“My French is Awful!”
The first point I have to make is that on my third day in Grenoble, three Brazilians moved into my room in a youth hostel. One spoke decent French, the next one understood a little but used hand movements and played on my knowledge of Spanish to communicate and the third just smiled! So don’t worry if you think you’re not good enough to spend a year in France, yes you’re never going to be the best if you’re a Maths student, but likewise you’ll never be the worse! I turned up just having done a two day grammar blitz for my French in the two years since A-level and was fine!
In truth, you can more than survive on the minimum requirements that Warwick require, but the more you put in before you go, the more the experience becomes worthwhile and the more you’ll enjoy yourself! If you turn up having to speak English, everyone you meet will speak to in English for the rest of the time you're there and that’s not what the experience is about. There are a lot of courses taught in English in and around Grenoble so there is always someone trying to speak English with you; and if you can't speak French then it'll stay that way for the rest of the year. Get a massive grammar book NOW and do a little day by day, likewise spend some time on French websites like www.lemonde.fr/, www.tf1.fr/ to make a big vocab list and do 10 words a day. www.tv5.org has some good videos to improve your listening skills as well. 10-30 minutes every day goes a long way. I didn’t join it, but there is a French speaking society at Warwick as well (this might have been moved together into a bigger Erasmus society by now), so it might be worth popping along to improve your speaking and potentially finding out more about studying in France. It is also good to note that the French spoken in the south of France is easier to understand than some of the accents of say Paris for example, because they pronounce the words more clearly.
However, once you have completed your application to UJF, they will give you information (or better you can go on their website www.ujf-grenoble.fr/ and find out yourself) about the summer language courses that are held at the CUEF, Stendhal University (www.cuef.u-grenoble3.fr). Most of the courses I found were for four weeks, with a price of 720€ (but you get a 20% discount for being at Joseph Fourier University). I was unable, time-wise, to do a four-week course and, to be honest, I was confident to be able to pick up my French again, so I didn’t really want to spend that amount on something I didn’t need. However, I found a course called “La Passerelle Pour L’Université Française” which only lasted for two weeks, 23rd August to 3rd September. I wanted to do it so I could find accommodation (more later) and settle in before my term started on the 1st September.
Also, I was told they were great for meeting Erasmus people in exactly the same situation. This turned out to be the case; my best friends from the year were the people I met there. It is more than likely that you will be the only erasmus student doing the L3 Maths course, so its a good idea to make an effort to meet other Erasmus students from different countries. There was only one English person on the CUEF course. His name was James, over 30 and had lived in Grenoble for four years. He was about to start teaching. However, he writes a blog on an English website called “Grenoble Life” (www.grenoblelife.com), which also has some interesting articles including “How to live cheaply in Grenoble”. It’s well worth a read. Anyway, the course was okay, more for writing and oral skills than for maths, but I realised I was a bit rusty on the grammar front. I’d just recommend it for meeting people more than anything else. You find the 10-15 people in your group split off afterwards, meet other people, then you get introduced and suddenly you’ve got a big friendship group!
Make sure that sometime during the year you pick up an attestation or confirmation of attendance as you can send this off to Warwick's Erasmus Team and maybe claim a bit more on the Erasmus Grant. I've written more about the Erasmus Grant in the Spending and Finance Section.