picked up a vast amount of vocabulary by jotting down new words in class and reading French articles and magazines in his own time.

He was in a class with a mix of nationalities – Chinese, Taiwanese, Mexican, American and Swedish, to name a few – and, most importantly, had no opportunity whatsoever to speak English, meaning that he had to get by and make himself understood in French whichever way he could. The learning curve was steep and he improved dramatically. This was further enhanced by his stay in a host family, where he says he learnt just as much as at the school. His host gave him ample opportunity to practise the language, keeping her speech simple and clear, but she also gave him space to do his own thing – the best of both worlds.

I asked Rob what he thought about learning a language later in life (he is 53), as so many people think that they are too old to learn a language or that classes might be full of teenagers straight out of school. Rob’s class was a fascinating mix of 17-62 year olds and, although he conceded that it depends on the type of person you are, he felt that he had more self-confidence taking a course now. He clearly thrived during his time in Annecy and I found his story even more heart-warming as he claimed to be dreadful at languages at school. It just goes to show that taking a language holiday abroad bears no resemblance to childhood memories of sitting in a classroom at school, too embarrassed to say anything.

Moving on from his experience in Annecy, I was keen to find out more about Rob’s subsequent move to France. I asked him whether he thought knowledge of the language was important in immersing himself in another culture and got a resounding ‘yes’! His 5-week course was perfect as it gave him a good grounding; two or three weeks, he thought, was probably not enough. His French has been invaluable in tasks such as registering his car and sorting out its MOT. He has even found the locals more accepting of him because of his attempts to speak French – I say ‘attempts’ as Rob modestly keeps telling me that it’s far from perfect, but this is exactly the point. People don’t really care how good you are, or not – what they care about is your effort to respect and speak their language, and Rob is a shining example of this.

For others considering relocating abroad, Rob offers a useful piece of advice; it’s good to try to go somewhere where you already know someone. It can be invaluable to have someone who’s already done it answer your questions, especially when it comes to the ins and outs of French bureaucracy. For him, however, the move was extremely easy: he and his wife used a British-based estate agent, which paid for itself with all the hassle avoided. With so many Brits emigrating, they also found internet forums a great source of advice.

I have to admit that what I loved hearing most was how Rob’s course has given him confidence to speak in French to the coach from his local paragliding school, near Limoges where he now lives, and in local shops. Speaking some of the language has undoubtedly made a huge difference to his integration into French life, and I found his enthusiasm and determination utterly inspiring. He hopes to resume his French studies again soon – perhaps at the university in Limoges – and I wish him all the best for that and his future in his new home country.

Cactus specialises in organising language courses for individuals and groups, having done so since 1999 for clients all over the globe and for diverse needs and budgets. With an extensive network of approved teachers and a strong in-house academic team, we are able to tailor a language course to suit your specific learning needs, anywhere in the world and whenever is convenient to you.

We offer French courses in Annecy and in many locations across France and Canada. Evening courses in French are also available in the UK and US. We also offer private and corporate language training for relocation.

The photo at the beginning of this article was kindly contributed by Rob; he took it whilst paragliding at Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe, near Bordeaux.

Top 5 French course destinations this spring

Cactus offers locations within France and Canada where you can take a French course, but these are our pick of the top five for springtime study.

1. Paris

As one of the world’s most iconic cities, Paris is a hugely popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, as is the case with any such city, the prices reflect its popularity and throughout the summer they are especially high. Spending time in Paris during the spring is therefore a much better idea – the weather will be warm, the trees and parks will be nice and green, there’ll be far fewer crowds and best of all, you won’t have to pay through the nose. A light spring evening, a large glass of wine and a prime people-watching spot on a café terrace…what more could you want at the end of a day of French lessons?

More on French courses in Paris

2. Annecy


Annecy has got to be one of France’s most picturesque towns, with its turquoise lake and stunning mountain backdrop. In the summer Annecy attracts thousands of visitors who come to swim in the lake or hike in the surrounding countryside, and in the winter it’s a great base for skiers and snowboarders, so the spring is one of the less busy (and therefore less expensive) times of year. By April most of the low lying snow will have melted, making hiking and biking possible, but anyone who fancies spending a day or two on the slopes might be lucky and still get a few days in higher up in the mountains.

More on French courses in Annecy

3. Tours


A beautiful city located in the heart of France’s chateaux-filled Loire Valley, Tours is known as the “garden of France”. Despite its attractive surroundings, the title actually comes from the large number of parks in the city, and what better place to watch the seasons change and the green return than here? Outside of lessons you’ll be able to experience all that this historic city has to offer, and visit the pretty surrounding area with its fairytale castles and endless vineyards.

More on French courses in Tours

4. Nice


Located on France’s up-market Riviera, Nice has long been a favourite with holidaymakers from all over Europe. Its unique blue waters and lovely climate make it a great place to relax and un-wind, but often there are lots of other people with the same idea! To enjoy the weather and surroundings without the crowds, the best time to go is probably April or May, when you get the best of both worlds. If you take a course a French course in May, you’ll be able to enjoy ‘La Fête de Mai’, which takes place every Sunday in the month and includes a series of free events, and refreshments featuring locally produced food.

More on French courses in Nice

5. Bordeaux


It’s great to visit Bordeaux in the spring time. The vineyards surrounding the city are full of colour, the weather is pleasant and as it’s still within term time, you’ll get a really authentic experience of life in this lively university city. You’ll also get chance to explore all the usual tourist sites, but without the crowds and the queues, and you’ll probably also benefit from cheaper air or rail fares when you book your travel there and back. Events taking place in the city include the Escale du Livre, a well-known book fair that is held around the Place Renaudel in March, and the Bordeaux Spring Fair which is held from late April to early May on central Place de Quinconces – in close proximity to both of our French schools in Bordeaux.

More on French courses in Bordeaux

Please visit the Cactus Language website for full listings of French courses and to book.