Trying to Learn French in Brussels

I want to learn French language. I thought it would be perfect to attend a course in Brussels, Belgium. Brussels is a French-speaking international city. Lots of active expats move in Brussels every year. The demand for language courses must be huge.

However, it’s crazy difficult to study French in Brussels. I’ve heard rumors of people successfully enrolling to a class, but I didn’t succeed. Here’s what I tried, and why I think there is an opportunity for a new player.

  1. Find the schools providing French classes. All it takes is some googling, and you’ll quickly have a list of schools. The thing is that none of the existing schrools does very good work on SEO or online ads. Maybe their primary messaging channel is something else than the Internet? This makes it feasible for a newcomer to enter the market.
  2. Figure out if a particular course is worth a second look. Does a school target illiterate refugees, exchange students, exapats or someone else? This is difficult, if not impossible to say. Either the schools don’t have a target group or they communicate it badly. The schools spell out requirements, organizations providing their funding, etc. They use terminology that carries no meaning to someone coming outside of Belgium. “A commune? What’s that, I thought I’m living in Brussels.” The lesson: customers should be spared from learning the school’s internal administrative terminology.
  3. Figure out if a class is right for me? It is totally amazing but most schools put no effort in describing their product. What does “French as a foreign language, A1” mean? What does A1 stand for? Is that the Je m’appel Jussi. Une, deux, troi -level of conversation? Should I instead take A2 or even A3? It’s like Zappos would sell a pair of shoes without revealing the size.
  4. Figure out your level of proficiency. The schools seem to have found that people can’t say anything about their current skill level. So we need language level tests! Each school organizes exams – that are mandatory for enrolling. Now you’ll have to figure out:
    1. Which exam to take? Are there different exams for total beginners and advanced classes (sometimes: yes).
    2. When is the exam? Don’t go at a wrong time or they won’t have the applicable lists – yes, paper lists of students – available.
    3. Do you need to sign up to take the exam or just show up? (varies by the school)
  5. Enroll! Leave early from work to take the exam and enroll for the school. Don’t forget to bring your ID card, otherwise you’re out. Don’t forget to bring cash, otherwise you’re out. Well, to be fair, a local Belgian credit card works at some schools.

Step 6? I don’t know if there’s a sixth step. Never got that far.

I signed up to take an exam, left early from work, found my way through the rush hour traffic, queued at the door with other aspiring learners. All this to find out that my class had been fully booked the day before. No waiting lists, no alternative classes. “Sorry about that and better luck next time.”

I had signed up to take the exam. I had to fill in my contact details. How about letting me know the class is full before I waste my time coming to the school?

Classes are full, options are limited. There’s a huge demand for language courses. The incumbents don’t know how to do marketing, sales and customer service in the digital age. A perfect opportunity for a newcomer.


P.S. Here’s my list of schools for reference:

  • EPFC. Levels EU 01-06. Classes in the morning, afternoon and evening.
  • CPAB. Levels UF1-UF8. Morning and evening. Small groups (8-16 students).
  • IFC. Levels UF1-UF7. Evenings only. Cheapest: 95,80 €
  • CLL. Levels A1 to C2. Once per week, 10 weeks.
  • CVO at VUB. Levels A2 to H2. Morning, afternoon and evening classes.

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