The Institut Français: building cultural connections between France and the UK


The Institut Français du Royaume-Uni promotes the French language and culture in the UK. Around the world, French continues to play a high-profile role in business and international affairs.

Founded in 1905, the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni is “the cultural arm of the French Embassy in the UK”, according to Romain Devaux, its French Language Attaché. It forms part of a network of 98 similar institutes dedicated to promoting the French language and culture around the world.

Central to the Institut français’ mission is the teaching of the French language. Every year, through its dedicated Language Centre, it provides courses to around 6,000 students. As well as general conversational courses, these include specialised programmes adapted for fields like business, finance and law. All teachers are native speakers with years of teaching experience.

French learning in the UK post-Brexit

Despite the official severing of Britain’s ties with the EU, students have continued to enrol on the Institut’s language courses in their thousands.

“In the eighteen months after Brexit, we actually saw a real increase in applications to our courses,” says Thierry Gauthier, Corporate Training Coordinator at the Institut’s Language Centre. “Francophiles also tend to be Europhiles,” he jokes, “so that wasn’t much of a surprise.”

Across the country as a whole, however, language-learning has been in general decline ever since the requirement for schools to teach languages beyond the age of 14 was dropped in 2004.

Encouraging multilingualism

With France holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU until June, more official EU business has been conducted in French – but France is also promoting a culture of ‘plurilingualism’ within the bloc, encouraging institutions to take advantage of Europe’s linguistic diversity (with 24 languages being official at EU level).

Encouraging multilingualism is also a key focus of the Institut français. Last month, the Institut participated in the British Council’s ‘Express yourself’ campaign to encourage Britons to learn foreign languages.

“It’s not widely known that around 40% of people around the world use more than one language per day on a daily basis,” says Mathilde Charras, Assistant for Culture and Education. “There is strong evidence that being multilingual makes it easier to learn other languages.”

The French language on the world stage

French continues to exert considerable influence at an international level, so encouraging the study of the language remains a common practice among businesses.

“The Francophone countries of Africa are key markets for some businesses knowing that the middle class in some of these countries is growing steadily – so many British companies trading in the area understand the importance of learning French. They are also encouraging employees to learn French to use outside of a business context, to help create lasting relationships,” Devaux explains.

Non-Francophone countries have also seen a rise in demand for workers with French language skills in recent years. In the United States, for example, a study by the New American Economy research group found a 115% increase in the number of job offers requiring knowledge of the French language between 2015 and 2017.

Clearly, the demand for knowledge of French worldwide is not going to disappear any time soon.

British expats: the advantages of learning French

Britons are often derided as some of the poorest linguists in Europe – but among the 200,000 British expatriates living in France, those who do make the effort to learn the local language can benefit from financial rewards as well as cultural enrichment.

“Certain British people who move to France seem to inhabit a kind of parallel world: they only deal with English-speaking businesses and services – and these are often more expensive and cumbersome to deal with,” Gauthier explains.

“Speaking the local language allows you to do business with local people – whose services are often far simpler to provide. This only serves to deepen cultural connections.”


Members of the French Chamber can take advantage of a 10% discount on the Institut’s courses for groups and businesses.

The Institut Français du Royaume-Uni has bases in London and Edinburgh and offers courses on the French language and culture to both individuals and groups. It has recently published a document dispelling common misconceptions about multilingualism. It also works in close cooperation with the Alliances françaises network offering courses in another 11 cities across the country.

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