The Metro is by far the easiest, cheapest and the only way to get around this beautiful city. I can understand you being intimidated by the language barrier, but there’s no need to be. Grab yourself a Metro map, jump on a train and find your way around. It’s VERY easy. The Metro will take you anywhere you want to go. The Louvre, The Champs Elysees, Notre Dame, The Latin Quarter, The Eiffel Tower, anywhere your heart desires.
You can get a map at any hotel, metro station or souvenir shop. You have to have a ticket to access the trains and you can purchase those either in a machine inside the station or from an agent. I don’t recommend buying tickets from someone on the street, as they may have already been used. Play it safe and get them at the station. You can get single tickets (billets) or a book (carnet), depending on your needs. There is also a card you can get at the airport called Paris Visite. It’s a discount card that lets you ride on the metro for a few days and gives some discounts for certain attractions and museums.
Once inside your station, there will most likely be a maze of stairs and corridors. Again, don’t be intimidated by the layout. Just read the signs and look at your map to make sure you’re getting on the right train and in the right direction. All lines are designated by a number and a color. It’s SO easy to figure out. There are route maps at each stop and on the train, so you can see every stop that particular train makes.
Some stations are nicer and cleaner than others. The stations and trains are safe enough, but just keep your belongings close to you. I’ve heard horror stories about getting pick-pocketed. Keep your purses and camera cases zipped up and near you, especially if the train is crowded. Basically, use common sense. Just be aware of your surroundings--always. Stations to avoid at night are Pigalle and St. Georges, as they are in sketchy neighborhoods.
You can get your bearings ahead of time by going to their website, www.ratp.info/informer/anglais/index.php. On the left is an interactive map, which is WONDERFUL to use prior to your trip. You can move around the city using the arrows, and you can click on a station and get the surrounding streets and bus lines. VERY handy. This will really help you plan a route, even before you get there.
Even if you get on the wrong train or get lost, it’s fun figuring out how to get back on track.